Legends are born when nature cloaks herself in the morning mist of secrecy. Like the Veils of Isis, where unannounced dangers lurk around every corner; the crimson red evening sky kisses the blue azure waters of the sea; small green hillocks poke their head above the placid azure blue waters; underground rivers gush through dark caves; where men thinks of love in the day and yet fight for greed at night; where a man’s imagination hushes up his logical mind; and where nature fascinates human even today as it had done hundreds of year ago Welcome to Bai Tu Long bay!
A long time ago, when the blue sea kissed the plain lands of Vietnam, lived the happy peace-loving Vietnamese people. They were simple farmers who toiled hard on their land, drank paddy wine and lived in harmony. It was a simple yet fulfilling life. But peace alas is like a rainbow. Suddenly pirates from the north (probably Chinese) attacked the land. The simple people who did not know how to fight did what they could do. They prayed to the Jade Emperor for help.
Moved by their tears, Jade Emperor sent the mother dragon and her children to protect the people. The Dragons breathed fire and their tears fell as giant emeralds. The Invaders ships were burnt and crashed against these emeralds. The enemy retreated and peace was restored. The mother dragon and her children, however, didn’t return to the Jade Emperor. Instead, they started living as fishermen in the bay. The emeralds over time became small islands, and the people called the place as Halong Bay (bay of descending Mother dragon) and Bai Tu Long bay (bay of children dragon).
We were raptly listening to the story, told by our manager, bartender and Tai Chi tutor Mark. His original Vietnamese name may have been something difficult to pronounce, so everyone here had an English name to make it easy for the tourists. We then set our foot on the golden sand of an unknown island, like pirates in search of a hidden treasure.
But before I go on telling you what happened next, let me rewind a little, about 6 hours back; when we were happily munching a mixture of Vietnamese and American breakfast while discussing South East Asian politics with two aid workers from Philippines and Britain. As the Limousine halted at our hotel gates (Hotel Golden Sun Suites), we two hopped in. We were joined by two British old ladies, a French woman, and a duo of a British mother and daughter (who incidentally lived in Pune). After a half an hour drive through the Vietnamese countryside, we went for a loo break in a Vietnamese art market (the things were awesome, but our dollars were limited), and again drove on.
Beautiful to see, but heavy on the pocket
Bai Tu Long Bay Cruise
When 4 people are stuffed in a limousine for an hour, even the worst of enemies will talk. So, as the British Lady and my wife complained about the traffic and pollution in Pune, I was busy chatting with French damsel (in her 40s) about the difference between Vietnamese and Indian Cuisine. We were offboarded around noon at the Halong Bay Port, from where we were joined by others in a small boat to be ferried to our cruise, The Huong Hai Sealife Cruise. The Vietnamese take safety seriously and all are given a life jacket to be mandatorily worn when on the sea. We were welcomed on board by a traditional beating of drums, and as we made us comfortable with the drinks (non-alcoholic) in the dining area, we were given a brief introduction about the cruise, safety, and dos and don’ts.
The cruise was two-storeyed, with a spacious cabin, a minibar, a bathroom with bathtub and jacuzzi; and a small balcony to enjoy the view. Our room too had a great view through the large glass window. The most important aspect was the wide sundeck on the top floor, with sunbeds that gave a perfect spot to enjoy the panoramic view of Bai Tu Long bay. I selected Bai Tu long bay over Halong Bay, as it is less populated by ships than its sister, and more beautiful.
Our itinerary: Looks like a pirates map
The Dining Area / Ball room
The cabin with large glass windows to enjoy the view and attached bath and balcony – quite romantic
The Treasure Hunt
The afternoon lunch was an exotic one consisting of squids, fish, mollusk, octopus, poultry and different types of sweet dishes; and we were spoilt for choices. As we enjoyed our lunch, the ship glided along the azure blue calm waters of the bay, with the small islands and islets jutting out from the sea at each nook and corner. We skipped our afternoon siesta to watch the unrivaled beauty on the sun deck.
The Bai Tu Long Bay
We were broken from our stupor when the PA (public announcement system) announced that it was time for some adventure. Like pirates of the Caribbean, we silently lurked forward to our secret island on our small boat. Our mission was to find the missing Mother and Children dragon of the legend in the Co caves of the Hon Co Island (in which I failed miserably).
You have to ascend a little to the cave, from where you can find an amazing view of the bay. The cave is a small one, with some impressive stalagmites and stalactites (one of them must be the Mother dragon), and the descent will bring you to a secret pristine white sand beach (a scene straight from the movie Blue Lagoon) on the opposite side of the island. The place is romantic, but be cautious of the stings of jellyfishes.
With our Robinson Cruso moment over, we climbed back to our small boat to be back to our cruise. Some of the guests went for canoeing (free) while we others saw a magical sunset (the best of my life) in the Bai Tu Long bay. May be words are inadequate to describe it, and I am no poet. The golden sky, the ripples of the red on the blue waters, the Misty islands peeping their heads from the dark waters, the cacophony of the seagulls returning to their nests breaking the eerie silence of nature. It was a moment when you wished the time stood still; a time when you thought that maybe this is what that makes life worth living.
The beautiful moment was robbed from us by the dark blanket of mist and clouds that suddenly engulfed the surrounding in a blanket of gloom, just like some dementors of Harry Porter movie. The captain announced for a happy hour (30% of on an inflated drinks menu,) and some free squid fishing and Vietnamese roll cooking class to lift our spirits! But, tired as we were, I retired to my cabin to experience the Jacuzzi.
Vietnamese spring roll
The dinner was a set menu, with some mouth-watering signature dishes and an impromptu dance performance by the crew. The mood of the evening was set with the dining area cleared for a dance ball, with the spirits of the happy hour doing the trick.
The next morning, we went to the sun deck to learn some Tai chi (a form of martial arts) while enjoying the sunrise, marred a little bit by the clouds.
The clouds playing spoilsport!
Bai Tu Long Bay
After our breakfast of Vietnam egg coffee (a signature dish of Hanoi, tastes like a cappuccino) with some muffins, we were on to our next ‘activity’- visiting the floating fishing villages. As our guide explained, govt has rehabilitated most of the fishing people to the mainland, but a few returned (maybe the lure of the sea is too strong!) With riding on oar boats as done 100 years back, we sailed past some floating villages to an oyster farm. Vietnam is one of the top exporters of pearl, and we were given a tour of how it is manufactured.
Like pirates !
A Brunch (which might as well qualify as a lunch), and some thank you speeches, we left for the land, to be transferred back to Hanoi.
- Best time: Sept to Feb
- Fly in: Hanoi
- Cruise: as per your budget, but you will come only once, so choose wisely. Usually, the mid category is luxury by Indian standards.
- There are 1day, 2d/1night and 3day/2night cruises. 1 day basically means half a day and is too short to enjoy. Best is 3days/2nights but 2days/1night option is good as well.
- Food: Inform beforehand about your allergies
- Pack: Travel light, keep most of your luggage and cash in the hotel
- See: Old quarters of Hanoi
- Get out: Sapa (paddy fields), Ninh Binh (Halong Bay on land)
I hope you liked the travelogue and the pictures; and the information above on Bai Tu Long Bay was of help. It is indeed a great and paradisaical place to visit. If you have any questions; or need any other details; please feel free to ask in the comments section below; or at our Community Forum; and I will be glad to answer.