Bai Tu Long Bay is part of the Halong Bay UNESCO World Heritage Site and Vietnam’s best-hidden gem. Its incredible seascape is defined by 1,600 islands with smaller, limestone karsts rising majestically from the emerald waters. A 2-night cruise in Bai Tu Long Bay should definitely be included on your Vietnam travel itinerary.
Bai Tu Long Bay is a quieter and more pristine area than Halong Bay, and only a handful of cruise operators are permitted to sail there. This means that you are almost guaranteed you won’t be sailing side by side with other boats as can be the case if you only cruise in Halong Bay.
I cruised these waters with my son during my two weeks in Vietnam. It was part of our 3 month trip around the world together. Our cruise was a mix of couples and families and was incredible – all ages were catered for from the older guests to the children.
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Planning your Bai Tu Long Bay Cruise
There are several different ways to discover the waters of Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay:
A day cruise which will take you around the immediate waters of Halong Bay.
1-Night Cruise where you only cruise and sleep aboard the Halong Bay area.
2 and 3-Night Cruises where you cruise from Halong Bay to Bai Tu Long Bay and sleep aboard.
Remember you won’t board your junk boat until after lunch, so you need to factor that into your time scale.
I chose the 2-night / 3-day cruise from Halong Bay to Bai Tu Long Bay with Indochina Junk. We sailed on the Dragon’s Pearl junk which held 20 people in 10 well-appointed cabins. All food and drinks with meals were included. Cocktails and spirits were available at a nominal cost.
Our excitement and anticipation were at a crescendo as the sight of Halong Bay emerged. Anchored boats all awaiting their eager guests’ arrival and distant limestone pillars were a sight to behold. We had finally arrived ready for our cruise from Halong Bay to Bai Tu Long Bay aboard Indochina’s Dragon Pearl Junk.
It had taken 4 hours from the Hanoi Pearl Hotel to Halong Bay in an extremely comfortable people carrier sporting leather recliner seats, good air-conditioning, wi-fi and plenty of cold water for our convenience. There had been two stops on the route. The first was to have lunch and watch a water puppet show in a Yen Duc Village. The second was a convenience break at a warehouse selling handicrafts made by the local disabled person association.
At the dock in Halong Bay, we were checked-in and given welcome drinks, we boarded the Dragon’s Pearl and were introduced to Thom, our guide for the cruise. We were shown to our twin cabin and were delighted to find that it was beautifully decorated in a traditional Vietnamese style with a small bathroom.
It was compact but adequate for our needs, and I could now understand why we were only allowed to board with carry-on bags, having left our suitcases back at our hotel in Hanoi.
Kayaking on the South China Sea
After 3 hours of cruising, we reached the isolated area of Cap La and were given the option to kayak to a sea cave. Dominic and I thought we would give this a go and in minutes I had a paddle in my hand and was ready to plough my way through the pristine waters to reach the cave.
One problem, whilst I thought my skill with the oars was spot on, Dominic was in the back of the kayak being soaked by every movement I made. We watched as our fellow passengers were getting further away from us as they forged ahead in their kayaks.
It’s harder than it looks!
Not one to give up I tried to co-ordinate my strokes, but it seemed I was just not cut out for this. Dominic firmly suggested that I should put the oar on my lap and let him do the work or we could be spending our time in Halong Bay going round in circles.
This was the first time during our epic round the world trip that Dominic had got frustrated with me. I’m happy to acknowledge that in the future I need to stay well away from kayaks or let someone else do the paddling!
The feeling of tranquillity and isolation in the kayak was incredible, with the limestone mountains rising above us and the ocean’s gentle lap beneath us. We just sat quietly, no words necessary and absorbed our surroundings, grateful that places like this still existed on our planet.
Meeting new friends at mealtimes
Back on board, we went to dinner where the most delicious dishes were prepared in the tiniest kitchen galley. Tables sat 4 or 6, so we joined other guests as there was only the two of us.
The age groups and nationalities were varied, so it was nice to get to know each other during dinner and talk to others about the journey Dominic, and I had made together. Everyone was interested in learning how a 50-something mum and her 19-year-old son were getting on together, and when they found out the only problem we had encountered was the kayaking, it made everyone laugh.
An early call meant that breakfast was being served and we pulled back the curtains to be met with blue skies, limestone monoliths and plenty of sunshine. We knew it would be a good day as we made our way onto the open-air breakfast area.
The spot we had anchored for the night.
Visiting Cong Dam Fishing Village
After breakfast, we started to cruise to the Cong Dam area of Bai Tu Long Bay. We were going kayaking again to marvel at the wonders of this area. We were to pass by an old floating fishing village inhabited by 120 people and relying solely on its traditional fishing culture.
This time I was ready to let Dominic do all the work as I carried out my role as the family photographer. We both felt it worked better, and we paddled through the magical landscape without either of us getting frustrated.
Back on board, we enjoyed the sunbathing deck and even though it wasn’t quite midday it seemed like a good time for cocktails after all somewhere in the world it was 5 pm wasn’t it? The fact that we were the only cruise boat in our area was a bonus as all we could see for miles were clear views to the mountains with the occasional local fishing boat passing by.
It was the right decision to have booked to go to Bai Tu Long as I don’t think we would have enjoyed the same solitude in Halong Bay.
Thom, our guide told us to get ready for Thien Canh Son Cave and our BBQ lunch on the beach. Thom was a great host giving us plenty of invaluable information regarding all the areas we were visiting and ensuring all the guests were well looked after.
Exploring Thien Canh Son Cave
Boarding the boat tender, we sailed a short way to the beach and began our ascent up the stone cliff to the Thien Canh Son Cave. Inside the cave were naturally carved images supposedly resembling a lotus and a baby elephant but, to be honest, you have to have a good imagination to recognise them. The ceiling of the cave has several stalactites hanging down from it. On exiting the cave, we were treated to the most incredible view back down to the Dragon’s Pearl.
B.B.Q Lunch on the Beach
Back on the beach, we were ready for lunch. I expected to find a rusty old BBQ with a few chicken legs and the odd prawn. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. Tables set up with cloths, napkins and umbrellas, silver cutlery and china dishes.
There were copious amounts of bbq food, and it just kept on coming, and all prepared in a shack on the beach with food brought over from the Dragons Pearl. A dreamy place to have a delicious lunch with free-flowing wine for all the guests to enjoy.
Leisure Time Onboard
After the bbq, we spent some time relaxing on the beach before heading back to the Dragons Pearl where we chilled out on the sunbathing deck, drinking more cocktails and socialising with the other guests. Thom then suggested that we could swim from the side of the boat and with that, we all eagerly clambered down, ready to jump into the cool inviting water.
Several guests were already in the water and said there was quite a strong current, but when I got in I was shocked at just how strong it was as it picked me up and pulled me quite quickly around the other side of the boat! I’m a confident swimmer and could get myself back around, but a couple of the older guests found it quite hard.
Dominic decided to jump in, and as he leapt off the boat, a crew member shouted out “JELLYFISH!”, just as he landed smack bang in the middle of them. How he didn’t get stung is a mystery, as the consensus was that they had been Man-o-War jellyfish and highly venomous. Luckily for him, he was unscathed, and we decided that these waters weren’t as idyllic as we had first thought!
Later that evening, we were to be treated to a fruit carving display by the crew. It was impressive what could be done with melon and some cocktail sticks!
A stunning sunset made its appearance for our last night at sea, and we sat in awe of its magnificence as we sipped on our farewell cocktails, before finishing the evening off by night fishing for squid from the hull of the boat.
We had no luck catching anything but had a lot of fun trying. We retired to our cabin with big smiles on our faces from the fantastic day we had experienced.
The fishing village of Vung Vieng was to be our last stop on the cruise. We boarded bamboo rafts and were taken around the village to a floating pearl farm. We were given an insight into how oysters are harvested to produce pearls and were shown around the pearl shop.
The traditional setting is a scene to behold. Fishing boats bob about on the water while fishers repair their nets on the jetty of their floating houses. The majority of these fishermen never set foot on the land. Dogs were also visible, and we wondered where they were exercised, but we never did find out the answer!
Vung Vieng Fishing Village
After our stop at Vung Vieng, we returned to the Dragon’s Pearl for our return to Halong Bay. To have experienced this area with its unique scenic beauty was everything we had hoped it would be and more.
We disembarked the Dragon’s Pearl just after lunch and said farewell to the crew and the other guests before embarking on our transfer back to Hanoi. We spent the night back at the Hanoi Pearl Hotel before flying to the city of Hue the next morning.
My honest opinion of cruising Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay
What month did I travel? April
What was the weather like? It was sunshine all the way.
Would I recommend the cruise? Absolutely. Indochina Junk offered a first-class experience cruising these Vietnamese waters.
Would I recommend 2 nights Cruising? Definitely. We could cruise further into the unspoilt waters of Bai Tu Long Bay and experience a more pristine eco-system.
There was a good balance between activities and free time, and we felt relaxed. The food and beverages aboard were delicious, and the crew were all charming.
Thom, our guide, was very knowledgeable and friendly. The cabins were comfortable and well equipped, and sleeping with the sound of the water’s gentle lap beneath us was magical.
EXPLORE MORE OF VIETNAM WITH ME
- Vietnam’s Hidden Gems: 10 incredible destinations off the tourist trail
- Vietnam’s 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites