Beautiful Bai Tu Long Bay

“I thought we were going to Halong Bay?” David turned to me, confused.

As our Indochina Junk Boat exited the Halong Bay port, which by the way is jam-pack filled with junk boats, we were getting our tour briefing from our guide, Tom. He’d begun by explaining that as we all knew (assuming I read the map properly) we weren’t actually going to Halong Bay, but to Bai Tu Long Bay.

Bai Tu Long Bay

Same same, but different.

It turns out that Bai Tu Long Bay is part of Halong Bay, in fact it takes up three quarters of Halong Bay, but the other quarter of Halong Bay is what tourists are most used to. In fact, Indochina Junk are the only company with a license to tour the specific parts of Bai Tu Long Bay that we’d be visiting. We noticed this immediately as we moved away from the hundreds of departing boats, and off into our own stretch of water.

Bai Tu Long Bay

How to describe Bai Tu Long Bay? I don’t want to be irritating and say things like beautiful (ahem – in my title), stunning, or breathtaking, even though it’s all of those things. The best description that I heard was from the youngest passenger on the boat, an eleven year-old named Anton who had already filled a passport. “It’s like Machu Pichu sunken in water”. He would know. While I’ve never been to the famous Inca ruin, I have seen enough photos to tell that Anton was right. From my own perspective, it was like the limestone karsts from the movie Avatar, partially submerged.

As we began cruising slowly through the karsts, our group of 20 were served lunch on board the deck. I felt like I was in an old Hollywood movie what with the dark wood floorboards contrasting the crisp white table linens. The service on the boat was top notch and the food was beyond words. The courses just kept coming. And this didn’t change. Every day Tom would say “and today for dinner we have a cool twelve courses.” On day one we laughed. By day two our stretched stomachs knew he was telling the truth. Most of our meals were the freshest seafood imaginable. I even caught a glimpse of the seafood delivery one day, a little woman in her fishing boat talking to the chefs, handing over the finest catch of the day.

Bai Tu Long Bay

Our cozy cabin on the Indochina Junk.

Bai Tu Long Bay Cruise

In case we were at risk of being over-inflated from food, there was just enough activity to burn… a few calories. Each day we had the opportunity to kayak in Bai Tu Long Bay. Let me tell you, kayaking is a sure-fire way to challenge a relationship. Oh did David and I ever bicker. Neither of us agrees when the other is the captain. Thankfully by day two we’d come to a kayaking truce and were at least more reasonable with one another – we did have heavy paddles in hand, after all. Bickering aside, our squabbles couldn’t take away from the beauty in front of us.

On our second kayak trip, Tom had guided us into this quiet lagoon with the cliff faces around us about twenty stories tall. Everyone in the group suddenly stopped paddling.

We listened.

It was silent but for the few birds trilling their sweet songs. I could see our fellow passengers scattered acround the lagoon, big smiles plastered on their faces. This was tranquility. This is what we all came for.

Bai Tu Long Bay

Playing with our camera on the beach visit

On our last night we were taken ashore to a small island where we’d be having dinner in a cave. Yes, we’re that cool. Tom described how once upon a time these caves were inhabited by the fishermen of Halong and Bai Tu Long, but that since Halong was designated as a UNESCO site, fishing families had been moved to floating villages to improve their quality of life. I can’t help but wonder whether the fishermen agree or not.

Honeymoon central, anyone?

Honeymoon central, anyone?

I did feel ever so slightly like we were all on honeymoon what with the dinner table set up. They’d laid out hearts of tea light candles and continued presenting us with gifts from the chefs – carvings that he’d worked on all day. I found that ever so slightly awkward…

What, you don't want this random boat carved out of a giant sweet potato?

What, you don’t want this random boat carved out of a giant sweet potato?

Ultimately I will remember this trip for the relaxation that it provided, the good food that over-filled my belly at each sitting and the neat people that I got to meet along the way.

Oh, and the sunsets. Definitely the sunsets.

Bai Tu Long Bay SunsetBai Tu Long Bay SunsetBai Tu Long Bay Sunset

Have you been to Bai Tu Long Bay? Halong Bay? What was your experience like?  



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13 Responses to Beautiful Bai Tu Long Bay

  1. dianacranstoun January 6, 2015 at 5:39 pm #

    Looks like an amazing experience. Stunning photos!

    • admin January 7, 2015 at 3:32 am #

      Hard to take a bad photo in Bai Tu Long Bay!

  2. Michelle January 7, 2015 at 7:03 pm #

    Wow so pretty! Love your pictures.

    • Victoria Smith January 10, 2015 at 2:16 am #

      Thanks Michelle. Honestly, the best thing we did for this trip was to buy a decent camera and learn (some) of the settings.

  3. SHARONMARIASMITH January 7, 2015 at 7:15 pm #

    That looks like a beautiful photograph you will have to frame it when you arrive home !

    • Victoria Smith January 10, 2015 at 2:16 am #

      Thanks Sharon! Yes, we’ll need to figure out how to keep the pictures in front of us rather than just on our computers! Can’t wait to see you soon.

  4. Marlene January 10, 2015 at 2:28 am #

    my breathe was taken away and I wasn’t even there!!!! JUST amazing and makes my heart burt with happiness that you guys are having this experience.

    • Victoria Smith January 10, 2015 at 9:40 am #

      Aw, thanks Marlene! It’s hard to believe the experiences that we’ve had so far. Can’t wait to catch up with you when I’m back. Perhaps some snowshoeing? We can “winter-hike”!

  5. Joyce January 31, 2016 at 8:57 am #

    Hi! Victoria, how long did you stay for this trip? 1 night and 2 days? Or 3 days and 2 nights? Thank you.

    • Victoria Smith January 31, 2016 at 9:19 am #

      Hi Joyce. We did the 3/2 option. It’s a bit more pricey, but I feel with the 2/1 option you spend half of that in the van and not cruising. If your budget can handle the 3/2 it is definitely worth it!

  6. Joyce January 31, 2016 at 10:47 am #

    Thanks Victoria, we’re booking in May! Your blog help us decide which tour to take. Awesome blog!

    • Victoria Smith January 31, 2016 at 10:56 am #

      Oh, I’m so glad! If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask. Have an incredible adventure in Vietnam!

  7. Peter Harthewak May 22, 2017 at 9:52 am #

    Vietnam is a small yet captivating country, offering travellers an exciting mix of adventure and culture. The country’s natural wonders span from the mountainous north and the fertile plains of the Mekong Delta, to the spectacular coastline of central Vietnam and the magnificent Halong Bay.

    With a fascinating and sometimes turbulent history dating back some 4,000 years, Vietnam’s cultural heritage is a tapestry of influences, both from outside and within, offering travelers a unique experience within the region. Despite its rapid growth, Vietnam remains a nation rooted in tradition that is as interesting as it is welcoming.

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