A last-minute trip to Vietnam during our slow travels through Asia lead us to the picturesque Ha Long Bay. During our trip we booked a private luxury junk boat tour with IndoChina Junk. Here is a review of our experience.
Booking a Junk Boat
The options for booking cruises through the bay are overwhelming. My sister and I reached out to a few different companies and after finding one that we felt fit both quality and budget requirements, we were booked with IndoChina Junk Boats.
We booked a private one-day cruise aboard the Dragon Bay junk boat that cruised from 8am until 6pm throughout the Bai Tu Long area. The cruise included guided tours, a full meal and breathtaking scenery. The cost for our cruise with four adults and one small child was $520 USD ($130 per adult). Upon our agreement and payment we were given the details of where we would meet our guide on the day of our tour and a small example of an itinerary.
The day before our cruise we were notified that the Dragon Bay boat was not available and that we instead would be cruising the L’Amour junk boat instead. Our point of contact informed us this was an upgrade with no additional cost and that we would be very happy with the boat.
We were instructed to meet our guide at a local cafe near the harbor, we assumed that the cafe would have food for order and planned to eat our breakfast their pre-departure. After a confused cab driver dropped us off at the meeting point we quickly realized there was nothing to resemble a meal nearby. While the rest of us waited, my husband started to explore the area looking for something to grab as a quick bite. Once our guide arrived we mentioned our plan to eat prior and he lead us to a place to buy some fresh eggs and bread and told us that the chef on board would be happy to prepare them for us. This was a wonderful touch of service to what was about to be a truly memorable experience.
We took a small transfer boat from the dock to the junk boat pictured below.
When you first step on board the boat there is a table and chairs where we ate all of our meals. Typically on this boat it is a table for two, but with our last-minute boat change, they had it nicely set us up for five. Our guide for the day gave us a small tour of the boat and we were welcomed with tea and coffee.
And soon breakfast was served. It was simple, but a truly wonderful touch.
Just down from the table area will lead you to a fully stocked bar area. If you look just past the bar to the back-end of the boat that is where the kitchen, crew and the boat captain all were located.
Just before the bar to the left was the bedroom with en suite bathroom. The air conditioning in this room was a welcome retreat throughout the day.
The star of the show was the open upper deck of the boat with sun lounging chairs. Again the space on this boat is usually equipped with just two loungers and small tables but we were pleased to see this boat was well prepared for all of us to be able to enjoy this area.
The staff onboard consisted of a captain with a small crew, a chef, a waiter and our personal tour guide who was not only a great host while we were on the boat, but also took us through our small side excursions.
We were told that we would be taking a small bamboo boat, rowed by a local woman through the Vong Vieng fishing village and pearl farm. My husband, the ever skeptic, was already convinced that this was going to be a tourist scam much like those you find in other areas of Southeast Asia. He wasn’t totally wrong (husband edit: he wasn’t wrong at all). While it wasn’t quite as bad as the Big Buddha scams in Thailand, it was more of a “tourist trap” than anything (husband edit: told you). We did enjoy the peacefulness of the small boat through the village, but we would have given this small excursion a pass otherwise.
After a tour through the village we were guided inside the gift shop where a local worker was ready to show us the process of how the pearls are retrieved and the cases full of pearl items were on display. We quickly informed our guide and the shop keeper that we were not interested in purchasing any jewelry and we were ready to move on to the next activity.
We then set off to find a small private beach for swimming but after seeing signs that advised against getting in the water, we thought it would be best to head on to the next adventure.
The next stop was a cave inside of one of the limestone formations. Here we saw other junk boats stopped and larger group tours. Our guide lead us up a steep slope of stairs and into a dark cave. We took some beautiful photos from the top of the rock and then made our way back down. At this stop our guide offered us the option to stay at this beach and kayak, but we had no interest in kayaking and instead wanted to cruise more of the bay.
A full eight-course lunch was ready for us after our excursions and the spread was impressive and delicious. (Soup not pictured)
The Benefit of Booking Private
There are many reasons that we wanted to book a private tour, but the biggest reason was that we did not want to spend our day tied to a schedule of activities that we were not interested in. Ha Long Bay has been on my “travel bucket list” for a long time and with one full day on the water, we wanted to make the most of it. When we wanted to leave the fishing village, we did. When we were told that one of the excursions included kayaking, we passed. We wanted to spend our day exactly the way that we wanted and for us that was worth the extra cost to hiring a private boat. Not to mention, it made for some really great photo shoot opportunities.
As I mentioned in a previous post, knowing all that I know now I would definitely pass on staying in a hotel and book a junk boat as our full accommodation for a stay in Ha Long Bay. Our experience on the L’Amour junk boat was incredible and would have been sufficient for a few days on the water. We really felt the staff did a wonderful job and the presentation of the boat, food and numerous activities were outstanding. There are many different boats to choose from both in size and amenities and plenty of different tour companies, for us, IndoChina Junk was a true gem. I’d love to cruise with them again.
Would you book a private luxury tour or go for a shared group setting?