Exploring the Pristine Bai Tu Long Bay Waters

by Feb 28, 2015

It’s Brisk In Bai Tu Long Bay | Day 1

Our luxury van was slated to arrive at 7:30 am – 7:40 am and boy were they punctual! As we waited in the lobby of our hotel, we were excited to see a beautiful van with leather appointed seats pull up.

A kind man named Duc came out to welcome us and also guide us into the van (what a fantastic first impression). He then told us that we were the first to be picked up so pick a seat as there would be 2 additional couples joining us on the 3.5 hour ride to Halong Bay.

Van to Take Us to Our Inodchina Junk

After picking up the other passengers (an English couple and a Canadian/New Zealand couple living in HK) we were on our way in our cool pimped out van with extremely comfortable seats and numerous bottles of water. I loved that the bottles mentioned Indochina Junk’s mission “For a green Halong Bay”.

It basically helped reinforce the fact that their company, although running tours on the bay itself, strives to help the environment (a theme we saw during our stay on the boat as well). The road to Halong Bay is quite bumpy with motorbikes and cars zooming and honking all around you.

Personally for me, it helped to sleep to avoid seeing how close cars drive to each other in Vietnam.

Indochina Junk Map of Bai Tu Long Bay

Prior to the start of the ride, Duc mentioned that although the ride was 3.5 hours, we would have a stop halfway for 30 minutes to rest and use the restroom. Personally I wished this was 15 minutes instead of the 30, I would much rather spend less time on the road than wander through a gift shop.

While I understand that the place we stopped at was a major tourist stop selling goods of all types, honestly I am never a fan of those types of places since it just feels forced and unnatural. Although we weren’t pressured to buy anything, a girl did follow us around as we looked around which usually makes me anxious and less likely to buy.

But on the plus side they had WiFi and clean bathrooms. We would have shown you the plethora of statues strewn all over the store both inside and out however there are signs telling you not to take any pictures. So, you’ll just have to take our word on it.

As we continued on our journey, the second half felt a bit longer but that could easily be because I couldn’t sleep anymore and felt every bump. Luckily we arrive at the Indochina office at the pier around 11:40 am or so and we were able to get out of the van and stretch our legs. From the looks of it, similar to a cruise line, Indochina has it down to a science.

Once you exit the van, someone will check who you are, tag your luggage, verify the pieces that are yours and then whisk them away to the right boat while you’re escorted to the waiting room for the rest of the people also aboard your ship to arrive.

The Boat

Our Indochina Junk, the Dragon's Pearl

At the office we were showed where the people on the same boat we were (Dragon Pearl) were sitting. Seating areas varied by boat and the wait was about an hour before we were able to board small boat tenders to take us to our actual ship, the Dragon Pearl 2.

As we were waiting, a suggestion for Indochina for the future would be to let those of us that had a balance know where the cashier was so that we can settle our tabs early and at our leisure versus a bunch of people rushing to the cashier at once before we were asked to walk to the boats.

Since a bunch of people just crowded in front of me and I ended up being last in line, I felt bad that a whole group of people were waiting for me before we could head down to the tender. I would have much rather used that wait time to pay and then relax especially since the whole time I was there, I was wondering when I was going to be able to pay off the rest of the amount due.

As we were walking, we met Tim, our guide, who would be the one to take us to the boat and also as constant companion for the next 3 days. After boarding and handed some cold refreshing towels, we were escorted to tables on the second floor deck and welcomed again with a lovely welcome drink.

From the boat itself, you could see the beautiful bay and the various boats all around you making us even more excited for the trip ahead. Tim then walked us through the safety features of the boat, handed out our keys and we had 30 minutes break to settle into our rooms to relax before our first lunch.

One of Many Islands in Bai Tu Long Bay During the Indochina Junk Tour

Wow, if the first lunch is an indication of what was to come, we were in for a treat (food wise) for the rest. Lunch is typically served around 1 pm and the menu featured a wide variety of foods with many seafood choices such as clams with pineapples, an oyster omelet type dish and steamed fish (some of my absolute favorite things to eat) and everything tasted so fresh! Beers are $2/each and a perfect accompaniment to the meal.

On board our home for the trip was room 303, a cabin located on the second floor at the top on the back of the boat which meant one would use a little stairway to get to the room. Walking in the room and attached bathroom were beautiful and fairly roomy considering the size of the boat.

I loved the dark wood paneling and the Asian inspired accents around the room. Similar to other beds in Asia, it was a firm queen sized mattress, JM’s favorite type of bed.

Bathroom on the Indochina Junk Our Bathrobes on the Indochina Junk

Complete with a closet to hold your things which had two very nice silk robes inside and a side table, it was plenty of space for us for the next 3 days. The bathroom itself was also well sized with a walk in shower, a toilet and a sink with products and other amenities such as cotton buds, combs, toothbrushes, shampoos, conditioners, etc. all ready for use.

For the toilet, similar to Greece and other countries where the plumbing is a bit skinnier than modern pipes; something to note is that they request that you dispose of all tissue in the wastebasket.

During the activity breaks just sitting and relaxing in the warmth of our room (yay for the heater) and looking out the window at the hazy bay and it’s natural beauty with my love was one of my favorite things to do.

Overall it was a beautiful room and having a chance to take in the stunning scenery around us was a magnificent way to pass the time.

Activities

Solo Kayaking Toward Rocks During Indochina Junk Tour

Post lunch we were able to retreat back in our rooms, take a quick nap and sort our things before the first activity of the trip, a kayak to a local fishing village and an opportunity to check out a Buddhist temple built into base of one of the stunning mountains by the local fisherman.

Passing by a Local Sea Village During the During Indochina Junk Tour

On a side note, for any and all kayaking trips, we have a system between my love and I where he kayaks and I simply sit in the front of a two person kayak to take photos of the experience. Something we’ve learned from our previous kayaking expeditions is that this has worked out much better than both of us paddling which usually results in us spinning in a circle.

For the kayaking adventure, passengers were free to either kayak themselves around or follow Tim to see a fishing village and the shrine in the mountain.

Nadia and JM Tandem Kayaking Around Bai Tu Long Bay During the Indochina Junk Tour

All passengers on my particular ship that went down to kayak followed Tim to check out the fishing village. It was fun to watch everyone try to kayak with their partner as they navigated through the somewhat choppy waves. One of my favorite moments of the first day was simply taking in the scenery around me.

Hidden Building in the Rock Face During the Indochina Junk Tour

The mountains were absolutely beautiful and to see the crevices at the foot of the mountains with small caves and natural openings made it look like something out of the movies. With the mist around us and the mountains surrounding us, I highly encourage everyone to just pause and reflect for a moment and take in the absolute beauty of nature all around you.

The second activity for the day was a cooking class (although more of a demonstration) where we watched the ship’s chef demonstrate how to make a fried version of a rice paper spring roll. Since it was definitely more of a demonstration versus a cooking class where typically  everyone would make a dish from start to finish, perhaps changing the name would give a better idea of how the activity would be structured.

Happy Indochina Junk Chef Nadia Learning to Cook While on the Indochina Junk

As the chef spoke in Vietnamese and mixed all the ingredients together, Tim would translate his actions and the ingredients in English. Later we would all have an opportunity to try rolling one of the spring rolls (yay now i can try attempting this at home with proper rolling technique) and the plate of prepared rolls were taken away after half the mixture was used and we were told it would come back tonight as part of our dinner.

Indochina Junk Egg Roll Ingredients in a Bowl

2 Indochina Junk Egg Rolls

Dinner on the ship was another great meal and showed just how fresh and delicious the seafood was. I loved how tasty the fresh mantis prawns and fish in a turmeric sauce was. Everything was so great tasting that we could probably have eaten more of everything! Actually, I know for a fact that we could have eaten more of everything.

A Plate Indochina Junk Corn Kernels

Indochina Junk Egg Dish

Even the fried spring rolls that eventually came out were amazing (but that I’m sure was because we did such an excellent job rolling them). For dinner the main items were served on to individual plates versus self serve family style making it a more fair than lunch. Dinner ended at around 8:30 pm, so from there people were free to continue drinking at the bar inside or retreat to their rooms.

Since we just arrived the day before having an opportunity to rest up and continue to adjust to the timezone was very much welcomed.

Close Up of Indochina Junk Mantis Shrimp

Close Up of Indochina Junk Fried Fish

Close Up of Indochina Junk Prawn

F8T Tip

Based on observations about the whole experience and my fellow passengers, here are some of our thoughts to make the experience even better

  • Portion food by passenger not by table size.
    • Since food is served family style plates of food were served to the table and everyone was to portion it for themselves. However a table with 2 children and 2 adults were served the same amount as a different table with 5 adults and even another 2 tables with 4 adults each.
    • What this ultimately led to was a waste of food from the table with children (for certain items it looked like only 1/2 was eaten) and the table with 5 adults barely had enough essentially causing some to look for one of the tables with 4 so food could be more evenly shared.
    • Ultimately the wasted food could have gone to the table with more adults so a big tip that could make all diners happier would be to portion by the passenger (adult or child) and also number of people at each table to make it more fair.
  • Ensure staff know the ingredients used in the dish demonstrated since it is a cooking class.
    • People want to have the opportunity to replicate the dish at home. During the cooking class when Tim was describing the ingredients that went into the spring roll, he actually couldn’t describe one (which from looking at it looked like wood ear mushroom to me) which was a tad frustrating for 1 of our fellow passengers.
    • From what we gathered, she was one of the home chef types who religiously followed recipes to a tee, understandably so.
    • Another thought would be to hand out copies of the recipe to people so they’d have an idea of how to make the dish.
  • Provide a list of things for passengers to bring depending on type of weather predicted (hot or cold).
    • While things of course can change, providing tips like bringing a windbreaker and/or a jacket that can get wet for kayaking purposes could be very helpful.
    • We did not pack a jacket or windbreaker.
  • Offer WiFi on the Ship!
    • Although it is a nice chance to disconnect, WiFi would have greatly helped especially with the translation issues.
    • Plus a warning before hand that there wouldn’t be WiFi on board to passengers would also have been great.
  • Continue training staff on English, especially Tim.
    • As a guide, you should be the interpreter between your guests and the staff.
    • However, when you’re unable to identify the correct words or understand questions it makes communication more difficult.

 

Disclosure | We received a discount for a forthcoming and truthful review.

Bai Tu Long Bay

Indochina Junk

 

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