Asia / My Epic Round the World Trip / Vietnam

Bai Tu Long Bay 2-Night Cruise – Vietnam’s Best Hidden Gem

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.

Dragon's Pearl junk moored in Halong Bay

Day One

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.

Lots of boats in Halong Bay
So many boats were heading from the dock in Halong Bay. We were glad we had chosen to sail further on to Bai Tu Long Bay

Kayaking in 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 coordinate 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 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. The tables sat 4 or 6, so we joined other guests as there were 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.

Day Two

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.

Morning Cocktails

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 of 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.

Local fishing boat passing our cruise boat
Local fishing boat

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.

Dragons's Pearl Junk moored in the waters of Bai Tu Long Bay

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 are 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, 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.

Jellyfish Alert

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.

Watching the sunset over Bai Tu Long Bay from the upper deck of the cruise boat
Sunset over Bai Tu Long Bay

Day Three

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!

View of traditional fishing village in Bai Tu Long Bay
Can you see the dogs? I hope they can swim!
Traditional Vietnamese fishing boats. Can you see the washing line?
Us wearing traditional conical Vietnamese hats on our trip around Bai Tu Long Bay
We always like to blend in with the locals
Dominic wasn’t sure this style would work in the UK

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 of Cruising? Definitely. We could cruise further into the unspoilt waters of Bai Tu Long Bay and experience a more pristine ecosystem.

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.


Northern Vietnam

Central Vietnam

About Author

Angela Price

Angie is a full-time travel writer with over 30 years of travel experience. She has always had a passion for travel, and after a 3-month world trip with her 18-year-old son, she created her popular travel blog to share her adventures with a wider audience. When Angie is at home in the UK, she enjoys exploring the English countryside, visiting castles and gardens and planning her next big adventure. Her motto is "Live Life Wandering not Wondering".

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White Water Rafting NZ
1 year ago

Here you will get to know about the incredible 2 night cruise from halong bay to bai .This article is very knowledgeable for everyone. I enjoyed reading this article. This articles are not only knowledge enhancers but also very interesting to read and to learn to compare from.

2 years ago

Since we really can’t take a long vacation, the 1-night cruise sounds perfect. It’s nice to know that it’s not so crowded. The cabin looks comfortable. I can just imagine enjoying a lovely meal with this really beautiful and relaxing view. Hope to get to join in the future.

Yukti Agrawal
2 years ago

Your 2 Night Cruise from Halong Bay to Bai Tu Long Bay looks really incredible with so many beautiful stopovers. It would be interesting to watch a water puppet show in a Yen Duc Village, as I have never watched water puppet show. The fishing village of Vung Vieng too looks very beautiful. To visit pearl farm by traditional bamboo rafts must be something unique to do here.

Reply to  Yukti Agrawal
2 years ago

I am pleased you enjoyed reading about this incredible part of Vietnam. The traditional water puppet show was very interesting to watch with singers telling the tales of love and war in ancient Vietnam. Something very unique to that part of the world. And you are right, to visit a pearl farm and shop in the middle of the South China Sea was very interesting.

Lia Pontarelli
Lia Pontarelli
2 years ago

This sounds like an absolutely amazing trip! Personally, I’m not great at kayaking either, so I totally understand the going around in circles. I fell like going underneath that giant limestone in the kayak would be especially cool. I hope to make it over to that area and will definitely be looking into this. (The drinks look especially yummy.) Glad your son didn’t get stung by the jellyfish too!

Reply to  Lia Pontarelli
2 years ago

I am glad you enjoyed reading about my trip and I hope it has given you some inspiration on what to expect when cruising Halong and Bai Tu Bay.

2 years ago

Thank you I am glad you enjoyed the post and photos.

2 years ago

I am glad I am not alone in my Kayaking Skills! It looks easy but it proved a challenge for me to keep in a straight line! Needless to say, the cruise was such an amazing experience it will last in my memories for a long time.

2 years ago

It really was a memory that will last with me for a lifetime.

Subhashish Roy
2 years ago

What a beautiful journey. I felt I was there with you enjoying the two nights and three days. When I do go there I would prefer the same. What I loved are the beautiful spots, lovely beach, great food and cocktails and also the fact that there are just twenty people in the cruise which gives an opportunity to mingle and interact. Beautiful pictures made me feel so refreshed. Saving the post as I would just do it the way you did it.

Reply to  Subhashish Roy
2 years ago

I am really glad that you enjoyed my post and that it has inspired you to try this trip. I know you won’t be disappointed as it is incredible. If I could do it all again then I would!

2 years ago

I just came back from a Ha Long Bay cruise a few weeks ago and it was one of my favorite adventures! Sadly, we didn’t have time to do the hike to the caves nor did we visit the fishing villages. Your pictures really make me regret not spending an extra night at bay – hopefully next time!!

Reply to  Yara
2 years ago

I hope you still had a really great cruise and maybe if you return you could look into staying aboard longer for some additional adventures.

sumit walia
2 years ago

the setting definitely seemed idyllic especially the spot where the Dragon’s pearl was anchored. I was looking out for a few sunsets and sunrise visuals, were you able to click them? Jellyfish are definitely a risk and it was fortunate to escape back there. So in Hlaing bay, I understand from your post that this kind of natural rock formations and cliffs are not present?

Reply to  sumit walia
2 years ago

There is a sunset photo in the post, guess you missed it. The sunset over the rock formations was sensational.

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