- Twelve destinations in three countries and two weeks! I am a greedy tourist; I have an insatiable desire to squeeze as many places as possible in my itinerary. See! I have a practical view to reason this out. There is so much to see and experience but the number of vacation days are limited. I know that I would not travel to a place again just because I had not had much time when I visited it last or I could not go to all the places I wanted to. I will always prefer a new destination than the one that I have visited already. And when I am old, then I would revisit the ones which somehow managed to keep their memory alive in my mind. Places that felt like an extension of my own self.
Coming back to Vietnam, Baitulong Bay was the last stop in my itinerary and the most perfect place to wind up my travel in Vietnam, and get ready to be back to work!
Should you visit Halong or Baitulong?
If you have not yet made up your mind whether you should even be visiting Halong or Baitulong then take my word for it. You have to experience this magical place once! When I was planning my travel, I read about the similarities between Trang An (Halong on earth) and Halong Bay. Trust me, these are very different experiences even though the topography of the limestone karts is the same.
Halong versus Baitulong Bay – which one is better?
Halong was declared one of the new natural wonders. It is one of the most visited places in Vietnam. I had done extensive research before finally deciding on Baitulong Bay. People describe Halong as crowded and somewhat polluted. Baitulong Bay attracts fewer visitors as compared to Halong and offers similar views, so I opted for Baitulong bay.
Book in advance or later?
I had read that bookings are generally full and hence it is safer to book in advance, so I booked a one night two days package with Paloma cruise online two months in advance.
When I was in Hanoi, I went around to check if it was easy to get a place for tomorrow or day after. Though it was not a total surprise, I was able to get availability for tomorrow and day after and that too at a much cheaper rate. Paloma weaved a beautiful experience, their pick up was on time and the staff was courteous and professional. I wish I had the option to negotiate but for that, you have to be in Hanoi.
If you are planning to be in Hanoi for a couple of days or you are landing in Hanoi and visiting the Bay towards the end of your itinerary, you can visit tourist offices and inquire. But if you are pressed on time then booking it in advance is the best thing to do.
The tour agency had arranged for the pickup and drop. I had heard that some agencies cramp more tourists in those small buses. Luckily, it was not so. I was picked up from the doorstep of my hotel. It took four hours to reach the bay and we were dropped at the office. We waited there for 30 minutes and from there we were taken to the cruise. It was drizzling that day and visibility was super low because of fog. Our guide told us that this was not the perfect weather to experience Baitulong. It is the best experience when the sun is out.
As soon as we boarded, we were given the keys to our rooms. My room had a huge window to enjoy the view. I drew out the curtains and stood there to enjoy the scenery. The shore was left behind, and karsts covered in the mist were merging with the horizons of the cold emerald waters of the Halong Bay.
Shortly after, we were called for lunch. The first stop on our itinerary was the caves where ancient people had lived. The caves had stalagmite and stalactite formations. If you have been to Phong Nha, you can give these caves a miss and spend your time in the water.
Next thing on the itinerary was to kayak. We were taken aboard in a smaller boat for kayaking. We sailed past the fishermen who had anchored their boats there. We were surrounded by rocks on all the sides, trying to kayak our way back to the cruise. it was fun in the middle of literally nowhere.
I was excited because I was kayaking for the first time. Though our guide gave us the option to swim, we knew better. It was cold. Had it been sunny, it would have been perfect for swimming.
The cruise had a few activities to keep us engaged. There was a sunset party on the deck even though Sun forgot to come out of clouds that day. It was beautiful, there were not many ships in sight and our ship was anchored in the middle of beautiful formations, I could not make out where the mist and horizon met.
After dinner, it was time for squid fishing. We were given instructions on how to fish and I spent the next 30 minutes waiting with my fishing rod for one squid to appear. Many squids came by but decided to choose the person sitting next to me. He got 7 squids in 15 minutes and signed off. I waited for 30 minutes and decided after much deliberation that going to bed is a better idea instead. I tucked myself in the bed with curtains drawn out. The gentle rickety motion of the ship was like a cradle and winds the lullaby! I dozed off, don’t know when!
Personally, I think it was a wise decision to go to the Baitulong bay. The cruise really offered serenity and exclusivity. I was also satisfied with Paloma cruise. The staff offered great hospitality and the cabins were clean. I had read a lot of reviews about ships not being clean etc. so Paloma was pretty good that way.
Next morning, after breakfast, we were taken to Vien Vung floating village where fishing communities live on the sea. There is also an oyster farm and a shop. The tour of the oyster farm was also a part of the package where they demonstrate how pearls are harvested. This part of the tour seemed commercialized and also because it is a part of everybody’s itinerary so it gets very crowded.
We were also taken on a trip to floating villages and the ride was heavenly. I had a very different picture of a floating village (blame it on Nat Geo!). This floating village had wooden cabins floating in the sea. I could not see any kids or people going about their daily chores. I could not ask the guide if people live in these houses all year long or just for a few months. Leaving the scenery aside. it is tough to say if people actually live there all year round.
Around noon, we were back at the cruise for brunch and it was a wrap of our excursion. The cruise started for the shore and I spent my time at the deck as the rooms needed to be ready for the next batch of tourists. The Sun was pushing through the clouds and the karst formations became more prominent. Wish the sun had come out a day sooner.
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