Leaning on the wooden handrail of our boat, we looked out at the incredible view in front of us. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of towering limestone karsts protruded from the lush turquoise waters of Bai Tu Long Bay.

We were back in Bai Tu Long Bay, the magnificent World Heritage site in the North of Vietnam. This was our second trip on the bay, and it was just as spectacular and awe-inspiring as the first time! Take a glimpse by watching our epic highlights video below!

 

Halong Bay, or to be precise, Bai Tu Long Bay, the private area of the bay where our Dragon Legend cruise took us, is a place of outstanding natural beauty. Covering a total area of 1,500 km2, Halong Bay extends out as far as the eye can see, filled with beautiful islets and limestone karsts. Each totally unique in shape and colour, rich with bright green blooms of jungle vegetation.

Bai Tu Long Bay karsts

Bai Tu Long Bay cruise

It was a dream come true to return, especially because we were back with the same tour company who took us on our first adventure to Bai Tu Long Bay 3 years ago, the awesome Indochina Junk. But this time we were on the larger and rather grand new ‘Dragon Legend II’ cruise ship. It was so exciting!!

Bai Tu Long Bay ship
Our beautiful cruise ship, the Dragon Legend II

The scale of Halong Bay is hard to comprehend. With thousands of limestone karsts and islets stretching for an incredible 120km of coastline, it’s truly a sight of epic proportions. However, as you pass through the various islets and channels, it becomes hard to truly appreciate their scale, so the best way is to get up close with the karsts in a kayak!

Bai Tu Long Bay kayaking

Slipping into a small kayak, and paddling away from your ship, immediately gives you a much better sense of the scale and grandeur of Bai Tu Long Bay. The limestone karts are simply enormous, and dwarfed our tiny kayak as we paddled around them! Yes that is us in our kayak!

Bai Tu Long Bay bay video

Bai Tu Long Bay video

As the tide ebbs and flows, it reveals different colours on the karsts as the water gradually works its way into the base of each karst. The result is a spectacular top heavy rock, many of which you feel could push over given enough leverage.

Bai Tu Long Bay towering karsts

As you paddle close to the karsts, they come to life as thousands of small grey crabs cling to the sides, scuttling in and out of the various holes and crevices at the bases. Looking up, the lush green vegetation and bushes protrude from the sides of the karsts, demonstrating an uncanny knack for flourishing in the most unique of places.

For us, kayaking is the highlight of a visit to Bai Tu Long Bay especially when we get to paddle into secret lagoons…

Kayaking To A Secret Lagoon

Up ahead, lay a small entrance in the never ending karst’s wall which, amazingly, turned out to be the access point to a secret lagoon, only accessible at certain tide levels. Our luck was in today, as the tide was low enough to paddle through. So we slowed our kayak, and entered the darkness.

Bai Tu Long Bay video

Navigating in darkness through a cave is difficult as you can imagine, the various stalagmites hanging down threatening to hit our heads, whilst the shallow waters gave many opportunities for capsizing. However after 5 minutes or so of slow and not so steady paddling, we saw daylight up ahead!

Blinking as we entered back into the daylight, we looked to find ourselves in a large lagoon, surrounded on all sides by towering limestone cliffs, woah! The water here was calm and serene, and the lagoon almost silent with only the sound of swooping birds and the echo of our voices. We naturally stopped paddling to enjoy the moment, it was such a beautiful place.

Bai Tu Long Bay video Lagoon

It was a strange feeling being in the lagoon, knowing the only way out is back the way we came! So after some moments of tranquility, it was time to head back through the shallow waters of the cave and follow our guide back to our ship, before any major tidal changes! What an adventure it had been!

Bai Tu Long Bay cruising

Extremely satisfied from our amazing lagoon adventure, we returned to the ship to get ready for our next adventure to Thien Canh Son cave, the location for our dinner that evening. And what a setting it was!

Bai Tu Long Bay cave dinner
Beautiful Thien Canh Son Cave on Hon Co island, Bai Tu Long Bay
Bai Tu Long Bay cave dinner
Our amazing cave dinner setting!

Aside from enjoying all the delicious fresh seafood and our favourite Vietnamese dishes (have we mentioned how much we love Vietnamese food?!), the other highlight of our time on Bai Tu Long Bay was once again the incredible sunsets. Set against the hundreds of limestone cliffs, with the right mix of clear sky and cloud, they are truly magical and unique!

Bai Tu Long Bay sunset

There’s nowhere else quite like Bai Tu Long Bay and for us, it has a unique way of making us feel calm and relaxed. We also had time to chill out on a mini beach at the foot of a huge karst to watch another incredible sunset!

Bai Tu Long Bay sunset

With only miles and miles of beautiful karsts and the occasional boat slipping by, there’s no wonder it’s a great place to clear the mind and truly live in the moment.

Bai Tu Long Bay sunset

The sunrises weren’t too shabby either! We witnessed some rather atmospheric and moody clouds surrounding our boat over the bay…!

Bai Tu Long Bay sunrise

The last day of our 3 days, 2 nights tour was just as exciting and rewarding. Starting with an early morning visit to the floating fishing village of Vung Vieng, we got a fascinating glimpse into the floating lives of the local families who inhabit the area.

Bai Tu Long Bay
Vung Vieng fishing village, Bai Tu Long Bay

The village is beautifully surrounded by a spectacular wall of karsts, best viewed from a small boat, so once again we disembarked our ship and slipped into these small rustic rowing boats to tour the peaceful area.

Bai Tu Long Bay village
Rowing around Vung Vieng fishing village

Despite this being our second visit, we absolutely loved our time on Bai Tu Long Bay again, especially with the wonderful crew of the Dragon Legend cruise ship from Indochina Junk. We would highly recommend this cruise, or any of Indochina Junk’s tours. It’s not often that we make such bold recommendations about a company however based on both of our amazing Bai Tu Long Bay experiences (you can read about our first visit here!) and our incredible Yen Duc Village tour, we’ve always had awesome, authentic, professional and friendly experiences with them.

A cruise around Bai Tu Long Bay could be the highlight of your trip. It certainly was for us.

Bai Tu Long Bay Dragon Legend sunset
Sunset over the Dragon Legend, Bai Tu Long Bay

Top Tips For Visiting Bai Tu Long Bay (Halong Bay)

  • Choose your company wisely! Unfortunately many visitors to Halong Bay don’t have such a positive experience. Stories of rat infested boats, boat traffic and polluted waters are enough to put anyone off! However if you do your research properly and don’t take a super cheap option, you should have an amazing experience. As we’ve said, we highly recommend Indochina Junk based on our experience.
  • Loosen your budget and splurge a little! It can be tempting to cut costs and go for the cheaper option, but when it comes to this once in a lifetime experience, we recommend stretching your budget a little!
  • The time will fly by so go for at least 2 nights! It takes at least 4 hours to get to Bai Tu Long Bay by car from Hanoi, so going for just 1 night really makes for a flying visit. The last day of most itineraries (including a 2 day 1 night option) consists of an early morning breakfast, short morning excursion (final boat or kayaking trip) then return to Halong Bay port by lunchtime so if you only go for 1 night you will probably be on your boat for less than 24 hours which is just so short! We found that the time really flies by, especially including meals and excursions so we recommend booking at least 2 nights 3 days to make the the most of it! You can find the full detailed itinerary of what to expect on the 3 days 2 nights trip that we took over on the Dragon Legend website.

Disclaimer: we partnered with Indochina Junk for this trip, but as with everything on our blog, our opinions above are an honest account of what we experienced.

Looking for more Vietnam inspiration? Click here. Or, considering a trip to the similarly beautiful limestone karsts of El Nido, Palawan in the Philippines? Check our our experience and tips on El Nido Tours here.