Imagine being surrounded by evergreen karst mountains rising from a pristine turquoise sea. Hearing bird calls, jumping fish and gentle lapping as the boat rocks on calm waters. The odd fishing boat motors by going about its business. This is the vision of Ha Long Bay.
In reality, Ha Long Bay has over 500 vessels cruising daily. So how can this laid back, peaceful image be achieved?
Introducing Indochina Junk and their packages to beautiful Bai Tu Long Bay. Let’s climb aboard and see how it’s done.
Firstly, where is Bai Tu Long Bay?
Part of the greater Ha Long Bay, UNESCO World Natural Heritage site, Bai Tu Long Bay is located south east of Ha Long City, approximately 160km by road from Old Town Hanoi.
Indochina Junk, in coordination with Halong Bay Management Board, has created a program “For a green Ha Long Bay”.
Supported by the government and local residents, the program has 2 projects, the collection and treatment of waste and mangrove reforestation in Bai Tu Long Bay, and the building of cultural houses and schools in fishing villages.
Through this program and their small fleet of 15 shallow draft vessels, Indochina Junk is the only company licensed to cruise Bai Tu Long Bay.
Here’s what to expect over 3 days and 2 nights on Indochina Junk’s Dragon’s Pearl 1!
Passengers are joined by 10 crew and a guide. Our guide Tom entertains while educating us on the area. 8 years in the game cruising Ha Long and Bai Tu Long Bays, city tours in Hanoi and motor cycle tours of Sa Pa, Tom knows his stuff.
The Indochina Junk package includes all meals, water (refillable bottles), coffee, tea and some juices. The well-stocked bar is priced reasonably considering the captive audience. Food allergies, preferences and idiosyncrasies are well catered for.
A luxury 7 seater van arrives promptly at your hotel in Hanoi’s Old Quarter between 07:30 and 08:00. A 3.5-hour drive to Ha Long City allows time for introductions and banter with fellow cruisers. It’s also time for last minute emails or social media using the vans free wi-fi. Did we mention you’re going offline for 3 days?
A rest room stop at Hong Ngoc sees local artisans at work. Buy ceramics, lacquerware, sculptures, paintings, clothing and jewellery from the sales team who are always close by. There’s no obligation, they’re not crazy pushy.
Another hour on the road and it’s time for lunch at Yen Duc village. Vietnamese water puppet shows are renowned and you get to see one here in the flesh. With expert engineering, puppets are controlled from behind a screen and stories of Vietnam life are told. This, you definitely need to see for yourself. Lunch is a tasty 8-course affair and ice cold beer is on hand.
On arrival at Ha Long city, last minute paperwork is completed and you’re transferred by tender to your vessel. On board, gliding toward the karst mountains, admin is taken care of, cabin allocation, safety instructions and general information.
The itinerary is weather dependent, especially in the wet season. During a down pour, Chef demonstrates, then oversees our traditional Vietnamese spring roll assembly. Once devoured it’s time to meet the rest of the passengers. 22 berths on Dragon’s Pearl 1 keep the numbers manageable while still having an interesting cross section of personalities.
Quietly motoring, Dragon’s Pearl 1 keeps a steady 8 knots. As the sky clears, cameras are reached for constantly. Photos of the passing scenery hardly do it justice. Anchoring for the night, kayaks appear for cave exploration. Swimming off the boat is followed by free time for drinks on the deck or a brief snooze.
Dinner is an impressive 8-course affair with adult beverages purchased from the bar. Oddly, appetites increase as the days progress. It’s down to the incredibly delicious cuisine chef prepares.
Coffee & tea at 07:00 with breakfast at 07:30 are served on the deck. Phô begins and an English breakfast follows. Yes, there’s plenty to eat.
A couple of hours cruising allows time to mingle, share stories or read books and relax. Kayaking through waterways past fish and mussel farms opens a whole new world.
Having worked up a thirst and that appetite, a BBQ lunch is served on the beach. A seafood extravaganza cooked over hot coals.
Dragon’s Pearl 2 is nearby but no one would know. Each group is strategically placed around the island invoking a feeling of isolation. After a short climb up the mountain and through a cave with Tom sharing the area’s history it’s back to Dragon’s Pearl 1 and some free time on deck.
Dinner, yet another 8-courses, precedes anniversary celebrations, hand carved vegetable displays and flute playing. The crew are not only efficient at their roles but talented too.
Breakfast is a single course today before climbing into individual sampans helmed by local women from Vung Vieng village. A journey through waterways reveals a peek into village life. Pearl farming is the local trade and a guided tour through the farm takes 10 to 15 minutes.
The strong relationship between Indochina Junk and the village is evident. The village, responsible for collecting stray rubbish, fill the floating garbage bin and collect a monthly fee based on weight. The revenue is invested into housing and village maintenance while keeping the area pristine.
Lunch is served on the return journey to Ha Long City and like all meals, it’s 8 courses of tasty Vietnamese favourites.
Indochina Junk’s fleet consists of 4 L’Amour private charter junks for 2. Prince 1 is a 5 berth family vessel with 1 double and 1 triple cabin. Prince 2 & 3 both sleep 8 in 4 cabins and Prince 4 is a 3 cabin 6 berth vessel.
2 Red Dragons sleep 11 in 3 double cabins, 1 twin and a triple. 7 doubles and 2 twins sleep 22 on the 3 Dragon’s Pearl vessels and the largest in the fleet, the 2 Dragon Legends have 24 luxury cabins catering for 48.
A huge thank you to Indochina Junk staff, Dragon’s Pearl 1 crew and special thanks to our fellow cruisers for making this trip unforgettable. Our only regret is not booking a longer cruise. Cruising Bai Tu Long Bay with Indochina Junk: it’s a thing we love….