Halong Bay is famous for its majestic pillars and the beautiful bay filled with junks (boats) with gorgeous sails. The littler known is Bai Tu Long Bay – meaning little dragon – only allows a certain amount of cruises to enter this magical area. When choosing between the two, it was a no-brainer to visit the Bay less traveled. Only 5% of tourists get to go here, and you can tell. While I was out there, I only saw another boat or two during the whole cruise. I did a 3-day cruise, and it was a nice way to end my trip in Vietnam.
There are many cruise boats to choose from, 50 cabins, 25 cabins, four cabins, and private boat. I joined the quiet four cabin with Indochina Junk, and it was every bit of luxury that you would expect from a small boat tour.
We boarded our junk and had a brief on the main deck and met the other five passengers. After our briefing, we were escorted to our cabins, which had a huge bed and two big windows looking out into the bay. If there weren’t so many tours and stopped planned, I could have stayed in the room the whole trip! After having lunch which was 6-courses, we went for a kayak around the bay for an hour or so then came back in for a swim. I was jumping off the boat doing cannonballs into the water, hoping not to land on a Portuguese Man-of-war! No joke. They are everywhere in the bay, and they’re huge. No worry, though, we had the captain and our guide looking out for them to warn us and they are so big and swim right at the surface you can’t miss them! After a shower and quick rest, it was onto dinner which was 8 or 9 courses; I lost count!. We retired to our cabin letting the water rock us to sleep.
After breakfast, we headed out in our kayaks again to paddle around through caves and coves for a couple of hours. We parked the kayaks on a private beach to relax for the day and had a seafood BBQ cooked for us right on the beach. After the beach, we cruised around for a bit then stopped at a cave where some of the fishermen used to live until the cruise company bought them out to use on their tour. It’s also where the bigger boats make their private dinner. They said in turn for taking over the land from the fishermen they built them houses on stilts and supply them with rice and water weekly. Still not sure how I feel about them kicking multiple families out for tourism, but I guess the fishermen got an upgrade in the end. Our captain also put the sails up while we were in the cave so we could get some pictures of the junk with the sails up. After relaxing for a bit, we had our last dinner and the captain and crew all got involved. The chef cooked a shrimp dish in front of us, only using hot stones, and after each course, the team would bring out a fruit carving with each one getting better and bigger! At the end, the captain and crew came out to serenade us. A great ending to a fantastic day.
On our last day, we took a boat out to the fishing village and learned about how they live. Many live on their boat their whole life and some live in small homes on the water, but none is better than the other. They are an established community which looks after one another. If one had a good fishing day, they would share their wealth with the rest of the village. We also learned the children get married pretty young 15-16 years old and when they get married the parents give them a boat (without engine) to start their life together and live on that boat the rest of their life and build their family on the ship. One form of income from the fishing village comes from the pearl farm, where they harvest and export most of their pearls to China. They, of course, have a store for the tourists to buy if they find something they like. After the tour, it was back to the boat for lunch and to head back to the bay. Although it was a short 3-days, it was fun, relaxing, along with being educating about how some of the Vietnamese live. I’m glad I got to experience it.
If you are thinking about doing a cruise in either Halong Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay, do it sooner than later. Our guide let us know the government will be shutting down all overnight cruises to both bays by 2020 and will only allow boats to go out for day tours.