Halong Bay is known around the world for being one of Vietnam’s unmissable sights. But journey a little south and you’ll find a lesser-known bay that’s just as spectacular. (Perhaps even more so.) 

“Forget Halong Bay!” says the man I have just met. We’re sitting outside a bar in Da Lat in Vietnam’s south central highlands, and the man has just asked me for a cigarette and is now talking at me loudly.

“It’s all about Lan Ha Bay,” he says. “It’s super close to Halong Bay, just as beautiful, and there’s nobody there.” Despite the man being a perfect stranger, I have just eaten some great barbecue food, and my mood is such that I’m happy to entertain his outlandish claims. He continues on his helpful rant for some 20 minutes before leaving—presumably to go somewhere better than where I would think to go.

Two days later, I find myself in a stuffy Hanoi hotel room reading TripAdvisor reviews for Lan Ha Bay cruises. I find one by the name of Cat Ba Islands Cruises (Cat Ba Island is the jumping-off point for Lan Ha Bay, I discover). The internet seems generally pleased with all things Cat Ba Island Cruises. My partner Janna and I ponder for a while. We both arrived in Vietnam excited to see Halong Bay, so to scratch out that part of our itinerary on the advice of a loud stranger is something of a risk.