Photos of the instantly-recognisable junk boats sailing serenely across bright turquoise Halong waters, between limestone karst pillars and sheltered coves, are some of the most iconic images of Vietnam. They conjure up a distinct combination of adventure and relaxation; discovery and isolation. Unfortunately, the modern reality of Halong Bay itself is very far from that idyll. The bay has fallen victim to some of the worst over tourism in Asia, making a Halong Bay cruise sometimes feel more like a theme park ride than a genuine taste of local sailing life.
Thankfully, you don’t have to go far to experience the remote immersion of a traditional junk boat trip. Just around the headland in Bai Tu Long Bay, or sheltered by an easterly collection of islands in Lan Ha Bay, beautiful junks sail through far less-visited waters, offering calm, uninterrupted meanders through this unique seascape. Choose a private charter or a cosy cabin on a shared boat, and enjoy a couple of nights finding deserted coves, exploring hidden caverns, and laying back on deck to take in those views.
Sailing through the less-visited waters of Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay off the Halong coast of north east Vietnam.
Away from the rush
Private charters or shared boats
Onboard spas & swimming pools
Sailing into the further corners of the region, off the well-sailed course, gave us the Halong experience we’d always dreamt of.
Discover what to expect from staying at Halong junk boats
The Heritage Line Ginger was one of the first junks to cruise unspoilt Lan Ha Bay, and is still the pinnacle of elegance in the region. Every aspect of the Ginger has been carefully designed to maximise your experience of the area’s stunning karst limestone islands. The spacious suites with their dark wood floors, intricate panelling, and hand painted scenes of local landscapes all have private balconies; perfect for enjoying a leisurely breakfast as the sun comes up. Lan Ha isn’t subject to the same restrictions as those which apply in Halong Bay and kayaking and swimming are both possible, along with opportunities for cycling on Cat Ba Island.
Life onboard the beautiful Peony Junk feels peaceful and relaxing, as you cruise the lesser-visited Lan Ha Bay. There’s a selection of bright cabins and plenty of communal space, all stylishly furnished in dark wood and rich colours. Large windows and private balconies mean you’ll never miss the views, whether inside or out. The airy dining room spans the entire length of the boat with wide expanses of glass on either side displaying the beauty of the bay beyond. Head to the spa for a sumptuous facial and massage, join a tai chi class on deck or a cookery class in the galley, and hop into a kayak to explore the bay's hidden pockets that bigger boats can’t access.
According to local legend, Halong Bay was created when the gods sent a family of dragons to defend Vietnam against invaders. Dragon Legend was named with a nod to this Vietnamese fable and designed with culture and tradition in mind. This may be one of the bigger boats in terms of number of cabins, but there’s plenty of deck space on which to relax and watch the majestic scenery glide by without feeling crowded. However, the seawater pool is a little too small to accommodate all guests at one time! When it comes to dining, the food is some of the best in the region: delicious, freshly prepared and beautifully presented.
You don’t always have to push the boat out to get the full Bai Tu Long experience. The Bhaya Classic may be a little simpler than some of its sisters cruising through these waters, but the stunning scenery and exciting explorations are why many people visit the region, rather than an excess of floating luxury. The Bhaya Fleet boasts six traditionally styled junks, and places on board are limited. Every cabin features air-conditioning, and the luxurious Royal Suites benefit from private verandas.
All these junks are primed for relaxation, whether you’re enjoying a traditional massage in the spa, or simply soaking up the views on the sun deck. When you’ve energy to spend, enjoy kayaking or rowing-boat trips to caves and fishing villages. If you’d prefer to drift in even greater seclusion, there are private junks, each accommodating just a handful of guests, with completely personalised service and fully-flexible itineraries.
Keeping away from over-touristed sights and spots is a top priority for travel sustainability, and beautiful Halong now, sadly, falls into the over-touristed category. Maintaining the region’s travel economy is about finding a balance between keeping tourism buoyant and ensuring that over-touristed spots can recover by visiting lesser-known places of similar interest. Chartering a traditional junk into the less-visited waters of Lan Ha, or Bai Tu Long, supports sustainable travel in the Halong region.