There's more to northeastern Vietnam than Halong Bay. The sinking limestone plateau, which gave birth to the bay's spectacular islands, continue some 100 km to the Chinese border. The area immediately northeast of Halong Bay is know as Bai Tu Long Bay.
Bai Tu Long Bay is every bit as beautiful as its famous neighbour. Indeed, you could say it's more beautiful, since it has scarcely seen any tourist development. This has its positives and negatives. The bay is unpolluted and undeveloped; however, as yet there's no tourism infrastructure. It's pretty hard travelling around and staying here, and unless you speak Vietnamese, it's difficult to get information.
Bai Tu Long Bay's islands
Van Don Island (Dao Cai Bau): Van Don is largest and most populated and developed island in the archipelago. However, there is no tourism development here yet. Cai Rong is the main town on the island, which is about 30km in length and 15km across at the widest poit. Bai Dai (Long Beach) runs along much of the southern side of the island and is hard-packed sand with some mangroves. Just offshore, almost touching distance away, there are stunning rock formations similar to those in Halong Bay.
Quan Lan Island (Dao Canh Cuoc): The main attraction here is beautiful, 1km-long white-sand beach shaped like a crescent moon. The water is clear blue and the waves are suitable for surfing. The best time to play in water is from about May to October - winter is too chilly. However, at the present there are no tourist facilities. The nothern part of the island has some battered ruins of the old Van Don Trading Port. There is little to show that this was once part of the major trading route between Vietnam and China. Deep-water ports, such as Hai Phong and Hon Gai, long ago superseded these islands in importance. Boats or Junks cruise take about 6~7 hours to get from Halong City to Quan Lan Island via Bai Tu Long Bay.
Van Hai Island (Cu Lao Mang): Ancient Chinese graves have been found here, indicating that this region has seen considerable maritime trade. There are many good beaches, but a sand-mining pit (used to make glass) is destroying the place.
Ban Sen Island (Dao Tra Ban): Also know as Tra Ban Island, this is closest major island to Van Don Island, making it easy to visit. However, there are no tourist facilities and as a visit will mean an overnight stay, be prepared to be ufficient.
Co To Island (Dao Co To): In the northeast, Co To Island is the farthest inhabited island from the mainland. Its highest peak reaches a respectable 170m. There are numerous other hills, and a large lighthouse atop one of them. The coastline is mostly cliffs or large rocks, but there's at least one fine sandy beach. Fishing boats usualy anchor just off here, and you can walk to some of them during low tide. There is a small and very basic guesthouse on the island. Ferries bound for Co To Island depart Van Don island on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at unspecified time-check the schedule in Cai Rong. The return from Co To to island on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. There are no boats on sunday. The journey takes about 5 hours. About Halong Bay
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