Thursday, October 5, 2017

TRAVEL | Our Ha Long Bay cruise experience (Part 2 of 3)

Continued from:

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Endless variations of these limestone rock islets along Ha Long Bay.

Bai Tu Long Bay
And so it began: the seemingly endless sight of limestone islets jutting out of Ha Long's placid, emerald green waters. Yes, it was surreal and I couldn't stop myself from snapping photos, like I had this urge to immortalize them in pictures I most likely would rarely look at again. Eventually I grew tired but every now and then there's an outcrop or formation that I found intriguing enough to photograph.

While of course these amazing works of nature are best viewed from the boat's topmost deck, our room wasn't so bad of a vantage point either. Also, at least it was cold and comfortable inside.

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You can get so close to some islets as you sail along.

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Hundreds more of these in the distance.

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Our pitstop for the night, one of the very few instances where I would see other cruise boats.

Although still referred to as a Ha Long Bay cruise, technically, however, we weren't really cruising in Ha Long but in Bai Tu Long Bay. It's a far less crowded route where I hardly saw other boats. Ha Long would have a hundred or so boats at any given time, said our tour guide. This was basically one of our deciding factors why we went with Dragon Pearl Junks for this trip.

We anchored somewhere in Cap La in the Cong Do area for the night, surrounded by several limestone islets. While most guests swam or kayaked in the area before dinner, Kwittiegirl and I contended ourselves with an OOTD session at the sun deck. Here we witnessed the crew hoist the boat's two beautiful junk sails that were soon gloriously lit by the soft afternoon sun.

Earlier while cruising and while we were holed up in our room, the chef held a Vietnamese cooking class at the indoor dining area. From what I've gathered looking at cruise options, this was a standard activity for all trips, basically a demo on how to make spring rolls.

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Vietnamese spring rolls cooking class.

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Our kayaks, special yellow one in the middle for a solo traveler.

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Like a flag-raising ceremony, the crew hoisted the boat's two sails.

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Junk sails in their full glory, basking in the warm afternoon glow.

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Even the crew took a break and went swimming.

There were only eleven of us guests aboard this trip, and we were all seated together in one long table for dinner. The setup somehow forced introverts like me to engage in conversation, which I guess is a good thing.

Our first full meal aboard the cruise did not disappoint. With eight courses served (nine, if you count the steamed rice), it sure was a feast. It wasn't like a formal, plated, sit-down dinner service, however. The food was served in platters meant to be shared with anywhere from three to four people seated across or next to each other, so I was ashamed to take pictures of the food. But I took a snap of the menu to give you an idea of what's served.

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Lovely dinner setup. Dining under the stars, if you may.

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I felt ashamed to take food pics but at least I got a photo of the menu to give you an idea of what they're serving us.

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Goodnight, peeps.

We soon retreated to our cabins while some stayed for a few drinks.

The morning after
We woke up to a lovely, sunny morning and found ourselves cruising along the bay in no time. Breakfast had the usual Western comforts of bread, eggs, butter, and jam, but we were also served Pho Ga, or Vietnamese chicken noodle soup that our guide says is a familiar breakfast staple in the country. I like it. And oh, Vietnamese coffee of course.

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With such a view, ain't this a really good morning?

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Clearly we loved the dining ware. Such a good morning indeed.

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Despite stuffing myself with bread and eggs already, I still managed to finish this bowl of Pho Ga.

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Our route map for this trip. Afforded me some perspective of where we are and where we were heading at least.

While we were still at the breakfast table, our guide showed us a map to explain our route. Mind you, seeing limestone rock formation upon limestone rock formation can be disorienting, so I appreciated the little geography lesson here. At least I gained some perspective of our location and where else we were going to.

More limestone rock formations
We basically just sailed through hundreds more of these islets for the rest of the morning. You'd think that I'd be numb with the repeated scenery by now but then we approached an area where the rock formations were noticeably different from what we've seen so far.

Unlike the vertical orientation of most karst formations, here the rocks came in horizontal layers that appeared to be piled on top of each other. They weren't all perfect horizontal lines, of course, as some of them are slanted. Erosion has also chipped away at some of the rocks but overall the landscape is still amazing and interesting.

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It's as if some giant piled slabs of rock atop each other here.

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Well isn't this amazing or what?

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Amazing how nature has shaped such beauty.

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Even as some of the rocks start to crumble, their sheer beauty remains untainted. In fact they only become more interesting to me.

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I love the dome-like shape of this one.

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Look left, look right, there's just so many of them!

Towards noon it was back to the "usual" limestone rock formations. One thing I noticed through all of this, however, is how lush the vegetation is everywhere I look. In some areas they're so lush that they almost cover the rocks entirely. I may sound repetitive here but it is beautiful.

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Back to the "usual" limestone rocks.

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Vegetation is so lush that in some areas the rocks are completely covered in green.

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Cargo ships remain anchored in the distance where the water's deeper, else they run aground.

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The sight of a discarded bucket floating at sea is a reminder that it's not all pristine here after all.

Ha Long Bay in general is a relatively shallow body of water, so large cargo ships have to stay anchored outside the tourist cruise route while loading and unloading goods. Smaller boats ferry cargo from the ships to the mainland and back.

Glimpses into the local fisherfolk's lives
These Ha Long Bay tours usually include a visit to some local fishing village. We did ours on our 3rd day. To some the authenticity of such villages may be suspect because of their designation as tourist spots.

However, cruising along the bay will reveal that fisherfolk do exist, and that the locals still do fishing the traditional way and in small scales. Every now and then you'd see a boat or two with someone casting his net or doing something else on his colorful boat. So whether or not such villages are authentic, people do live here in Ha Long Bay.

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Traditional fishing boats huddled together.

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Local fisherman doing his thing as he sails past towering limestone cliffs.

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Break time. Someone decided to take a nap under the rocks.

One hell of a kayaking trip
Somewhere between breakfast and our stopover for lunch, we anchored at an area called Cong Dam to kayak. Unlike our lazy selves the day before, we were all rested and felt somewhat active enough to join.

The kayaking trip was no joke at all. It wasn't the leisurely paddle while soaking up the sights stuff I'm accustomed to because as it turned out, there was a lot of ground, er, water, to cover. Basically we circled around this huge islet where every bend only revealed more distance to conquer.

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Teehee, a twofie with my Kwittiegirl!

Based on our itinerary we were supposed to kayak in this area through hidden lagoons but there was none of that at all. Everywhere we went was so open and it was the same emerald green water all throughout. It wasn't bad, though, because it was nice to see some fishermen in action. Besides, you'll never grow tired of looking at these towering limestone cliffs. Personally it was just exhausting.

We paddled for about an hour or close to that. When we reached our boat I went for a swim but the current was too strong, so I gave up after only a few minutes. Water quality didn't seem to be the best either, in my opinion at least.

Once everyone was back, we set sail for our next stop.

Continued in:
TRAVEL | Our Ha Long Bay cruise experience (Part 3 of 3)


  1. Oh wow, your pictures are incredible! What a gorgeous place.

  2. Your photos are really great. Ha Long Bay is also my favorite place. Cruising the entire day among those unique shape of limestone giving me great relaxing moments. A lot of those islands are still not inhabited yet. However ofcourse they are not on schedule of any tours as well :). Ha Long Bay and Hoi An should be the top 2 must see places in Vietnam. If anyone need more information about tourist attractions I would suggest to visit You will found many great information about tourist sites in Vietnam.


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