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For my post-grad trip, I decided to be ambitious and hit one of the farthest areas in the world I could think of – Southeast Asia. Ha Long Bay was a clear standout for my travel companion and I, and we knew we had to make a stop there. After scouring through countless tour groups and boat companies, we came across Indochina Junk. While many of the boat companies now use new, luxury-based boats, Indochina Junk still uses traditional, wooden boats. What really sold us though, was their itinerary which included the Ha Long Bay cruise and Yen Duc Village experience.
There are three main areas in Ha Long Bay – Ha Long, Bai Tu Long, and La Han Bay. Ha Long is the most popular route that the majority of the boats take, and also the most crowded. Bai Tu Long is located right next to Ha Long, but is much less popular and just as beautiful (read more about Bai Tu Long Bay here). La Han Bay is closer to Cat Ba Island, and they are usually in itineraries together. Passage through this route is more regulated and expensive for boats, which then drives up prices for passengers. Indochina is one of few boat companies that has itineraries through Bai Tu Long Bay, which was a huge consideration for us when booking. In addition, Indochina Junk offered a package deal for the Ha Long Bay cruise and Yen Duc Village experience, a small village nearby. This 3D2N itinerary is the one we chose, and here’s why it was 100% worth every penny!
Part 1: Ha Long Bay Cruise (Day 1)
The first part of our Ha Long Bay cruise and Yen Duc Village experience was the cruise part. Indochina started by picking us up from our hotel in Hanoi, and driving us a few hours to Ha Long Bay. The boat staff greeted us with fresh fruit and juice, and served us lunch shortly after. Plate after plate of delicious food came out, and we realized this to be the norm the coming days.
After an hour or so on the boat, we arrived at Bai Tu Long bay. Here, we were able to get off the boat and climb up to the Thien Canh Son cave. The cave was slightly underwhelming, but relatively interesting for the 15 minutes it took to explore. Then, we had time to either relax on a small, private strip of beach, or go kayaking around the bay.
We chose kayaking, but soon found that keeping up as the only kayak with two girls was quite a challenge (I should have learned from my experience sea kayaking with my sister in Dubrovnik, but that’s a story for another time). This led to us spending the good part of the kayak trip madly paddling rather than enjoying the beautiful views of the bay. After what felt like forever, we paddled our way back to the beach and once again boarded our boat. That excursion wrapped up the off-shore activities for the day, and we spent the evening eating another deliciously cooked meal and relaxing on the boat.
The next morning, we woke up bright and early to embark on our next adventure – visiting a local fishing village. We boarded smaller wooden boats to explore the area around the floating fishing village.
We saw the locals’ floating homes, and even saw how they farmed oysters. A villager then showed us the process of growing a pearl in the oyster, as well as extracting the pearl from the oyster when it was ready. This was the last stop on the cruise-leg of our Ha Long Bay cruise and Yen Duc Village experience.
Part 2: Yen Duc Village Experience (Day 2)
The drive back to Hanoi is where our paths slightly diverged from the rest of the groups. For most people, the itinerary included a brief stop at Yen Duc Village to watch a water puppet show before driving back to Hanoi. My friend and I were the only ones spending the night in Yen Duc Village, so we separated from the rest of the group. We were taken to our villa, where we started part two of our Ha Long Bay cruise and Yen Duc Village experience.
Indochina built the complex we stayed in, which had about six guest villas. At the complex, we were greeted by our guide who briefed us on the activities for the day. We had about an hour break of blasting the air-conditioner, and then met our guide to bike to a local woman’s home to chat.
The lady that we visited had a fascinating story. She started working in the rice fields when she was a bit over 12 years old, and continued past 70 years old. She had been in an arranged marriage, which was common at the time. For most of her marriage, she couldn’t live in the same house as her husband. Instead, she had to live in a smaller home outside the main home with her mother-in-law. She also had specific sides of the house she could enter in from, and only when she went in to clean.
These things sounded preposterous to us, but she insisted that her husband wanted her to live with him. However, it was against societal norms and her mother-in-law objected. Overall, speaking with her was an insightful and powerful experience, and we left the conversation with a new perspective on life and happiness. We continued our bike ride to our next stop – pond fishing! This was far from the kind of fishing we were expecting, though. Instead of a pole and bait, we got a bucket, waterproof pants, and rubber gloves. We then trudged around in a man-made pond, trying to trap fish with our bucket and then pull the fish out with our hands.
Grabbing a squirming fish out of a hole in a bucket is exactly what it sounds like – slippery and slimy!
Our next destination after fishing was a traditional rice mill. Here, we learned how to harvest the grains from wheat, separate the grains from the shelling, grind it into brown rice, and then grind it even further to make white rice (this process is much lengthier than the process to make brown rice).
We biked back to the village where we had a mini cooking lesson making mango salad and dessert. Afterward, the staff prepared us a foot bath and, as we’d grown accustomed to at this point, an enormous meal.
Part 3: Yen Duc Village Experience (Day 3)
The next morning, we went to our last stop in the village – the home of a broom-maker. The lady who taught us how to make a broom had been making brooms for almost 60 years, and what took us an hour to make, took her 15 minutes. Her expertise was unmatched, and learning how to make a broom gave me much greater appreciation for the complexity and effort it takes to make simple household items. I even got to keep the broom I made at the end of it!
After two long but fulfilling days of unique, new activities, we headed to the water puppet show. The puppeteers acted out stories of rice harvesting, fishing, and more, all done in a water-puppet pond. This brought about the end of our Ha Long Bay cruise and Yen Duc Village experience.
Overall, this experience introduced us not only to new experiences, but to new ways of thinking and living. While Ha Long Bay is the more popular attraction, the village experience was a lot more rewarding and unique, and I’d recommend it to anyone travelling to the area. What are some of your personal favourites for cool, under-rated attractions? Let us know in the comments!
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