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A Luxurious Junk Boat Cruise of Halong Bay

posted May 15, 2014, 8:18 PM by Long Quoc Tran   [ updated Dec 8, 2014, 6:39 PM by Tran Quoc Long ]
Towards the end of our stay in Vietnam we took a 2 day/1 night cruise around the Bai Tu Long area of Halong Bay. While still part of the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site, this north-eastern section is less visited by tourists and proved to be the enchanting hideaway that we’d hoped for. We cruised aboard the Indochina Princess Junk, a small wooden boat with a single cabin. Yes, that’s right, we were the only passengers on the boat. We didn’t realize it would be a private cruise until after making the reservation, but it ended up being the most relaxing thing we could have done for ourselves. There were five crew members on board including the boat’s captain, chef and a waiter. We spent most of our time lounging on the deck, wishing the cruise would never end.

Unbelievably, this is the only photo I took of our crew.

Meals on board the ship were sumptuous, multi-course affairs. We were served lunch on the deck almost as soon as we boarded and the dishes just kept coming. Sweet and sour seafood soup, sesame chicken and vegetable salad, buttery clams with pineapple, crabs and jumbo prawns, bacon-wrapped fish in soy sauce with spinach and rice – it was a spectacular feast!

We spent several hours after lunch on one of the islands enjoying Indochina’s private beach, where we had the options of swimming, sunbathing and kayaking. Hubby read on the beach while our knowledgeable tour guide took me out in one of the kayaks. We arrived back on shore in time to watch the sun set and play with the island’s resident puppies before heading back to the boat.

Our chef truly outdid himself at dinner. While we were frolicking on the beach, he was busy carving animals out of vegetables. The first course of spring rolls came adorned with two cranes carved out of lotus roots, with carrot beaks and ginger feet. Next swooped in a flying dragon carved out of pumpkin. It was perched on top of a pineapple and looked like it was about to catch the geoducks that were served along side. This was followed by more sesame chicken salad, steamed veggies and rice, garlicky prawns and individual steaks. We chose a chilled bottle of sauving non blanc to accompany the meal. Afterwards, the captain and all the crew came to introduce themselves and thank us for choosing their boat. They even gave us a beautiful conch shell to show their appreciation. We were completely blown away by their kind gesture!

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Early the next morning as our small caravan of five boats slipped through the foggy bay, we were served piping hot beef pho for breakfast. Not content to give us just one dish, we also had fresh fruit, eggs, toast and a mango smoothie. Sufficiently fueled up, we embarked on our second outing of the trip.

We were met by a small fleet of row boats that would take us for a tour of one of the area’s largest floating villages. About five minutes after getting in the smaller boats it started to pour, but our trusty guide was ready with ponchos and giant golf umbrellas. None of the other groups were as prepared and got absolutely drenched. The residents of the village were not bothered by the rain – women washed clothes, dogs ran around and children played in the water. It was so interesting to see a community out there on the sea. After cruising through the village we took a quick peek inside the floating school room and then headed to their cultured pearl shop. As we soaked up the incredible scenery on the return trip to the mainland, we were served a “light” lunch of steak, shrimp, veggies, rice and fruit. We definitely did not go hungry!

We booked our cruise through Darian Culbert Tours and can’t say enough good things about their customer service. All email communication went through Darian directly and he even helped secure our tourist visas upon arrival at the HCMC airport.