Bai Tu Long bay: backpackers on a luxury cruise

One of the top tourist attractions in Southeast Asia is Ha Long bay. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site, famous for its enormous limestone cliffs and beautiful blue water. The fame, however, has a down side: this Vietnamese bay is filled with cruises, backpacker party boats, and even worse, tons of plastic. So on the one hand, we really wanted to see this paradise and on the other, we hated the thought of sailing in, and adding to, the plastic soup.

Avoiding the crowds

After some research, we found there is a way around all this rubbish. The Northern part of Ha Long bay, Bai Tu Long bay, is a lot less crowded and therefore cleaner. The reviews are raving and we were getting more and more excited. But, as always, going to less traveled places is not as easy as just sticking to the tourist trail.

To cruise or not to cruise

So when we started looking for ways to visit that bay, we first tought of going there on our own. But since Thomas’ mother joined us for two weeks, we wanted to make the most of our time. Besides that, we didn’t want to take the chance of stranding somewhere. You just don’t want to put your mom through sleeping on a bus station somewhere in Vietnam. So we took a deep breath, muttered “screw the budget”, and started looking for all-in cruises.

This was not as easy as it sounds. Most companies that promise Bai Tu Long cruises, actually mean that they take you there on a half day trip in a smaller boat. The rest of your cruise is spent amongst all the other cruise ships and plastic in Ha Long bay.

The right company

After quite some disappointments in the honesty of companies about their itinerary, we found Indochina Junk. After I finished laughing about wanting to avoid trash and finding a company called “Junk” (synonym for ship), I contacted them. Still a bit sceptic, I checked their promises on Trip Advisor and decided that this was the cruise for us.

They say that they are the only one that has full permission to cruise Bai Tu Long bay and even better, they are very serious about responsible travel. Unfortunately, Indochina Junk is also pretty expensive so after booking a 3D/2N cruise on the “Dragon Legend”, we were curious to see if we would get our money’s worth.

The itinerary

The promise: A luxury van would pick us up from Hanoi and take us to the pier, we would board and start with a tasty lunch

The reality: I have never had better seats in a van, the welcome at the pier was warm and professional and the lunch… oh my god. I am not even going to talk about food in the rest of this article beacuse there is nothing more to say. It was tasty, well presented, plenty and even the vegetarian dishes were varied and delicous.

The promise: Five star rooms and excursions like kayaking, visiting a floating village, bbq on the beach, a cave visit, octopus fishing, sundown cocktail party and Tai Chi in the morning.

The reality: Everything they promised and more. Andy, our cruise manager, was available for all your questions and has all the knowledge to educate you on life in the bay. We were very entertained but also had enough time to just relax and enjoy the stunning view. This view could also be enjoyed from your bathtub. Yes, the cabins were the most luxurious I have ever seen and had a sea view bathtub.

The promise: An untouched part of Ha Long Bay away from tourists and pollution, while making sure not to further damage the environment.

The reality: Going somewhere, by almost any means of transport (apart from bicycle) damages the environment. And even though we try to be responsible, we are traveling and thus polluting. That being said, guests on the Dragon Legend were asked to refill water bottles and while out on activities, encouraged to pick up trash from the water. So no, we did not better the environment but we also tried to reduce our impact a little.

As for being in an untouched part of the bay, this was partly true. There were only Indochina Junk boats around us, but to be honest, Indochina Junk is a large company with quite some boats.

To cruise or not to cruise II

All in all, we had a blast on the cruise. It was luxury in its purest form and natural beauty in ways that you can’t imagine. Again, it wasn’t cheap. But if I’d had to choose again today, I would either go to the Bai Tu Long part of Ha Long bay with Indochina Junk, or not go to Ha Long bay at all. I really hope that the effords of this company make the bay greener but to reach that goal, there is a lot of work still to be done.

♥ Dagmar

Ps. We received a discount in exchange for an article about Indochina Junk. However, the views expressed here are unrelated to said discount.

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