A Bai Tu Long Bay Luxury Cruise with Indochina Junk
Our original plan to travel Vietnam didn't include the North because five weeks wasn't enough time. I thought we would eventually return to do some tours of Northern Vietnam because I knew I'd like to take a luxury cruise. Since we are stuck here, we decided to seize the opportunity to do a cruise at a time when there weren't a lot of people around. We chose a Bai Tu Long Bay luxury cruise with Indochina Junk abord the Dragon Legend.
This was an experience of a lifetime. I would've preferred a two night cruise, however most cruises were only running one night sailings. We hoped to secure one of the smaller ships in the Indochina Junk fleet, Prince I. This would have been a private sailing, however it was already out for the days that we could cruise. Instead, we sailed on a group cruise on Dragon Legend, which worked out fine because there weren't too many passengers and the ship had a small pool!
What was it like?
We loved it. There is something about five star that I always enjoy, and that is the feeling you get when you receive five star service. It doesn't usually come down to the material things, it usually comes down to the warmth and VIP feel you get from the staff. Some of my favourite memories are luxury experiences because of this!
Our Bai Tu Long Bay cruise was luxury and our older kids first five star experience (I think). It left the kids wanting to go five star again. I'm not sure when that will be, but hopefully soon!
Meals on the cruise
What jumped out for us on this experience, was the food. We ate so much, the food was delicious and there was plenty of it. My daughter opted for the vegetarian menu and she thoroughly enjoyed almost everything they created. The rest of us enjoyed seafood served in all different ways. With six set menu dishes for both day one lunch and dinner, we were very happy customers.
We had two tour guides on the cruise who looked after us especially well. I felt very special when we arrived the first day and were taken out to our private lunch setting on the main deck. Our guides spoke great English and one of them was happy to answer a lot of our questions about his life and where he was from. We spent a fair amount of time chatting with our guides about where we were and their work and how Covid has changed things for the cruise company. We learned that their cruises had only just resumed a couple of times a week, prior to Covid they were running every day. The guides were very accommodating and helpful for us, they even organised squid fishing for our family in the evening!
This is something that most Bai Tu Long Bay and Ha Long Bay luxury cruises offer, you just need to double check the itinerary.
Off boat tours
I didn't want too much time off the boat because we were only on board one night, so these off boat tours were something I scanned itineries for. The Indochina Junk Bai Tu Long Bay luxury cruise itinerary was just right. Most of the time was on board cruising, with just a little time off the ship to check out a cave, go kayaking and a quick visit of the floating village (which was very different to the one we visited during our Lan Ha Bay cruise).
Our luxury cruise suites
We booked last minute, so we missed out on the connecting rooms. But that was ok because our older kids were in the room right next to us and they are at an age where they are comfortable being next door. We loved the big comfortable (soft) beds and I always love a good bath tub, especially one with a good view! There was a comfortable sitting area with a window view and the room was spacious. Our kids room was the same except they had two single beds.
Our Bai Tu Long Bay luxury cruise itinerary
Click here for the up to date cruise itineraries on Dragon Legend.
Indochina Junk cruises along Bai Tu Long Bay rather than Ha Long Bay - both bays are very similar. I realised Ha Long Bay must be very popular because when we took the ferry across from Cat Ba Island, we saw plenty of cruise ships in the bay. I can't imagine what that would be like outside of Covid travel time, I think perhaps there would be very many ships all following one another like ducks in a row. Bai Tu Long Bay is to the North East of Ha Long Bay and at the time we were there, only two other ships sailed behind us, so we felt quite alone except for the few other boats travelling to and from ports in the area.
We were taken to our ship on time at 12pm and we were guided to the main deck for our private lunch setting (how spoilt were we?). The staff told us we were able to go back down and move our baggage into our rooms while lunch was cooking. As we walked down, we spotted the pool and explored the front of the ship. After moving things into our room, we returned for our six course lunch which left us feeling very happy and full. This was great timing because the views heading out of the harbour aren't as spectacular as they are later in the day when you are further into Bai Tu Long Bay.
Thien Canh Son Cave
Following lunch, we parked ourselves on the sun loungers by the pool overlooking the bay. Elijah swam and we chatted about how lucky we were to be on this cruise!! Around 3pm we pulled into our first stop, THIEN Canh Son Cave. We piled into the tender and cruised over to the island cave, then captured a few photos before exploring the cave. Last in meant we were last out, so we got to take some awesome photos alone in the cave! Following this, we got to take the kayaks out for a paddle. Noah was brave and took out a kayak on his own for a bit. We got more super awesome photos on the kayaks before heading back to the ship.
After departing the cave, our kids swam in the pool for a bit while we enjoyed the views. Eventually we landed in our resting spot for the night. Rimaha and the kids enjoyed an hour or so of jumping off the tender and wowing the Vietnamese with Elijah's swimming abilities. Afterwards we headed back to our rooms for a nice soak in the tub before we headed up for dinner.
Dinner was outside on the deck with everyone. We were cruising with two large, Vietnamese extended families. It looked like they were all having a wonderful time with grandparents, parents and cousins all enjoying each others company. We were the only foreigners (that's what we are called here), and had a small table by ourselves. Dinner was again six or so dishes, and I hadn't fully recovered from lunch, but ate it all anyway because it was so good!
After our dinner, the tender was moved to the side of the boat. A few bamboo sticks held lines with a small lure and hook at the bottom. The crew told us this wasn't really squid season, they would be hiding quite deep in the water, but maybe we would get lucky.
Our kids got bored of it all very quickly, pointing at small moving fish wasn't entertaining them. We didn't catch anything so we happily retired to bed because breakfast was up really early.
Day two - Breakfast and Vung Vieng Village
It seems my kids enjoy sleep ins these days, so the 7am buffet breakfast was a bit of a stretch. We made it, and even Elijah woke up with enough time to cram in some cereal before we arrived at our morning stop.
Vung Vieng floating village is a small fishing village where people live on the water. I wasn't really sure about visiting this floating village. I felt like maybe we didn't need to see another floating village. But there wasn't a lot to see if we stayed on the boat, so we decided to go.
This village is closed off and you cannot simply pass through the way we did when we visited the village on our Lan Ha Bay cruise. It has an entry point where you hop off the tender and change onto a small bamboo boat which is rowed by local residents. After seeing the Lan Ha Bay village, this one seemed empty. There weren't many people, it was more orderly. People had their own 'sections' with similar styled homes. This was modern suburbia to Lan Ha Bays old school mish mashed suburbs. It seemed to fit our Bai Tu Long Bay luxury cruise itinerary, but I'm not sure about it feeling completely authentic.
Authentic or not?
We asked about the village when we returned and learned there used to be more than a thousand or so residents, but most had moved to the mainland to give their families a better education. What is left is a more sterile version of the floating village. Only a few hundred residents remain, and it's not alive and bustling like the other one we'd seen. So perhaps it is not truly authentic anymore, but it is still a glimpse into a very different way of life.
What we liked about this part of the tour was the green initiative. The bamboo boats are equipped with nets, so as we rowed along, if we saw rubbish, we could collect it. This was impressive to me because it is a start in the right direction. I think this is what the future of tourism needs to look like. This area of Ha Long Bay had less rubbish than other parts we have seen. The small bit of cleaning that is done will help. If more operators create tours like this, change will happen much faster!
Back to the port
After our tour, we headed back to the ship to pack up our things and relax for a bit. We enjoyed the final hour of cruising with a really not needed buffet brunch (yes, this is in addition to breakfast). It was again delicious, and I was starting to feel like I'd eaten about four days worth of food in 24 hours.
The buffet is well timed because the ending hour is much like the first hour, you are heading to a port and there's not a lot of that tranquil beauty around. It's also good for those who might miss the early breakfast. I probably didn't need it though!
How to choose your Bai Tu Long Bay luxury cruise
After going through the process of looking through a few different cruise options and reading stacks of blogs on Ha Long Bay Cruises, we learned a bit about choosing a cruise. There are three things you might like to consider when you are looking to book your luxury cruise:
1. Choose a cruise that has a commitment to sustainability and the environment.
Vietnam (and many countries around the world) has a real issue with rubbish. It's one of the very few things we don't like about the country because it really does spoil the epic greenness of it. As tourists we have a responsibility to choose our tour operators carefully. If we can find cruise providers who are implementing a green approach, these should be considered first!
2. Check the off ship itinerary
Some of the itineraries we saw had large parts dedicated to tours on Cat Ba Island. Cat Ba is a destination in itself and you could easily visit the island to do these without a luxury cruise. Choose a cruise that offers the things you'd like to do (for us kayaking and squid fishing were important). Make sure you aren't sacrificing a big chunk of your luxury cruise not on the cruise!
3. One night or two?
We really would've preferred two nights on board, however they weren't running two nights because of Covid. Once we sailed and ate for 24 hours, I think we were all happy with one night. There isn't a lot we would've missed out on and I definitely don't think we needed to eat any more food.
Other things you may need to take into consideration is your budget and family needs. You also might like to check number of cabins. We had read in a few blogs that it was very important to choose cruises with fewer cabins. Dragon Legend has 24 cabins and at no point did it seem crowded. The Dragon Legend sister ship also cruised alongside us and did the same tours. With two cruises on the cave and village visits, I still didn't feel like there were too many people around. We still got shots without people easily. So don't put too much weight on the cabin numbers. Definitely read reviews though!
I hope this blog has helped you with some decision making for your Bai Tu Long Bay cruise. If you're interested in taking the cruise we did, below is a link to the cruise we took with Indochina Junk.
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