There’s much more to northeast Vietnam than Halong Bay. The sinking limestone plateau, which gave birth to the bay’s spectacular islands, continues for some 100km to the Chinese border. The area immediately northeast of Halong Bay is part of Bai Tu Long National Park.
Bai Tu Long Bay is every bit as beautiful as its famous neighbour. In some ways it’s actually more stunning, since it’s only in its initial stages as a destination for travellers. Improved boat transport to the scattering of resorts here means the area is quickly growing in popularity with domestic tourists, but the bay and its islands are still unpolluted and relatively undeveloped. For Western travellers, it’s a laid-back alternative to the touristy bustle of Halong Bay.
Halong Athena Cruise (www.athenacruisehalong.com)
Our research led us to Athena cruise, a morden steel vessel operated by a team that strives to minimize its impact on the environment by using biodiesel for fuel, organizing and supporting environmental initiatives like an annual clean-up tour, and not participating in exploitative visits to the caves. Members of the local community also benefit: the tour company trains and hires only locals, and exclusively procures fresh produce and seafood from the surrounding areas. This scored big points for us.
Of course, so too did the route. Instead of sharing the waters with hundreds of junks, our one-night cruise would lead us through the more pristine Bai Tu Long Bay.
So what can you expect from this tour?
From our hotel in Hanoi, we made our way to the Halong Bay Cruise Instant office (where the cruise tours are sold) in the Old Quarter at 7:45am.