The most frequent recommendation I heard while preparing for my trip to Vietnam was to go to Ha Long Bay. As it turns out, the best cruise in Ha Long Bay is actually to cruise out of it, and into Bai Tu Long Bay on the ship the Treasure Junk.
Ha Long Bay is famous for its gorgeous rock mountains rising from the water, like my beloved islands in Krabi. I’ve long dreamed of sailing around those islands in Southern Thailand, so Ha Long Bay offered a wonderful substitute!
With a bit of research, my traveling buddy Helen, from Not Without My Passport, found the perfect boat for us. Perfect for us meant no rats, non-stop parties, and crowds. We loved that the boat boasted that they cruised responsibly and their course avoided a bay full of other boats and trash.
So I splurged and booked with that beautiful, newer boat to Bai Tu Long Bay. The 15-cabin Treasure Junk took us to this protected area which only allows a limited number of ships.
What is going on here?
Our cruise began with an unexplained bit of pageantry as a masked man waved us aboard while another played a drum. While perplexed by this, it was soon forgotten as we climbed the stairs into their air-conditioned main dining room where we were welcomed with a fruity drink. The lovely interior of the boat was a dark wood that boasted numerous windows to view the bay.
The itinerary for our over-night trip included kayaking and swimming in the bay, a cooking course, delicious meals, squid fishing, morning Tai Chi, and a boat ride through a local village.
There was a lot planned, but I found there was enough downtime to enjoy the scenery and talk with the international guests ranging from 30 to 60 (my estimation). The smaller size of the ship made for the right amount of ease and elegance. I loved the opportunity to get to know them and share travel stories in such a beautiful setting.
The scenery was every changing as we glided out to the bay. I’d get distracted by one particularly beautiful mountain, only for it to be replaced by yet another.
Getting on the water in a kayak and inspecting the gorgeous limestone cliffs closer was one of the highlights of the trip. The day was definitely hot, but it wasn’t noticeable once we were on the water among the magnificent mountains. We used tandem kayaks for the paddle trip, and I was lucky enough to pair up with our wonderful guide, Kevin. I used this advantage to pick his brain with various questions (for instance, yes there are snakes on those mountains but they don’t swim). This also let me snap away to capture the breathe-taking mountains with my camera while he paddled. The tour provided dry bags for our belongings while we paddled.
Before we’d gotten on the water, Kevin told the group an interesting legend about Ha Long Bay. The name translates to ‘Descending Dragon’ because the mountains were created by the dragon’s fireballs used in defense of the local people while under attack.
The name Bai Tu Long means bowing baby dragon. This story cemented dragons in my brain for the rest of the trip and every cloud shape morphed into a dragon.
We paddled around for about an hour and unfortunately a storm earlier that week had pushed trash into the bay. We made a game of maneuvering the boat to snatch the various plastic bottles or other rubbish though.
I was both shocked and dismayed when a rubber ducky floated by and I couldn’t grab it in time. I guess I was not the one. And while Kevin’s English was excellent, my excitedly trying to explain the rubber ducky going by just left a confused look on his face. I wonder if they have Sesame Street in Vietnam?
As we headed back to the boat, the water cleared so there was no trash in sight. While I am not normally a fan of the water, the bay was the perfect temperature for swimming, and I jumped in with some of the other guests. I enjoyed being in the water and the bay’s current kept me active so I could remain near the boat.
Those water activities worked up your appetite for their incredible meals. The lunch on this boat was the best meal I had during my two weeks in Vietnam. It was seven courses of delicious local dishes served in perfect portions.
I joked that the Spring Rolls actually made me angry, because they were so good that I knew I would crave them for the rest of my life. Which of course only gives me another reason to go back!
During our meals, we’d sit at a table for two by the window. It was so relaxing to watch the mountains pass by. I kept having to stop and take a picture (ignoring the glare each picture had).
Dinner that night and breakfast the next day were a new set of things to try but the lunch remained my favorite. There was no fear of going hungry on the boat!
The boat also had lovely, well-appointed rooms. I found the bed was a bit too comfortable as I missed Tai Chi in the morning. I just couldn’t find the motivation to get out of bed looking out my window at the gorgeous mountains.
I did manage to get out in time to see other visitors enjoying the Tai Chi session. Their graceful movements were even more beautiful as the mountains floated by.
While there was not much of a sunrise to speak of, the overcast morning made for a dramatic cloudy sky and rings of light reflecting off the water. It enhanced the remoteness of where we were and how special that was.
The morning provided another highlight with the boat ride we took around the village. Five of us boarded a rowboat with 3 rows of seats and a woman rowing. She guided us through the protected grouping of islands that was the home to her village.
Aside from the paddles dipping into the water and our excited gasps about beautiful things we spotted, there was little sound on this trip. I loved that quiet boat ride and happily snapped away to capture every detail.
The ride ended at the Pearl Farm where we were treated to a cultured pearl demonstration. An oyster was opened and a circular bead inserted. The bead allowed for a perfect circular pearl to form after 2-3 years of growth.
A mature oyster was opened to show one of the pearls created and allow a comparison to the starter bead. We then had a bit of time to tour the gallery of pearl jewelry. I may have purchased at least one pearl as a souvenir of this great trip, but I’d left everything but my camera on the ship. Next time!
The trip ended with one more delicious meal as the gorgeous mountains floated by and soon we were back to hectic Hanoi with all of their beeping horns and away from the beautiful quiet of the mountains on the water.
I would definitely recommend going to Bai Tu Long Bay for a bit of peace and beauty. Given my fantastic experience, I cannot imagine a better boat for this trip than the Treasure Junk.
Since James did not join me for this adventure, I see a second cruise in my future. See how many reasons I have to go back?
Treasure Junk dining room
Treasure Junk sun-deck
Cooking demonstration: fresh spring rolls!
My spring roll, thanks Helen!
I’m calling this a dragon fish!! It has wings!
The unlucky squids.
Interior of Treasure Junk
Cruise Includes –
- Secure storage for big bags at their office.
- I’d recommend storing your large luggage. Rooms are spacious but do not have a closet.
- 4 hour bus ride to harbor and then back (with one rest stop).
- Our guide took some of this time to give some history of Vietnam and the various regions which I really enjoyed.
- 3 incredible, multi-course meals, in the Air-conditioned dining room.
- Light breakfast in the early morning with coffee/tea, cereal and pastries.
- A cooking class allowing you to try your hand at making delicious fresh rolls.
- Kayaking with dry bags to protect your items.
- Swimming in beautiful waters.
- Sunbathing on the sun-deck which was definitely sunny and downright hot in the daytime but the deck was gorgeous and breezy at night.
- Squid fishing in the evening.
- Happy Hour with 2 for 1 drinks at night.
- Drink prices were comparable to Hanoi for alcoholic beverages.
- Overly comfortable bed with comforters and crisp white sheets in an air-conditioned room.
- Modern clean bathroom with Western toilet and two shower heads. As is common in Southeast Asia, there was no shower curtain to contain where the water splashed.
- Bottled mineral water in room (hated the taste of it).
- Tai Chi in the morning on the upper deck.
- Boat ride through a peaceful village.
- Cultured pearl demonstration.
- Incredible views through Bai Tu Long Bay.
- Security cameras in hallway and safes for use in the main dining area.
- I had no fears about the security of my laptop and DSLR I’d brought.
Not included –
- WiFi – enjoy being untethered!!
- Beverages (besides those mentioned above).
- Rats or anything gross. 😀
Connect with me in the comments –
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Click *HERE* if you want to check out Helen’s review of the trip with gorgeous photos.
I received a media discount for my tour with Treasure Junk, but all views expressed are my own. [It was just that good, except the mineral water.]