I just come back from the most enchanting weekend I have ever lived, so fantastic that I felt the urge to write about it and share my experience.
On the way to Garden Bay Legend Cruise by tender
The tour consisted in a two-day trip on a junk in Halong Bay
, one of the Seventh Natural Wonders of the World. The name is dreamy isn’t it? Then I heard some people saying that Halong Bay was full of boats, so busy and noisy. I got confused with this information so I decided to change and chose another bay located North of Halong, Bai Tu Long Bay
. One of the best decisions ever made!
Panorama of Bai Tu Long Bay from Thien Canh Son Cave
The cruise was organised by Garden Bay Cruise
, a company specialised in tours in both Halong and Bai Tu Long Bays, who focuses on giving their customers the best experience, avoid the touristy sites, and offer luxurious services yet affordable. I thought it was too good to be true in all honesty, but it was worth the try.
Private cabin on the Garden Bay junk
An authentic boutique hotel floating on the sea. That was my first impression the minute I set foot on the boat, and I stand by it even a few days later. Garden Bay is not a copy of other cruises, it travels on a unique off-the-beaten-track path other boats can’t reach. The boarding happens in Hong Gai Harbour where you are brought to the boat in a beautiful wooden tender which sets the mood for what’s to come.
Cabin with balcony facing the bay and its mountains
The boat is there, full of promise. And there at the entrance gate, two members of staff are expecting you, waving you hello with genuine smiles.
I would like to use this opportunity to give a special praise to the professionalism of the Garden Bay staff and their availability. From start to arrival their attention to your well-being makes you feel like a VIP at Hilton hotel!
Different panorama from Thien Canh Son Cave
The boat in itself was designed to follow the traditional ancient junks with wood everywhere, even the hull. It conveys a lot of charm compared to modern steel boats, and is completely adequate to the outside scenery.
There are 10 cabins in total that is to say not too many people at the same time, allowing a nice feeling of privacy when you come from Hanoi. The cabins have large windows covering the whole length of the room, to enjoy the mountain views when in bed. Talking about bed, I must say the bedding was very comfortable and the bathroom so modern. There is a private bathroom in every room with toilets and a closed shower. Blasting A/C is provided even though you do not necessarily need it.
The dining-room is spacious for everyone to sit comfortably and again there are windows everywhere around you to enjoy the views in every direction.
Last but not least, let’s mention the sundeck… It runs on the whole length of the boat, completely in wood, with sunbathing chairs in the middle, and of course an unmatched panorama. One of my favourite spot during the weekend!
Cooking class offered by Garden Bay Cruise crew
I cannot finish this description of the cruise and its services without mentioning the food. It is delicious and very well-prepared with fancy vegetable decoration. Especially the seafood, obviously so fresh and tasteful! I would personally recommend you to try the Halong Beer, the excellent local special ale, satisfactory at any time (even better on the sundeck!)
One of the activities during the tour was the visit of the Thien Canh Son Cave, the only cave in Bai Tu Long Bay in fact. I prefer to warn you it is a rather small cave but it houses impressive formations of stalactites and stalagmites. Good to see, especially for the panorama you have at the top, a large view of the bay perfect for pictures. Overall the visit takes 30 to 40 minutes.
Kayaking in the bay, great activity to explore private beaches
The rest of the afternoon was spent kayaking on the calm waters of the bay and lazing on a beach with hardly a soul around. I was very impressed by the quiet atmosphere, I, who expected hordes of tourists, found myself with only a handful of people, all part of my group.
Thien Canh Son Cave
Upon return to the boat, while relaxing on the sundeck (once again!) during Happy Hour, we were offered to participate in a cooking class and learn how to make your own spring rolls. I had a really great time, laughed a lot and obviously, ate a lot too!
The next morning, you are invited to an early wake to get an introduction to Tai Chi. Besides the very soft morning exercise to wake your body up, it is really worth it to enjoy a fresh morning in the bay, surrounded by karst mountains and the occasional eagle flying by.
Tai Chi morning session offered by Garden Bay Cruise crew
During the morning I was taken by tender to a floating peer, at the entrance of a cluster of mountains. There I embarked on a bamboo boat and a local takes you inside the cluster to discover a fishermen floating village. They chose the location very precisely as the mountains all around protect them from storms. Their simple way of life, isolation from the rest of the world and quietness of the place, left me mesmerised and wanting to spend a night here.
I was equally impressed to see how clean the area was, the locals pay close attention to it, and even when rowing, they will catch the occasional rubbish to bin it later in special containers.
Bamboo boat-trip to the fishermen floating village of Vung Vieng
Floating village of Vung Bieng, safe and protected by the cluster of mountains
It was now time to return to the boat for one final lunch before landing. Garden Bay Cruise successfully won their bet, from pick up to off at my hotel in Hanoi. I did not know what to expect and I was left with a real memorable trip in oh so beautiful Bai Tu Long Bay.
Inside the cluster of mountains surrounding the fishermen village
If you are looking for similar views and less affluence, Bai Tu Long is definitely a great alternative to Halong Bay. After this tour
I cannot encourage you enough to check out the tours there, and discover this Natural Wonder differently.
Notes from Mr Linh’s Adventures:
this experience was shared by two members of our team
who went on a personal trip. As a travel company, we organise many tours in Halong Bay, so we would like to take this opportunity to recommend Garden Bay Cruise following this experience, who offers an original tour in Bai Tu Long Bay. They provide a high quality service with a trained staff, in a beautiful floating boutique hotel.