Halong Bay is by far the more popular of the cruises, which can take 1-3 days. Some 600 ships are licensed to operate in Halong Bay. Bai Tu Long Bay is very similar in terms of scenery, but further from Ha Long, and only 30 ships are licensed to tour it. We opted for the 3 day Bai Tu Long Bay cruise but--it's a long story I'll be unfolding here (cue the "three hour tour" music)--we actually saw Halong Bay.
On board our ship, the Dragon's Pearl 2, a diesel-powered junk, were 7 other couples, US, British, and Australian, a US family of four, and a single architecture grad student from Sydney. All very nice, friendly, and good-humored people. Amusingly, one of the passengers was a retired merchant ship's captain and another a retired diesel engineer. But I'm getting ahead of the story. The crew numbered about 7, all Vietnamese, of whom the guide, a steward, and the bartender spoke some English. A good combination, I thought.
We boarded and occupied our cabins in the early afternoon as the ship set forth into Halong Bay and a roadstead there that the cruise company, Indochina Junk, uses as an overnight anchorage.
|Our luxury van dropped us off at a luxury hotel right on the harbor; luxuriously|
|Boarding the lighter (tender?) to take us to...|
|Dragon's Pearl 2|
|Our cabin, spartan but en suite; starboard, stern; not luxurious|
|And we're off; even from the harbor you can see plenty of the landscape we wanted|
|Still pretty near the harbor; all this is in the Gulf of Tonkin, South China Sea;|
calm like a lake for our three days
|Dragon Pearl 2's figurehead|
|It was a bit hazy our first day out|
|So after the usual safety talk, cruise talk, etc., the cook came up to give us a|
lesson in Vietnamese cooking; pork spring rolls, which became our afternoon
|Though the sea was calm, you could see the tides are in the 8-10' range|
|Once we got to the roadstead, it was play-time; for the younger passengers; Vicki|
and I would kayak the next day
|Roadstead, with some of the bigger junks|