Tourist boats in Ha Long, Lan Ha Bay struggle due to local travel ban

By Tu Nguyen   July 11, 2023 | 12:08 am PT
Tourist boats in Ha Long, Lan Ha Bay struggle due to local travel ban
A cruise ship anchors in Lan Ha Bay on Cat Ba Island in Hai Phong City. Photo by Pham Ha
Tourist boats in Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay have for years been forbidden from entering each other’s territory, inconveniencing travelers.

Pham Nhien, a tourist from Hanoi, said his family recently went on an overnight cruise tour in world heritage site Ha Long Bay.

His family then asked the captain to take them to neighboring Lan Ha Bay off Cat Ba Island, which has similar limestone karst mountains just like Ha Long Bay.

But he refused, saying that would attract fines from Quang Ninh Province authorities for "breaching their administrative boundary."

So their only option was a roundabout route that could take half a day and cost VND180,000 per person extra.

In the event, they canceled their plans to visit Lan Ha.

Cat Ba Island is a popular travel destination off Hai Phong City while Ha Long Bay is in Ha Long City in Quang Ninh Province.

Both are in the Gulf of Tokin and neighbors but tourist boat owners say it takes half a day to carry tourists from Ha Long Bay to Lan Ha Bay due to a local travel ban that has been in existence for years.

Nguyen Duy Phu, chairman of a yacht association in Lan Ha Bay, said his vessels have been stopped many times by Ha Long authorities when they attempted to take tourists to Ha Long Bay.

"Is it prohibited to drive from Hai Phong to Ha Long? If not, why do local authorities cause trouble at sea?"

Since 2012 cruise ships carrying tourists to Lan Ha Bay have not been allowed to enter Ha Long Bay while Quang Ninh authorities also prohibit boats departing from local docks from directly traveling to Lan Ha.

Quang Ninh authorities said the ban is meant to limit the environmental impacts on Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO heritage site, and is in line with waterway transport regulations.

However, tourism insiders said the prolonged ban is because Quang Ninh and Hai Phong are unable to agree on sharing revenues from entry tickets.

A representative of a travel company that specializes in overnight cruises in both bays said he has urged both authorities numerous times to lift the ban so that tourists benefit.

The ban means cruise ships, after sailing overnight in Ha Long Bay, have to return to Tuan Chau Wharf. There tourists are transferred to speedboats which carry them to the spot where Lan Ha cruise ships anchor. To travel from one ship to the other thus takes half a day.

Without the ban, it would take only half an hour for tourists to transport from Ha Long to Lan Ha.

"This issue has been discussed for more than ten years now but no measures had been taken," the representative said.

Pham Ha, CEO of Lux Group which specializes in luxury cruises, hoped authorities would quickly remove the ban, making it easier for tourist boats to carry tourists to visit both bays, thus contributing to increasing tourism revenues.

Lan Ha Bay off Hai Phong, around two hours from Hanoi, is home to around 400 islands, all of them covered with vegetation. It remains less well-known to tourists than its neighbor Ha Long Bay though it too offers kayaking and canoeing through limestone karst mountains and overnight cruises.

Around a two-hour drive to the east of Hanoi, Ha Long Bay was recognized as a world heritage site in 1994 by UNESCO and is famous for thousands of limestone karst islands rising out of the waters.

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