Lying adjacent to Halong Bay's southern border, Lan Ha Bay is home to Cat Ba Island and covers over 7,000 hectares, most of which is under the management of Cat Ba National Park. Some 400 karst islands dot Lan Ha Bay, giving it the same scenic profile as its better known neighbour, with the added attraction of well over 100 secluded beaches. Due to its distance from Halong City, fewer tourism boats venture to Lan Ha Bay, leaving it ideal for adventurous cruising, swimming and kayaking expeditions.
Dark & Bright Cave offer a scenic combination of limestone mountains and emerald seas. Here, imposing islands surround a quiet lagoon, sheltered from the sea swells and only accessible via a 100m long sea cave. Passing through this arched entryway brings you to a circular lagoon completely enclosed by rugged rock walls where trees and bushes grow insistently. Dark Cave is a long cavern where you will need a torch to see, while Light Cave is shorter and you can see the daylight coming from the far end.
On Dau Be Island of Lan Ha Bay, Ho Ba Ham (Three Tunnel Lake) is completely enclosed by vertical cliffs, and is only accessible by a narrow, meandering tunnel. With its colourful stalactites dangling overhead, the access tunnel is a fascinating scene, and upon reaching the wide open lake, you can view orchids, benjamin figs, banyans and cycads which can blossom throughout the year.
Shrimp and fish are in abundance just under the water surface, while bats, flying squirrels, yellow-haired monkeys and numerous bird species keep things lively above the surface.
Luon Cave, a sea cave some 60m long with height ranging from 2-4m above the waterline, can be accessed by small boat or by kayak. Upon passing through the cave, you enter a tranquil, round lagoon which is ringed by steep stone walls and luxuriant foliage. Monkeys leap to a fro on the cliffs, which also host benjamin fig (ficus) trees and a variety of orchids. Shrimp, fish, crab and cuttle-fish thrive in the protected environment of this lagoon.
Three Peach Beach is often included on 3 day 2 night cruises, as it is some distance from Halong City. Three Peach Islet is easily recognized by its three rounded peaks of equal height, said to resemble peaches when viewed from afar. The curving Three Peach Beach has become well-known, but can only be visited at low tide when the pristine strip of sand is exposed for several hours. The sea floor does not drop off quickly here, making it ideal for swimming.
Local legend has it that a daughter of the gods, in love with a poor local fisherman and wishing him to be immortal, stole three peaches from heaven as a gift for him. The gods, angry at the theft, turned the fruits into the mountains which today rise above this picturesque beach.
Cua Van floating village, situated in a calm bay ringed by mountains some 20 km for Halong City, is a tranquil retreat for those seeking an authentic experience of the local lifestyle. The largest floating village in the area, Cua Van has a population of over 700 people living in its network of floating houses.
Making their living from the sea, some families here have risen to a status of relative wealth, with some houses boasting tiled roofs and surprisingly well furnished interiors.
Among Halong Bay's less well known treasures is Tien Ong Cave, its many timeless stalactites and stalagmites located amidst the pristine landscapes of Cai Tai Island, some 20km from Halong City.
The mouth of the cave, 50m wide and 10m high, leads to a massive underground dome of some 1,000 square meters. Archaeologists have discovered fossilized animal bones, pottery shards, shells and ancient tools in Tien Ong, indicating that the cave was inhabited around 8,000-10,000 years ago.