Discovering Bai Tu Long Bay
28.02.2016 - 01.03.2016 25 °C
The next morning I was picked up for my trip to Halong Bay or to be more precise to Bai Tu Long Bay, which is right beside Halong. As Halong Bay, is perhaps the biggest tourist destination in Vietnam it has become very crowded with boats. I have heard that there are 800 or so boats all carrying lots of passengers. I opted for a trip that went to this less developed but equally beautiful bay. I got picked up in a Luxury Van, which I hadn’t ordered, but enjoyed, and with two other people, Leeanne and Harry (from Australia) who were also on the boat with me. We invariably had a stop, which for all appearances was a bathroom break but it was half and hour at a shop that has disabled people doing the handicrafts. I enjoyed watching them work but was pretty turned off by the incredibly inflated prices. I don’t imagine that the workers are paid very much. Our second stop was a to see a Water Puppet show in a rural setting and then have lunch which was really tasty.
Water puppet show
We boarded the “Dragon's Pearl”, our home for the next couple of days, early in the afternoon. It is a smaller boat to begin with having only 11 cabins, but there were only 13 of us so it was a great number. There were 12 staff members, so the service was superb.
Being served our welcoming drink
"Dragon's Pearl" with the sails up. We never did actually sail but it was pretty to see.
Figurehead of the Dragon's Pearl at the front of the boat
I can honestly say I have never felt so cared for by staff in this way. It was amazing. The tour guide Chung was delightful and you could tell that he was genuinely wanting people to have a great experience. There was a great comradery among the staff which made it even more pleasant. All the passengers were from the US or Australia with me being the lone Canadian! I thought they had planned it that way to have all the English speakers on the same boat but it was just by accident. I am grateful as there was only one smoker. If there had been more Europeans, particularly French folks, there likely would have been lots of smokers.
Really from beginning this area was beautiful. These beautiful islands of rock rising out of the ocean, each their very own shape and as we moved, the different combinations of these islands was enchanting to say the least.
Here is our itinerary for the trip:
The weather, was gorgeous, three sunny days, which I had not experienced since being in the Mekong Delta area. It was good to get warm again and peel off the long underwear! We travelled for several hours and then had our first kayak ride.
It was great to be at water level in this gorgeous place. Chung and I shared a kayak so I had it really lucky. We paddled for an hour before boarding again and having a many coursed meal prepared so beautifully. We had our dinner on the deck and it was dark with everything lit up with candles and lights. It was pretty amazing.
Wish I had remembered to take a photo when it was dark and the candles were lit!
I sat with a couple, Sky and Norm, who live in San Francisco and really enjoyed talking to them. We had such a nice connection. Sky was completely in love with the scenery as well so it was usually her and I photographing all the beautiful sights.
Sky and Norm
On the top of the boat the view was great.
Dusk at our anchoring spot with the other boats, luckily not too numerous.
I really almost couldn’t believe that I was where I was. I was so excited it was hard to sleep and I got up several times to look out my cabin door. The moon in the middle of the night was amazing. I had the first hour or so to myself on deck as I got up for the sunrise the next morning which was totally delightful. The birdsong was so beautiful to hear. I just wanted to be immersed in it.
Sunrise the first morning
We had a two-course breakfast which was again so delicious. I was so struck by how much the staff wanted us to just enjoy ourselves. It really touched my heart.
We had another kayak ride that morning which was longer and gave us time to take in where we where. These little islands are amazing. Chung knew all the lovely places to take us to. The water was so calm almost like glass so kayaking was very easy.
Chung and I
A lagoon we paddled into.
After an amazing lunch, and some rest time we headed to an island which had a beach and could kayak, swim or just enjoy the sunset, which is what I did. There were lots of boats that were moored there, but as Chung promised by the time the sun set, they were all gone and we were the only ones.
Sunset with Sky and Norm paddling by.
Our dinner that night was served in a cave on this island which was up probably 50 steps. There are two chambers to the cave, one being smaller and the other quite large, with some stalactites and stalagmites. This cave in the past was used by fisherman who needed a safe refuge in storms but in the recent past are no longer able to stay there. Apparently, they often took pieces of the cave and so were destroying it. Hopefully they found another safe haven.
The path up to the cave was all lit up and then inside it was lighted by candles and also some lights. I don’t know how they have electricity there but they do! The tables were gorgeous, with white linen, rose petals, candles. They even had lights under the table so we could more easily see our food. They think of everything. One of the couples on the trip was on their honeymoon so the staff very sweetly made it special for them. Vietnamese people in general really seem to be romantics. You see it for sure in their TV programs.
The food was barbequed that night and was again amazing with so many courses. During the evening Chung kept on bringing out these beautifully carved vegetables that were done by the cook. We really couldn't believe how beautifully done they were. It was a sweet evening that we shared.
Chung making a presentation to the honeymoon couple and many of the staff of the Dragon's Pearl
Each of us had our photo taken in the heart. How sweet!
After boarding again, we travelled back to our anchoring place, which was where we had stayed the evening before. It was incredibly beautiful to be on the top of the boat with all these islands and the stars shining brightly above. I really didn’t want to go to bed, though I loved my little cabin.
My sweet cabin
Sunrise again, a one course breakfast, thankfully, and then we were off to a floating fishing village for a visit. We got to be a row boats again, with predominately women rowing, and visit what is left of their village. It is a very hard life out there with little access to medical care, or even TV or the internet so as time goes on the village is shrinking.
Floating village homes
A sort of cave we paddled to.
There used to be a primary school but it has now closed, so I suspect that this village will only survive as a tourist destination rather than a genuine village very soon. In fact, I wondered, if even at this point most of the folks living there are not just involved in the tourist activities and also the Cultured Pearl Farm that is there. It was really interesting to see that for the first time and to see how they actually culture the pearls as opposed to them being naturally produced.
Cultured Pearl Farm, underneath the balls, the nets of oysters are hanging for up to 5 years.
We had our last morning on the boat and then brunch. Oh, my gosh, it is a good thing that the trip didn’t last a week. It was way too tempting to eat too much as it was all so delicious. We said goodbye to the staff and then off we went in our different Luxury vans back to Hanoi.
Happy me on the Dragon's Pearl
Photo of captain and Chung
A few more photos of Halong Bay before I left......
When we arrived back at the dock in Halong City I felt like I could instantly go out and do the whole trip again. I reluctantly got on the Luxury Bus heading back to Hanoi. This time I rode with Sky and Norm and the honeymoon couple. It was lovely to see all the folks working in the rice paddies alongside the road back to Hanoi. I will continue on with my adventure in my next entry. Love, Dana