Have you ever taken a cruise where you and your partner were the only ones on your boat?
Where you had your own personal tour guide and a crew of five to cater to your every need?
Well, that happened to us in Vietnam.
Our Bai Tu Long Bay cruise was a series of very pleasant and fun surprises, starting with learning that we were the only people who had booked the 3 day, 2 night trip.
Since the rest of the passengers were doing the 2 day, 1 night trip, we would be on the main boat with everyone for Day 1, and then we would board our own private boat for Day 2, and then we would rejoin the main boat that would have a whole new group of people for the evening of Day 2 and finish up with them on Day 3.
Complicated, yes, and they had to explain it to me several times before I understood what was happening.
In addition, I was shocked to learn that the cruise company booked one guide just for us on Day 1 because we had been assigned to a boat with a group of French speaking people, so they supplied an English-speaking guide just for us. That was how we met Jenny, our most awesome private guide!
And by the way, other surprises included this upgrade we received in honor of our 20th anniversary: a deluxe double room with a balcony:
a beautiful cake,
and bottle of wine. To say we were treated like royalty on this three-day cruise is the biggest understatement ever.
We began our journey on Day 1 traveling to Ha Long Bay harbor and cruising to Bai Tu Long Bay. Ha Long Bay is the super touristy area that has hundreds of ships that take the thousands of tourists through each day. Bai Tu Long Bay is the next door cousin, which is a much more protected zone, with way fewer tourists.
The views on this first day were stunning. And even though I had seen many, many photos of this area, to see it in person was overwhelming.
We then embarked on a relaxing kayaking trip
and then we had the first of many gourmet, multi-course meals, that included the chef cooking the prawns in a dramatic fashion that included a fire and lots of smoke.
By 9:00 I was fast asleep, after the long day and two glasses of wine.
On Day 2, I got up early to join in the 6:30 tai chi class on the upper deck. It was just a LITTLE bit cold.
After breakfast we were flabbergasted when a “day boat” pulled up alongside our boat,
and we realized that this boat was coming just for me and Jay!!! I mean the entire boat. Just for the two of us.
Craziest thing ever.
And there was a full crew of five to wait on us. Plus our lovely tour guide Duc. This was the craziest trip we’ve ever been on in our lives.
This is what we saw when we transferred over to this boat:
Well, suffice to say, we adjusted well to this bit of news, and went on our way on this "day boat" with our crew.
We started out by kayaking again for a couple hours,
We tried to enter a narrow cave that Duc wanted to show us. He told us that at the end of a tunnel there was a beautiful lagoon. We just had to see it.
The only challenge was that the tide was going out and the water was RUSHING out of the cave, pushing us out when we were trying to get in. The water was pressing against us and the rapids were pushing us backwards against the coral rocks that lined the passage. We narrowly missed getting hit in the head by some sharp low hanging rocks, and after some furious paddling to try to overcome the current, I called it quits.
Duc, age 22, made it through after a struggle that included cutting his hand on some rocks, and Jay was disappointed that we didn’t persevere, but after narrowly missing having my head crack against those rocks, I was done. If there’s one thing I know, you can’t always trust the judgment of a 22 year old young man. Call me old. I don’t care.
After that fruitless effort, and somewhat disappointed that we didn't get to see the lagoon, we kept on going on our kayak journey to another cave that had no water in it. We beached the kayaks and made our way to the cave. It was small but beautiful. And still unspoiled by hordes of tourists.
After kayaking back to the day boat, we had, wait for it, a multi-course gourmet lunch. Served by our personal, attentive crew.
We had a fascinating afternoon. We began by going to a floating fishing village.
Fun facts: until 2012, people lived in these villages, but after repeated warnings to the people to stop using explosives and electric shocks in the water to catch their fish, the government decided that the fish population would be soon depleted and so they RELOCATED the entire village. Actually 5 villages, and gave them homes and schools and jobs on the mainland.
And the fishing village? They preserved it, and even painted it bright colors for the tourists to see and as a cultural souvenir.
We were amazed to see this stone arch and what was just beyond the rock.
This guy has the enviable job of rowing tourists around his fishing village. He was terrific.
Once the government decided to relocate the fishing village people, they realized that the people needed to make a living by the sea. They didn't know anything else. And so they then set up some aquaculture farms, some oyster farms, and allowed some people to come back and work in the area, but not make it their permanent home.
We got a little tour of the pearl farm, and learned how they cultivate the oysters and pearls and even had a chance to buy some pearl jewelry. It was very tempting. I did get a pair of mother of pearl earrings, but we passed on buying some pearls.
For the rest of the afternoon, we hung out on our private boat while we set sail (not really) to rejoin the bigger boat. When we boarded the main boat, we were greeted by the curious stares of a whole new group of people who were on their first day of their two day cruise.
This group of people were not much friendlier than the first bunch, especially because we were seated at a table with some Italians who did not speak any English and did not attempt to be friendly to us. So, Jay and I ate our gourmet dinner on our own, and then retired to bed. It had been a big day.
I was so excited to see the sun rise on Day 3. It was the first sunshine we had seen in many days. I even had to stop doing tai chi so I could snap a million photos of the sunrise.
After breakfast, we went to a super touristy cave and were overwhelmed by the hundreds of people who arrived when we did to see this dead cave. It was dead from hundreds of tourists sitting and standing on the stalagmites and rubbing their hands and breaking off the stalagmites.
Jay and I had an interesting conversation about tourism and natural resources conservation. More on this later. The rest of the morning, I lay on the deck, watching the views and enjoying the karsts that emerged from the sea.
We were so sad that these amazing views were going to be in our past, but we were so grateful that we had been so lucky as to cruise in this very special place on Earth!