“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” ― Bill Bryson

Bai Tu Long Bay Junk Boat Cruise

Bai Tu Long Bay Junk Boat Cruise


I’ve read that it’s perfectly natural to have a poor night's’ sleep during your first overnight stay in a new place - it’s an instinctive survival strategy, an evolutionary leftover with the purpose of keeping us alert and alive in unfamiliar territory. In the modern day, it’s more like a grand, cosmic joke, designed to make holidays that little bit less restful.

But I slept soundly that night and I know it had something to do with the gentle rocking of the boat.

Sliding out of the warm bed sheets, I wander over to the windows and draw the curtains back. The calm blue waters lap gently against the boat and reach out to the iconic limestone islands looming not a couple hundred metres away. Each of these towering islands is capped with a crown of tropical greenery and a group of birds calmly circling them.

Staring out at Bai Tu Long Bay, I’m no longer left wondering about my peaceful sleep. How could you experience anything different in a setting like this? Its beauty is matched only by its serenity - one of the benefits of avoiding Ha Long Bay, Vietnam’s most popular boat tour destination and, by all reports, a hectic and crowded experience. I know there are other boats around but I can’t see them from my window - they’re further ahead, spread out among the limestone islands.

A view from the deck of an Indochina Junk.

I booked an overnight stay on the Dragon’s Pearl boat with Indochina Junk. It was by far the most expensive item on my self-guided tour through Vietnam but I was determined to see those postcard perfect views. The reservation included transfers to and from Hanoi and one night’s accommodation in a private cabin on the Dragon’s Pearl.

I researched heavily before deciding on Indochina Junk, but even as I pressed confirm on the website, I wondered what I was in store for. Spend enough time on Tripadvisor and you’ll be wary of every tour operator.

When I laid eyes on the Dragon’s Pearl at Hon Gai International Harbor, all apprehension vanished. The Indochina Junk boats are modeled on the traditional Chinese junks, which first came into use around the 2nd century AD.

An ornate dragon adorned the helm of the white junk boat, with red and navy details decorating the body. Once boarded, the crew gave us a quick safety talk. Then we were assigned our rooms. As I pushed open the door, I let out a squeal. Handcrafted teak and oak fittings enveloped a double bed with crisp white sheets - at the far end of the cabin was a window shielded by golden curtains with the most perfect seaside view. To top it all off, a sliding door to the right revealed a private ensuite.

The cabin on an Indochina Junk.

As we set sail for Bai Tu Long Bay, lunch was served on the deck and the tour director walked us through our itinerary. To my surprise, I learned we would also be exploring the hidden Thien Canh Son cave, relaxing on a white sandy beach at Hon Co island, (where we could also swim or kayak). On the second day, we would be visiting Vung Vieng fishing village by a rustic row-boat.

Bai Tu Long Bay.

Day one was complete in every sense of the word - from the unexpected cave tour to kayaking around the limestone islands. After breakfast, it started to rain. I wander overside to the lower deck to admire the fascinating formations. The light rain had created a haze, slightly obscuring the view but not the beauty. My two week itinerary in Vietnam had taken me from Ho Chi Minh City through to Da Nang and then Hoi An and eventually to Han Oi. Over the course of almost two weeks, I had seen many sights, tasted more many dishes and very quickly fallen in love with Vietnam. But looking out at Bai Tu Long Bay, I couldn’t help but think that this was the best adventure yet.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Hoi An: Another World

Hoi An: Another World