Our website uses cookies. These are small text files which your web browser stores on your computer. Cookies are used to identify your computer to our server and store your website preferences. Cookies do not contain any personally identifying information.

What to do 

Cruising Vietnam’s Bai Tu Long Bay

Bai Tu Long Bay, Vietnam. Image: GettyImage: Getty

Duncan Forgan eschews the crowded waterways of Vietnam’s Halong Bay for the equally beautiful, but blissfully quiet, streams of Bai Tu Long Bay



We’re barely out of Halong City when the charm offensive begins. “This is Cong,” says Nam, our guide, as he introduces the crew of the Prince Junk IV, dutifully lined up in front of us on the ship’s upper deck. “He’ll be cooking lots of delicious food for you.”

When the roll call is over, the crew shuffle back downstairs to a round of applause, leaving us alone with the wondrous scenery unfolding as we head into Bai Tu Long Bay.

The endearing innocence of the welcome is mirrored by our surroundings. Vietnam’s Halong Bay has, many believe, been tainted by over-exposure. Bai Tu Long, however, shares all the majesty of Vietnam’s premier bucket-list natural attraction while seeing a fraction of the traffic of its neighbour to the west.

The two seascapes are virtually identical. Nam tells us the limestone outcrops that jut perpendicularly out of the emerald waters of Bai Tu Long aren’t as lofty as the ones at Halong. But you’d need to be a seriously obsessed karst aficionado to notice the difference.

There are other similarities too. Cruise companies in North Vietnam aren’t known for taking a radically innovative approach to their schedule. And our three-day/two night itinerary doesn’t deviate much from those in Halong Bay. There’s a bit of kayaking here and a visit to a cave there, with a stop at a floating village, equipped with a souvenir shop and a pearl retailer.

What’s striking about life on the Prince Junk IV is how laid-back it is. There are only six of us on the boat and we’re not beholden to any schedule. That leaves us with less than stressful dilemmas, like choosing between a languid paddle through the karsts or time with a book on the boat’s sundeck.

Kayaking is an undoubted highlight of the trip. We set off late in the first afternoon, as the sun casts long shadows on the water and bathes the karsts in a soft glow. Nam leads us directly towards an outcrop where a low chasm reveals itself. We busk our way through, using our paddles to fend off encroaching stalagmites and stalactites, before emerging in a lagoon enclosed by steep limestone walls.

The next day, we moor just off a sandy beach and spend most of the afternoon alternating between deckchairs and a blissfully unblemished ocean. Even at the height of summer, the seascapes of northeastern Vietnam can seem perennially shrouded in mist. Today, the skies are a spotless blue and the sunset goes through a vivid repertoire of red, gold and purple. The scene is familiar from a million postcards sold in Hanoi but missing is the array of tourist boats crowding the karsts. In Bai Tu Long Bay such subtle shifts make a world of difference.

Content Notice: Every care is taken in compiling the contents online and in print. However Country by Country and the publisher assume no responsibility for consequences resulting from the publication of, or use of, any of the information contained online/in print. While every care is taken in the accuracy of the information compiled, it is strongly advised the visitor/reader double checks all travel advice with the respective tourist boards/embassies/government offices before acting on any information.

If you would like to contact us with any concerns about any of the content on our website, or report any inaccuracies or notify us of any copyright issues, please send us an email on editorial@aplmedia.co.uk with the url of the article or page and details of the issue. We will respond to any enquiries within 21 days and endeavour to correct any mistakes as soon as possible.

Country By Country is published by APL Media Limited, Unit 310, Highgate Studios, 53-79 Highgate Road, London NW5 1TL. www.aplmedia.co.uk

Editorial enquiries t: +44 (0)20 7253 9906 e: editorial@aplmedia.co.uk

Sales enquiries t: +44 (0)20 7253 9909 e: sales@aplmedia.co.uk

Company no: 3393234  |  VAT: 701391176  |  Registered Office: 30 City Road, London EC1Y 2AB  |  Copyright 2014 APL Media Ltd. All Rights Reserved.