We climbed onto the small transport boat, our little group loaded onto the ferry that weaved through nautical traffic jam, both commercial fishing vessels and larger sail boats awaiting guest to travel through Halong Bay. I surveyed the clusters of ships and smiled to myself, happy to see us slowly leaving the rest behind in our wake.
Bai Tu Long Bay was our destination this weekend, located northwest, it is a different bay within the same area as Halong in the South China Sea. We moved away from the crowds of tourists sailing through Halong and drifted towards the looming limestone cliffs and into quieter waters.
We were greeted with a refreshing welcome drink and cool towel as everyone gathered to be introduced to the staff and hear about the itinerary for the next few days. All of our meals were served on deck and were fresh, delicious and a wonderful introduction into different local Vietnamese dishes. The service throughout the weekend was more than we had expected, the staff was friendly and we had heartfelt goodbyes the day we left. Since the boat was newer, we were told we had won the award of highest bar tab, a feat which I blame our champagnes during our beach lunch the second day, several bottles were popped as we enjoyed seafood alongside the shoreline. It was worth all the Dong (Vietnamese currency) we spent.
A Better Bay?
We were aboard the Dragon Legend, a small chartered ship operated by Indochina Junk which offers multi day trips through the scenic landscape without the crowds of Halong. It felt like a little luxury secret all to ourselves. Not only were we taking three days to explore the Bay, but the boat we had chosen was more than we could have expected. The rooms were spacious and clean, even our bathroom was equipped with a soaking tub that alongside a picture window to take in the views as you take a bath. There was a Jacuzzi on the top deck and strategically placed lounge chairs along the sides of the deck so you could relax and take in the scenery. Do I think we had a better cruise in a more memorable location? Without a doubt, yes.
Bai Tu Long Bay has all of the same visuals you’ll find at Halong Bay but unspoiled. That is the major draw and benefit to this part of the region. Halong Bay has a lot more tour operators and since it isn’t as far north you can still experience the area in a shorter period of time if you have a strict itinerary.
Mind your Junk
So we had a little bit (alright a lot) of immature fun with this one. The whole weekend it was, “lay off my Junk” or “watch out for that Junk” and “what a piece of Junk”. Honestly, you think it will get old, but it doesn’t. What’s with all of the elementary school humor? Any of those iconic boats you see with the wonderful burnt orange sails are called Junk boats. They are Chinese in origin and have been used since the 2nd century AD. Since there are tons of tour operators you want to make sure your boat isn’t a “hunk of Junk”. Last one, I promise.
Mind your Manners
One of the things that drew me to Dragon Legend Cruises was their commitment to keeping the Bays clean and giving back to the local fishing communities. It was sad to see so much trash floating in the Bay at the start of our journey and I loved that dragon Legend Cruises had created a program For a Green Halong Bay, a local community project that continues to clean up the waters of this unique UNESCO site.
Dragon Legend is part of the Indochina Junk luxury tour company and is a member of the RTC (Responsible Travel Club) to ensure that there is a sustainable tourism practices in the bay.
We spent a day finding the small indigenous families that are still fishing on floating villages, trying to keep the same traditions that have been passed down from previous generations. We piled into a traditional round bucket style boats, Vietnamese women at the helm, rowing us towards the cluster of wooden shacks bobbing in the lagoon. Her face covered by the conical hat, her arms strong as she slowly pulls the oar through the green waters. We had the chance to visit a pearl farm, getting to see the hard work, dedication & sometimes pure luck that goes into farming for pearls. You also get a chance to purchase a unique souvenir, there are black pearls here that are rare & found only in a few areas so make sure you take a look at the shop before you leave. It’s nice to know your purchase goes back to this small local community.
Mother of Dragons
Halong means descending dragons, and much like anything mystical and mysterious, there is a legend of how the bay was greeted to go along with the other worldly terrain. In a time of war, a Jade Emperor sent a mother dragon and her baby dragons to help to protect the Vietnamese people from being attacked at the water. The dragons fought with fire and rained down emeralds to create a barrier and protect the people. These emeralds turned into rock formations that we see today. It is said that this natural wonder has 1,969 limestone islets that have emerged from this 500 year old legend.
~ We were guests of the Dragon Legend but as always, my stories, experiences & reviews are my own opinion ~