The stunning karst pinnacles of Halong Bay are one of the jewels in Vietnam’s crown, but as Ron Emmons discovers, nearby Bai Tu Long Bay boasts the same beguiling scenery – without the crowds.
After three days cruising through the jaw-dropping scenery of Bai Tu Long Bay, and taking about 5000 photos of rugged limestone outcrops jutting from the emerald waters, I felt totally karst out. Yet many magical moments of this trip had burned themselves into my brain – I knew it was a journey I'd never forget.
Bai Tu Long Bay is located some 30km to the east of Vietnam's number one attraction, Ha Long Bay, but is less visited thanks to its harder-to-reach location and fewer accessible caves. The rewards, however, are worth the little extra effort it takes to get here. Visiting Bai Tu Long Bay is a more peaceful experience, with extra time for kayaking and swimming among the awesome rock formations that assume all manner of fanciful shapes across this ocean landscape. Some of the larger islands also feature forest reserves sheltering rare species, while dugong swim in the surrounding waters
I was to spend my trip on the Lagoon Explorer, a large wooden junk-come-cruise boat painted white with enormous red sails. Boarding set the tone for the trip: shortly after stepping aboard, I suddenly realised we were under way, though I hadn't even heard the engine start or felt any rolling movement. Things continued just as smoothly for the next few days, as we glided away from the workaday world and into a dream realm of towering cliffs, gaping caves, lush growth sprouting from limestone peaks and hawks soaring on air currents above.
Bai Tu Long Bay occupies three quarters of Halong World Heritage site, as well as many islands in Van Don, Cam Pha District. Travelling to Bai Tu Long Bay is off the beaten track and promises to deliver many unique experiences, far from the heavily touristic sites.
In this big area, visitors can find pristine natural landscapes. Even now, Bai Tu Long remains an extensive unexplored area. In some ways it is actually more stunning than Halong Bay, since it is only in its initial stages as a destination for travelers. Bai Tu Long has many attractions to visit: Cong Do area, Vung Vieng Fishing village, Da Xep Park, Cong Dam Area, Thien Canh Son cave and Tra Gioi beach. There are also some populated islands; Quan Lan, Ngoc Vung, Cong Dong, and Cong Tay with many beautiful beaches. In addition, Bai Tu Long Bay National Park is rich in biological diversity, home to many different flora and fauna.
Sails of Indochina is the company in Halong Bay with extensive experience and was the first to be awarded official permission to take tourists to Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha bay. Sails of Indochina fleet has 5 boats including 3 high standard wooden junks, with from 1 to 4 cabins cruising to remote corners in Bai Tu Long Bay. Joining a cruise with Sails of Indochina, you will experience warm service and many unique packages to choose from. Study the UNESCO protected geological formation formed long ago, and the biodiversity of the site; experience squid fishing; enter deep into the local life in floating villages, dine in a candlelit cave; feast on a BBQ lunch on the beach, or kayak close to limestone islands.