If you’ve been reading my blog for the last couple of months, you already know that I traveled through South East Asia just recently and also twelve years ago in 2005. My goal in writing this blog is to give you the best tips on where you should go, what you should see and how you should spend your time and money. We as travelers want to spend our time and money wisely because we are traveling far and we want the most bang out of our buck. We don’t want to end up somewhere that’s a tourist trap or is a typical “touristy” thing to do. So this is where I can help you! Back to the alternative to Ha Long Bay…
Twelve years ago, I did a day cruise through Ha long Bay with a bunch of friends. The limestone cliffs and the emerald green water were stunning. The one thing I noticed even back then was how crowded the bay was. Fast forward to this past trip, I met other travelers along the way who had just come back from Ha Long Bay and they reported that the bay was packed and polluted. Hearing this was a huge disappointment because it is the number one site to see in Vietnam. It is also a UNESCO heritage site. I wasn’t planning to go to Ha Long Bay until Anna at the Eco Luxury Hotel in Hanoi suggested I go on a cruise through the less crowded Bai Tu Bay.
Anna’s elevator pitch of Bai Tu Bay was that it’s about 30 km East of Ha long Bay, has 10% of the boats of Ha Long Bay, is unpolluted, and the best way to see the remote caves is via cruise. Two days later I was aboard the Cristina Cruise for a 2 day/1 night adventure through Bai Tu Bay. I’m not a huge fan of cruises but I do believe there are some destinations where it warrants a cruising trip. The cruise was $145 USD per person which included transport to and from Hanoi (each trip was 4 hours), meals, kayaks, and a double room with a balcony. Cuong, our tour guide, spoke fluent English and was incredibly funny and charming. The 2 days were packed with activities like kayaking, boat riding, visiting floating villages, cooking classes, dance partying, and visiting Thien Canh Son Cave.
What I love about these kinds of trips is meeting other travelers because chances are, they are cool people who have similar interests. I met two other American girls on the cruise. When I heard their American accents, I was like a moth to a flame. There’s something about meeting fellow Americans abroad that is so comforting. We had a blast together and I still keep in touch with them. I’m so glad I was convinced to go to Bai Tu Bay because it has the same stark limestone cliffs and emerald green waters. There were other tourists but not nearly as many as there are in Ha long Bay. It just so happened that the day we went kayaking, the Vietnamese government was going to prohibit kayaking through the bay in the future. I’m not sure if they ever started to allow the kayaking again but it just goes to show the delicate balance of socially responsible tourism. My advice is to go to Bai Tu Bay if you’re a traveler like me who wants a unique and off-the-beaten path experience sans thousands of tourists.