I had heard about Hạ Long Bay for years and had always wanted to see this unique and beautiful part of the world. I got my wish during our visit to Vietnam. Hạ Long Bay is an area of about 600 square miles off the coast of northeast Vietnam, about a three-hour drive from Hanoi. It consists of over 1,500 limestone "islets" emerging from the calm waters.
There are many companies that offer cruises ranging from part-day to three nights. We had limited time, so we chose a one-night cruise. The options are dizzying and it took a while to decide which one was the best for us. I learned that Bai Tu Long Bay, at the eastern end of Hạ Long Bay is off the beaten path, less crowded and more pristine, so I concentrated my research there and ultimately chose Dragon Legend, one of the boats operated by Indochina Junk. It was a great choice! The cost for a two-day/one night cruise was $458 which is higher than other options, but in our opinion, well worth it. For much of our cruise, we didn't see any other tour boats and we felt that we had the bay to ourselves - what a feeling! The boat has 24 staterooms for a total of 46 passengers. There were a mere 20 passengers on our cruise.
As more and more people discover Hạ Long Bay, pollution from tourism is beginning to be a problem. One of the advantages of Bai Tu Long Bay is that only certain cruise lines are permitted, limiting both the number of boats and the resulting pollution. Indochina Junk is one of the few companies operating in this part of the bay. We loved their dedication to the ecology of the area; before we boarded we were asked to leave behind any one-time plastic such as water bottles. We were even provided glass water bottles in the van.
We were picked up early at our hotel in Hanoi for the three-hour drive to Hạ Long, the busy port, and we boarded at about 11:30, just in time for lunch as we sailed silently through the beautiful outcroppings.
On our cruise there were two optional "excursions"; kayaking on the first afternoon and a visit to a cave the next morning. The two-night cruise also includes a barbeque on a beach and a visit to a floating fishing village. We opted to stay on the boat the first afternoon, but I joined the group for the cave visit the next morning before the end of our cruise. In retrospect, the cave visit was a little rough for someone of "a certain age". Even though I'm in relatively good physical shape, the uneven limestone steps up to and in the cave were challenging. Fortunately one of our younger passengers took me under her wing to make sure I got in and out without any mishaps.
The first afternoon was spent gliding by and enjoying the beautiful scenery everywhere we looked.
Dinner was a buffet, also on the deck, with a nice variety of Asian and western fare. The crew was great; they came out, spoke to us and displayed the carvings done by one of the talented chefs.
We were fortunate to have clear skies for the beautiful sunset that night and the sunrise the next morning.
There were only a couple of other boats where we anchored that night.
I noticed these little boats and asked our cruise director about them. He said that the optimal time to catch fish is at night. The fishermen take their catch to port very early in the morning and they sleep during the day. We saw several of these fishing boats during our time in the bay.
Our stateroom, not that we spent much time in it, was relatively spacious and very comfortable. Here are a few photos of that and other areas on the boat, including a not very good photo of our friendly captain. The entire top deck was lounge chairs.
The port was busy as we returned.
A few more photos of beautiful Bai Tu Long Bay!
➜ Top Tips
Do your research carefully. There are a lot of cruise lines to choose from. Our cruise was a bit more expensive than others, but it was worth it.
Bai Tu Long Bay is less busy with boats than Halong Bay, but I don't think you could go wrong with either.
Take sneakers for the excursions. I had only sandals and wished I had brought better shoes.
Bring a good camera; the scenery is beautiful.