The other (quieter) Halong Bay
It seems to be a bit of a running theme as I continue further down this travel blogging road… how to dodge other tourists [blissfully ignoring the fact that I am of course one myself]. However with more and more of us setting sail across this babe-ing world of ours to experience little pockets of paradise ourselves, [Which is amazing by the way. This world was made for wandering. Never stop travelling, right?], inevitably the side effect of this, is that the sexiest parts are suffering a little [or a lot] from over crowding.
If your wanderlusting mind has ever wandered over Southeast Asia, no doubt you’ve seen photos of, or heard about, the visual spectacle that is Vietnam’s Halong Bay. UNESCO World Heritage listed, and unique in its grandeur and beauty, Halong Bay draws thousands of visitors daily to its deep aqua-green seas. Eager travellers from around the world, board hundreds of traditional style junk boats daily, as they follow each other around the bay, crowding into the ‘must see’ nooks of this spectacular bay of limestone. Now, there is no denying the beauty of this treasured space, I myself have travelled here a couple of years ago and fell in love, but if you don’t feel like spending the night moored next to a hundred or so other boatloads, or having to carefully angle and crop your photos to grab a clear shot of the scenery… let me share with you the highlight of my last visit to this magical north-east corner of Vietnam… Bai Tu Long Bay.
Bai Tu Long Bay is located around 30kms further east of Halong Bay, and it’s for this reason, being a little less accessible, that it remains in its tourism infancy, which makes it the perfect spot to experience the magic and fantasy in its fullness.
Legend has it that the bay came to be millions of years ago, as a giant dragon descended to Earth to nest. As the eggs hatched, they formed the rocks and islands that now protect Vietnam along this coast, and it is at Bai Tu Long Bay that she departed and farewelled her children, giving the bay its name, “the dragon parts its offspring”.
As you drift eerily and silently through the thousands of outcrops, light dancing on top the emerald waters, going hours without passing another boat, it’s easy to get lost in it all and forget that anyone else exists. [Something you won’t experience in Halong Bay hustle].
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With less traffic, comes cleaner waters. Drink it all in by kayaking to untouched beaches and swimming with dugong through the green sea.
It comes with the territory, that often these more exclusive experiences come with a steeper price tag, and a Bai Tu Long cruise is no exception. However, let me assure you of this wanderers, it is cash well spent. Experiencing something so phenomenal is a once in a lifetime memory, if done right, it is with you forever, etched deep into your heart. Be a tight-*ss as much as you like on your travels, this is after all southeast Asia, where you can survive on a delicious diet of rice, beer and tropical fruit for just a couple of dollars a day, but gift yourself this.
There are just a small selection of cruise operators offering journeys through Bai Tu Long, so make sure you seek them out when you are planning your Vietnam visit.
- The Bai Tu Long national park is just a few hours out of Hanoi, with all cruise operators offering return shuttle services between your hotel out to the harbour.
- Take just a small bag on board with you. Swimmers, camera, GoPro, sunscreen and a couple of outfits. Hanoi hotels are super used to travellers taking Halong Bay side-trips, and are nearly always more than happy to take care of your luggage for you. Alternatively, many cruise operators will allow you to store at their office.
- Go for the two-night option, as opposed to one. By the time you get out there, I promise you won’t be ready to turn around and come straight back. Keep in mind all departures are around lunchtime, as are returns, so a one-night stay barely allows a full day. Trust me on this one.
- Seasonality. Winter, Dec – Feb can get pretty chilly. Still beautiful of course, but you might not be feeling the swimming or kayaking. Peak summer conversely can be prone to typhoons, and resultantly, cancellations.
- Switch off. Wifi is generally not available on the boats, so enjoy the opportunity to completely disconnect. To ease anxiety, wifi is available in the departure lounge at the harbour to get your last hit before you set sail.
No trip is complete without a float around the emerald jewel in Vietnam’s crown. When you do, take that road less travelled, or route less sailed, and venture out into Bai Tu Long Bay, past all those other annoying ‘tourists’, and get lost deep in your own spectacular sea-green expanse.
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