If you haven’t Googled “Ha Long Bay” I suggest you do so, warning: will instantly make you book a flight to Hanoi – worked for me!
I had the pleasure of experiencing one of the Seven Wonders of Nature with White Dolphin Cruises – a boutique luxury cruise offering one or two night experiences in Ha Long Bay and Bai Tu Bay (p.s. there are so many “7 wonders” I will touch on that in a separate blog post, I learned some new facts on my research that I want to share!)
When we say luxury cruise, let me be clear, it’s not a titanic. It’s not a 5-Star Hotel experience, it’s basically a lot nicer then the “junk” boats which some could be literally JUNK boats lol – I hear tales of rats running around, makes me wonder how they swam on in the first place, but that’s just travelers talk, I could be misinformed.
White Dolphin Cruises are quite nice in the fact there are only 3 rooms on board so a max of 10 people although we only had 6 during our stay, so not over crowded and also allows a lot of attentiveness, some may say a little too attentive at times 😛 but I’m sure that was just our tour guide wanting us to get the most out of the trip! But it definitely got us thinking about coming back with a big group of people or our next family vacay, I mean you would have the whole boat to yourselves – winning!Firstly, Ha Long Bay pier is about a four hour journey from Hanoi but the shuttle is included in your package price AND you stop off midway at a Sewing and Crafts Factory where you can not only see the ladies hard at work but also the end results of beautiful products available for purchasing. I personally purchased a cute bracelet and my all-time fav chockie: Cadbury Black Forest, which they had in bar size, in Aus you can only get it in a block form now so you have to be in movie-all-day mode to justify the buy – but not in Vietnam, they have guilt-free portions just for me! So, chuffed with my buy, I hop back on the bus and we continue on past beautiful rice fields until reaching the pier!
It’s a short, snazzy orange life-jacket ride away to our boat parked in the bay, after checking out our rooms (bed test: hard as a rock, but, was a surprisingly good sleep – I think they say the harder the surface the better for your back, but personally I love fluffy soft princess beds lol) we then started cruising off, were given 20mins of a breather and then our lunch was served!! Mmm mmm mmm! So yummy! An amazing array of seafood, Vietnamese food, meats, canapés and fresh fruit! De-lush!
As we cruised through Bai Tu Long Bay, our tour guide explained the Vietnamese cultural history of the bay’s, Bai Tu Long Bay meaning “baby dragon” bay and Ha Long Bay meaning “dragon” bay. We were told the rock formation of the bay was due to the dragon blowing great fires through the lands! Haha it was very entertaining to listen to and great to hear about the culture!
So we get to a sea farmers point in the bay with optional kayak or bamboo boating, we opted for the bamboo boat and this tiny little Vietnamese lady began rowing us – 7 fully grown adults – past the floating houses that the farmers lived in! I felt super bad for her and guilty that we had just stuffed our faces and then piled on bellies as full as can be while she used her full body force to push us forward, but she didn’t seem to mind and our tour guide was sweet and took over for a little bit as we passed through the oyster farmers. I think they liked each other – ooh la la!
So there’s sections to catch fish and oysters etc but then around the corner there’s a sealed oyster section where it’s forbidden to catch as these are used for pearl-making! I’ll fill you in on the process in a jiff as we actually visited a pearl farm and I got the low down! After the corner we headed for a quick row through a cave to the other side where we were White Dolphin Cruise bound yet again.
I jumped off and headed up to the top deck, realized I still had my gorgeous life vest on and had to quickly toss it back down, they’re just really comfy I guess?
Then we were in for a real treat…literally. Vietnamese cooking class! No cooking needed. Ha, it was making original Vietnamese rice paper rolls! They were actually SO good and so easy, definitely going to become a go-to snack, healthy, easy, yummy! That’s what we want right? Then our tour guide told us we would have an hour before dinner time with possible night fishing to finish off Day UNO!
Dinner was su-poib! And the displays were incredible. Coconut shrimp stuck to a glowing pineapple for instance. We had a very fulfilling meal and then RJ handled the evening entertainment with a few magic tricks which left everyone applauding and happy-faced! I think that’s the best and most beautiful thing about art, you don’t have to even speak the same language to understand it and even more so appreciate it.
So day one, done n dusted! Then Day Two approaches and we wake up BEFORE the crack of dawn to try to see the crack of dawn but it’s just a touch too fog-alicious and there is just no sunshine in sight. Not to worry, we had to be up early regardless as us Two-Nighters we’re on a different itinerary and another boat would be picking us up to take us around for the day’s activities while the rest of the gang finished up their 1-night experience.
Remember those pearl oysters I was mentioning? Well we actually ventured off to a real life Pearl FARM where you can see the entire process and results! I had zero idea and had always thought they were from clams but I was not too far off.
The actual pearl comes from the clam, true. But it doesn’t have the shine to it, almost the same texture as a shell. Then there’s all these different sized oysters that are grown for a year and a half before being cracked open slightly, then, there is a little mussel strip that is inserted into the oyster with the pearl, closed up and put back for another year and a half so a total of 3 years to try to have that beautiful perfect pearl. Only 20% end up having the Pearl and of that 20% only 10% are considered “perfect pearls” as in smooth, symmetrical and proportioned.
We each got to pick a oyster to see if it would be the lucky 20% and mine was!! I was with Pearl! It was deemed imperfect so I asked to keep it as a memory which they said yes. My own little 3-year grown Pearl that I picked!After seeing the process, they have a jewelry section where you can purchase all of the nice Pearl jewelry that has been grown right there or just stare at them all, like I did.
As they say, no rest for the wicked, so we were off again, this time to pick up a few others to join us on our adventures in Cat Ba National Park! It was so funny, I had actually googled things to do in Vietnam and had seen Cat Ba pop up in the POI’s and it looked sooo beautiful, so when I saw the sign of where we were I was completely stoked! I didn’t even know we were going there – the best things are always unexpected!
So the rest of the gang rented a yellow golf buggie, but we decided we would walk it, but then two motorcyclists came past and offered to drive us in so we figured why not?! The mountains were absolutely stunning and everything was so picturesque! We get into the Village after about 10mins of riding and never have I ever seen a rice field so big and soooo GREEN!
The village was just beautiful! It would go from being so quiet and deserted to people jamming out to techno music in their houses, woooo yeah party in Cat Ba! We walked all the way to the end of the village, then headed back and started playing cops n robbers with two little boys who followed us down half way chasing us with sticks (aka cop guns) until their mum was calling for them, little cuties! It was just such a beautiful place I would seriously contemplate spending 3 months there just farming and experiencing Vietnamese village life, it was one of those totally off the grid places where you could just BE.
After the village we got back on our activity boat and it was lunch time! Great, cause I was getting hunnnnngry!! Another massive serving of seafoods and a few fried faves – nuggets, chips, spring rolls etc then it was time for another bamboo boat through a cave around a lagoon area of Ha Long Bay which was nice but it started raining half way through – nothing we could really do except use our towels around us for umbrellas and huddle up to stay warm.
After all the days shenanigans it was back to our boat for a little rest until our last dinner before we would be back to dry land the next day, but there would be one more stop along the way!
We were early birds the next day heading over to the crowds gathered in front of “Hang Sung Sot” an enormous cave with enormous steps to climb to enter it! This cave was actually used as the hiding position for Vietnamese war soldiers during the Vietnamese War. Actually in one of my photos I took I swear I could see a hand and crouched down body that was merged into the rocks of the cave, spooooky! It was extremely crowded and a little hard to really enjoy as you were just being shuffled along in a line through the beginning of the first chamber but then at the largest point of the cave as pictured you could take your time and let people pass you to really enjoy it. At the very end there is an amazing view of Ha Long Bay from the top which is worth the fight to the front for an amazing picture that I still feel barely does it justice. Truly a sight to behold!
At last, it was time to say our goodbye’s to the wondrous Ha Long bay and we were dry-land bound back to the pier and back to our shuttle for Hanoi yet again. It was such a great experience and I think definitely going with a boat a little more boutique would be your best bet, although all the joint activities with the other cruise lines are close together, you can still find your own space when opting for a boutique luxury cruise line like White Dolphin Cruises – I had a blast and it was incredibly enjoyable, definitely worth the immediate flight booking 😉
To check it out and for more itinerary info visit www.whitedolphincruises.com