Halong Bay topped our list of places to see upon booking our trip to Vietnam. One of the seven natural wonders of the world and UNESCO world heritage site, this other-worldly bay of towering islands draws millions of tourists from across the world every year. But with an influx of visitors and an overwhelming amount of tour companies operating in the area, it can be tricky to choose who to travel with. For us, it was all about avoiding the busy tourist areas, while being able to travel as responsibly as possible. Research and recommendations led us to Indochina Junk. They seemed to be the perfect fit for what we wanted out of our visit!
Being the first tourism group to offer tours to Bai Tu Long Bay is one of the major draws to travelling with Indochina Junk. Bai Tu Long Bay is the more secluded and untouched part of Halong Bay. In recent times, parts of Halong Bay have become overcrowded, with hundreds of boats in the water at a time. While tourism is important for this area, too much of it can be damaging. The water is dirty in places, with litter floating around and collecting on the shores of the islands. However only a handful of boats are able to cruise Bai Tu Long Bay, the more secluded and untouched part of Halong Bay, therefore it is cleaner and quieter.
Part of the reason that Bai Tu Long Bay remains as unspoilt as it is, is Indochina Junk. As a responsible and sustainable travel company, they operate a green Halong Bay programme. Staff run monthly clean-ups of the bay, including beach cleans and floating waste removal. In 2017, they managed to collect and bring 17.7kg of waste to shore to be treated. Indochina Junk also encourage tourists to collect any rubbish they see floating in the water or on the beaches. In addition to their green programme, Indochina Junk take part in the annual Earth Hour. All of their boats and offices turn off their lights for one hour on 25th March and as a result, last year they saved 2147.61kw of energy from this simple act.
Aside from their environmental work, Indochina Junk also work alongside local communities and cultures to help them benefit positively from the tourism industry. Visits to Yen Duc village and Vung Vieng fishing village are included in all itineraries except for the 1 day cruise. Local people are employed by the company in many different roles. Indochina Junk teach those employed in farming how to grow organic and sustainable produce.
To learn more about the companies’ responsible practices, click here.
Indochina Junk offer a wide range of itineraries with a great selection of activities throughout. Choose from a range of durations – whichever suits your timescale, preferences and budget. Several different boats are available, which vary in size and passenger capacity. Click here for the full range of cruises or read on to hear about our trip aboard the 3 day 2 night Dragon’s Pearl cruise!
Our Halong Bay Cruise – Dragon’s Pearl
Day 1 :
Our journey began in Hanoi, where we were picked up from our hotel at around 7:30am. The drive from Hanoi to Halong Bay took around 4 hours, due to the inclusion of a stop at the beautiful Yen Duc village. Local villagers performed a traditional water puppet show, and also prepared a delicious lunch of Vietnamese delicacies for us. Visiting somewhere like Yen Duc is a great opportunity to see a different side of Vietnam away from the hustle and bustle of the city, while also providing a different means of income for the locals, who are able to benefit from this tourism.
Arrival in Halong Bay
The closer we got to Halong Bay, the more we realised that the heavy fog obscuring our view from the bus wasn’t lifting. As a result we couldn’t see a thing across the water upon our arrival at the dock. Slightly disappointed that we couldn’t yet see the famous islands, but excited nonetheless, we were transported to our home for the next 3 days – the Dragon’s Pearl.
Our room was situated below deck, down a beautiful wood-panelled corridor. The room itself was simple but ornately decorated, complete with hot shower and a porthole looking out on to the water. Large windows stretched the length of the room, and we could see the islands up close as we got deeper into the bay. Who wouldn’t want to wake up to that view?
Activities on board
Back in the dining room, the chef on board the boat led a cooking class. He taught us how to make spring rolls and an incredible sweet chilli dipping sauce – so delicious! After taking a while to get the hang of rolling the thin rice paper without tearing it (I am not a natural in the kitchen), our rolls were taken away to be lightly fried.
Left to explore the boat as we drew deeper into the bay, we went upstairs to the top deck to take a look around. The fog was still thick, which provided an ethereal effect as the thousands of islets emerged from it. We sat on the sun loungers taking in the view around us, before heading downstairs to go kayaking around the bay.
Provided with life jackets and ponchos to keep us warm and dry, we tentatively worked ourselves into the kayak. Armed with our GoPro we set off into the mist, led by tour guide Tom. Weaving in and out of islands, Tom pointed out places of interest and local wildlife while we drank in the scenery. It was like being on another planet – just magical.
Relaxing evenings on board
Back on the boat for dinner, we were presented with an unbelievable seven (yes, seven!) course meal, largely made up of rice, papaya salad, seafood, meat and vegetables. The food on board was outstanding, and probably one of the highlights of the trip! In addition, all dietary requirements were catered for, and there was always plenty to go around.
After dinner we tried our hand at squid fishing off the back of the boat, using rods the crew provided. The bar was also open (as it was all day) and we drank our fair share of Ha Long beer and cocktails before heading to bed for a well-earned rest.
Taking in the views
A unique dining experience
A series of ‘rooms’ took us deep into the cave. Candles lit the path that led the way to our stunning dinner setting, where the crew from the boat were already preparing our meal. It was a delicious barbecue style meal of seafood and meat, with so many courses we weren’t sure it would ever end! The crew treated us to a traditional Vietnamese song while we ate, which topped off a brilliant day perfectly.
Our final morning on board the Dragon’s Pearl was spent eating, drinking and slowly cruising back to Halong city. But before we ended our trip we had one more stop to make, at Vung Vieng fishing village.
Vung Vieng Fishing Village
To get to Vung Vieng we were split up into groups and put on small rowing boats. Local women rowed the boats across the bay before heading through a narrow space between the islands. As we passed through this gap, it opened up into a vast space, and in the distance sat the colourful little village. Tiny floating houses which sat on raft-like structures were adorned by boats, pulled up alongside them as an extension of the living quarters. Women, men, children and even dogs live aboard this man-made wooden island.
We docked at the hub of the village, a large floating building with a surprise inside – pearls. Inside we learned how pearls are formed and grown, and there was also the opportunity to buy some pearl jewellery if you wished. The cultivation of pearls is an important industry in Vietnam, and while this farm was definitely a bit of a tourist trap, it was still an interesting place to visit. It’s hard to imagine a more picturesque place for a jewellery shop!
The end of our visit to Vung Vieng meant the end of our cruise, and it was sadly time to head back to shore. We spent the rest of our time taking in as much of the view and the peacefulness as possible, knowing we wouldn’t find much quietness back in Hanoi! We drank our final beers as the islands faded out of view.
Finally, some other thoughts to consider…
- The Dragon’s Pearl caters for around 20 guests, which is a small number in comparison to many of the other trips on offer. As a result, we felt that the small group size added to the welcoming feeling on board the boat, due to the staff being able to tailor the experience for each individual guest. The boat was very quiet, therefore very relaxing. Another positive to a small group is that they cause less pollution and use fewer resources.
- Our trip was in late January, so we were lucky that we had such beautiful weather. Northern Vietnam can get quite cool in the winter months, so make sure to take a range of clothing to suit both hot and cold climates. As a result of this cooler weather, Halong Bay is considerably quieter during winter and spring, so take this into account when booking your trip.
- Finally, money. Indochina Junk are not the cheapest company out there. But whether you travel with them or not, it is worth spending more on a good quality cruise. Affordable travel is great, but when it comes at the detriment of the planet, is it really worth it? Avoid the large, cheap tourist boats if you can and as a result you will have a greater experience. If you can’t afford to travel more responsibly, then save up!
Indochina Junk did not sponsor this post. I thoroughly enjoyed our cruise on board the Dragon’s Pearl, and feel it is my duty to recommend responsible and sustainable options wherever possible.