The limestone outcrops that rise out of the waters of Bai Tu Long Bay are perhaps not as lofty as the ones at Halong, but the two seascapes are virtually interchangeable and you would need to be a seriously obsessed karst aficionado to notice the difference. Clearly apparent, however, is the relative lack of tourists here, in comparison with its more famous next-door neighbor. The submerged limestone plateau, the geological phenomenon that gave rise to the scenic splendor in this part of the Gulf of Tonkin, continues all the way to the Chinese border and Bai Tu Long Bay is the easternmost extension of the chain. Having neglected it for years, tour operators are beginning to cash in on the bay’s awesome potential. Nevertheless, development is in still in its infancy, which means largely unpolluted waters and a wealth of unexplored islands, caves, and immaculate sandy coves. Despite the area’s undoubted beauty, here are some clouds on the horizon. Boat traffic may not be as heavy as it is in Halong Bay, but garbage from trawlers and from mainland Vietnam and China is a common and unsightly blight. For the most part, however, Bai Tu Long Bay, and islands such as Quan Lan, Tra Ban, and Van Don, offer a laid-back alternative to Halong Bay that makes traveling the extra distance from Hanoi worthwhile.
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