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Ha Long Bay – Reflections on the Dragon’s Pearl Junk 3 Day Cruise

By Courtney Ridgel

Guests Julia Cuthbertson and Carlos Jimenez share their experience in Bai Tu Long Bay (the peaceful northern part of Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, commonly overlooked by most visitors) while on their honeymoon:

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On board the Dragon’s Pearl Junk

I just wanted to emphasize that we LOVED our 2 night/3 day boat trip to Bai Tu Long Bay – amazing to be the only boat within sight for almost the entire time. The scenery was stunning and we really loved the boat itself – we expected the rooms to be as small, but we didn’t expect them (and the bathroom) to be so nice! I still think about our dinner in the cave our second night – so awesome!  I would highly encourage other travelers to do this tour.

For that matter, we thought our entire itinerary was perfect – we really thought it was the perfect mix of nature, city and temples. We actually have multiple friends and some family who are so amazed by our pictures that they want us to send them over all the details so they can do the same exact trip!

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Relaxing on the upper deck

Information about the Dragon’s Pearl Cruises: The Dragon’s Pearl Junk Cruise offers 2- and 3-day cruises, and includes delicious multiple-course meals. Admire the hundreds of fascinating rock formations rising from the emerald green water as you cruise through Bai Tu Long Bay. You’ll have the opportunity to visit a few of these islands, explore Thien Canh Son Cave, relax on the beach, swim, kayak or relax in the comfortable sun chairs on the top deck. You’ll also have the chance to visit the local floating village of Cong Dam that survives from fishing in Ha Long Bay and learn about their daily lives, the floating school and their fish farms.

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Our Cabin
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An arch in one of the many islands
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Julia and Carlos kayaking in Baid Tu Long Bay
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Kayaking into a cave
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A delicious dinner in Thien Canh Son Cave
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Bai Tu Long Bay
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The Dragon’s Pearl Junk

Many Thanks And Kudos To Journeys Within​

Jill Higson is a guest who traveled  to Vietnam and Cambodia with Journeys Within over the holidays and has blogged about her experiences to share them with friends, family and future visitors. Read on as she shares her thoughts about travelling  with Journeys Within…


Many Thanks And Kudos To Journeys Within​

F​irst and foremost, many thanks ​ (Cam On in Vietnamese and Aw Kohn in Khmer)​ to Andrea Ross, Director of Journeys Within and her U.S., Vietnam and Cambodia team of directors, guides and drivers for arranging a trip of a lifetime!  Their incredible help and kindness were endless – this included accompanying me to and from ​locations, educating me about each country’s temples, museums, markets and more.

​Also, a big thank you for transporting me in cool and comfortable automobiles, along with the opportunity to ride on fun motor bikes, tuk-tuks (motorized rickshaws), bicycles and ATVs!

I could not have experienced and enjoyed Vietnam and Cambodia in such a unique, intimate and seamless manner without the Journeys Within team, especially since it was high season for travel in Southeast Asia.  Airports, hotels, restaurants and sites were full of tourists from around the world – often large groups with their cameras and selfie sticks in hand!  Everything was made more enjoyable by being able to follow Journey Within’s expert lead.

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Jill enjoying time with her guides through out Southeast Asia.

My guides were even quite the photographers themselves, finding the perfect spot to take a classic photo of me by a temple or rice field.  Also indulging me in a joint selfie as you will see from the many in the blogs – no selfie stick needed!

Time To Share My Travel Blog

So time to share, with excitement,​ my amazing and memorable two week adventure in Vietnam and Cambodia this past holiday season with ​my family, ​old friends, as well as new friends I met on my trip and of course the Journey’s Within team.

Please take a look and hope you will enjoy my blogs with some of my favorite photos and highlights.  I think you might be booking a trip with Journeys Within afterward so I included my entire itinerary!

Must See Sites – Angkor Wat and Ha Long Bay

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Angkor Wat and Halong Bay are among the most stunning sights in Southeast Asia.

Both Angkor Wat and Ha Long Bay are major tourist attractions, however they should still be considered ‘Must See Attractions’ due to their natural beauty, strong presence and the emotional impact they can have on any traveler. I recommend that you don’t let the crowd interfere with creating your own memories.

Waking up at 4:00AM to head out to see the sunrise was not originally at the top of my to-do list, however, it was well worth a few less hours of sleep to experience Angkor Wat at day break.  To begin the day looking at the sky with this beautiful temple in the foreground was a special moment and then walking inside of it and wandering around the grounds beyond peaceful.

The Angkor Wat temple was spectacular inside and out, with its detailed architecture, breathtaking views and beautiful surroundings.  One of my favorite photos was taken by a small window opening, where I sat looking out and reflecting upon the peace and tranquility of the temple — a genuine moment captured.

Jill enjoying a quiet moment of reflection among the ruins of Angkor Wat.

I was fortunate to spend New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day on the lovely Dragon’s Legend Junk boat, sailing through Ha Long Bay. While Halong Bay is a well-known tourist site, it was still overwhelming to take in the beauty of the bay’s many limestone islands and islets that were in every direction I looked.  I could not decide which ones to take photos of, so settled on all!

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The beautiful crag formations in Halong Bay.

I met wonderful families from Saigon and England on my overnight boat and spent the days embracing their little rug rats in photos while basking in the beauty of the bay. I explored Thien Con Son Cave and kayaked around Ho Co Island – an experience that was enhanced by the innocent and excited eyes of the children we had on board.  It was beyond memorable to ring in 2015 with them and the boat’s wonderful staff, who treated us to a delicious eight-course dinner of fish, vegetables, rice and more.  Plus we celebrated with a pre-New Year’s Eve toast and dancing on the deck! We may have been in an often-visited location, but the experience was all my own.

Jill and the staff of her junk cruise in Halong Bay.

As much as I enjoyed taking in the major attractions, I have to say seeing the countryside in Vietnam and Cambodia — villages, rice fields, livestock, etc. — was as memorable and important for me. Mixing in lesser seen locales helped me to better understand the people and the culture of these countries.

The Southeast Asian countryside is beautiful and varied in its sights.

I felt in tune with my surroundings and happy as I saw farm lands with water buffaloes in Hoi An by bike, breath taking mountains and islands of Ha Long Bay from a boat and kayak and villages filled with children and cows in Siem Reap by ATV.


Spring Vietnam Discount — Book Now!

Journeys Within is having a sale on spring trip to Vietnam…

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Bangkok is no longer Southeast Asia’s only destination hub — as demonstrations continue in Thailand’s capital city both Saigon and Hanoi are open and ready for business! As some travelers choose to steer away from protest plagued Bangkok, Vietnam has ramped up business at their airports and is ready for travelers looking for a care-free Southeast Asian adventure.

To celebrate, Journeys Within, the premier boutique Southeast Asia tour company and a leader in philanthropic travel, has just announced discounts on their Vietnam Spring Tours for 2014!

A hefty 14% discount is available to all guests who book a Vietnam Spring Tour in 2014. Take advantage of our discount on either the Vietnam Active Spring Tour or the Vietnam Family Spring Special.

Work your way through Vietnam’s beautiful landscape, getting off the beaten path along the way or take your family on a spring vacation holiday they will never forget.

If you have any questions on the Spring specials or the latest on the Bangkok situation, please give us a call at 877-454-3672 or visit www.journeys-within.com for more information.

Thanks so much!

Andrea Ross

Haiyan downgraded to severe tropical storm


The super typhoon that devastated the Philippines over the weekend has been downgraded to a severe tropical storm Monday after making landfall in Northern Vietnam.

The fomerly-Category Five storm, Haiyan, was still carrying gusts of  wind up to 157km/h as it arrived on the mainland near one of Vietnam’s popular vacation destinations, Ha Long Bay.

Officials in the Philippines are still trying to get a clear picture of the the death toll and the damage left  after the potentially record-breaking storm hit the island group late Friday. An estimated 10,000 could be dead, with 2 million affected by the storm.

Vietnam evacuated nearly 600,000 from high risk areas from the central provinces in preparation for the storm. Heavy rainfall and high waves are still a concern in many areas — while Haiyan has weakened significantly since hitting the Philippines the storm system picked up moisture as it traveled over the ocean.  A 48-hour accumulation of 100 mm to 200 mm of water is expected, with up to 400 mm over high ground.

Haiyan earlier swept over Vietnam’s Con Co island, 30km (18 miles) off the coast of central Quang Tri province.

“All 250 people on the island including residents and soldiers were evacuated to underground shelters where there is enough food for several days,” reported the Tuoi Tre newspaper.

Haiyan is expected to move on to Southern China by Monday night, turning into a tropical depression along the way.

Surprises, Halong Bay, and Celebrating Tet — Part 2

Operations Manager Anna Baldwin Heads to Vietnam for a Reunion…

Having said our goodbyes and thanks to Tracy and her family, the next day my parents and I set off for the magical Halong Bay, often deemed as one of the seven great wonders of the world.
Nothing quite prepares you for the splendour of Halong Bay’s dreamlike landscape. The emerald green waters of the bay are interrupted by breathtaking, jagged limestone karst rock formations, jutting out of the ocean for as far as the eye can see. This special and extremely unique place feels magical and covers an area of more than 1,500 square kilometers.

Now came time for surprise number two – I had organized a cruise for the three of us on Halong Bay that we would embark on for three days! We would be sailing on our own privately chartered “junk” (aka large boat). There are a variety of wonderful “junk” tour companies that we use in Halong Bay with accommodations ranging from 1-15 cabins. Some trips are private, some are shared, and all of them offer a great experience and overnight accommodations with excursions ranging from one to three nights long. On this occasion however, I felt like I wanted my parents all to myself, so we chartered our own private junk to explore the bay on.

Arriving on board we were introduced to our crew– our guide, host, cook, skipper, and of course, the captain.

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Leaving the busy city of Halong behind us, we set off along the Northern part of what is known as Bai Tu Long Bay, a quiet section of Halong Bay where only limited numbers of boats are allowed at a time. This made the experience so much more enjoyable for us to be away from the touristy day-trip boats that can crowd other parts of the area.

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After a delicious lunch on board, our first stop was the Cap La Fishing Village, a floating village in Halong Bay that is home to approximately 55 families. Here we took some time to explore and learn about the lives of the people on the water, the different fish that they farm, as well as the amazing process of oyster farming.

There is even a small school for the local children of the floating village to attend, with volunteer teachers coming in from Halong City. Not all the children attend school however; they are often trained from a very young age to be actively involved in their family’s business of fishing because it is seen as a more valuable use of time and source of a more immediate income.

We ended the day by setting anchor in a beautiful hidden bay, away from any other junk boats. Shelter from the sea’s winds was provided by the surrounding massive karst rocks, which made protective shields from the chill at this time of year.

On day two we set off for another smaller floating village, where we stopped and talked with the head of the village himself. We found out from our discussion he had been elected “Chief” by the village’s occupants, as opposed to having an appointed authority figure come in from Halong City (which used to be the case.) We discussed the history of the area, how things have changed over time, and of course with it being Tet (Vietnamese New Year), we wished each other Happy New Year over a very large shot of rice wine!

Continuing on, we came to a beautiful beach, which was to be the setting for our delicious BBQ lunch. Luckily the sun was now shining! Having arrived in the late afternoon we had the beach to ourselves. We were served up a feast with everything from freshly barbecued shrimp and scallops, to chicken wings and pork; all accompanied by delicious salads and rice and washed down with some refreshing local beer.

Before climbing back onboard, we were taken by our lovely guide Mr. Tup to a peak high upon the limestone karst, where we were treated to spectacular views of the bay.


Reaching the top, we also realized that this spot was the entrance to one of the most beautiful caves in the area. Venturing in, we found an array of spectacularly huge stalagmites and stalactites. We found our way to a huge cavern, which is sometimes used to host the very special cave dinners that are available on some of the junks.

Another popular activity in this area is kayaking, allowing you to set off on your own and get up close and personal with the massive rock formations. This activity also enables a visitor’s ability to spot some local wildlife, including sea eagles and the occasional monkey!


Back on board, we headed back to the anchoring bay for our second and final night on the journey. The journey back to anchor took around two hours, which provided the perfect amount of time to relax and soak up the stunning scenery as the day came to an end.
After a few sundowners up on deck, it was time for our last supper, which we chose to have in the main cabin seeing as temperatures had dropped quite a lot that day. This meal was magical, as the cabin was decorated with colourful flags and paper chains for the Tet celebrations. Not only were we treated to a delicious ‘’hot-pot’’ (a concoction of shrimp, meat and vegetables), but the presentation was outstanding. One dish was framed with two elegant stalks, the other accompanied by a detailed sculpture of a junk, both of which were carved out of vegetables and fruit.


Finally it was time to say goodbye to our wonderful crew, who had been a key part of this very memorable experience. Back to Hanoi we went, and it was already time to put my parents on their flight South to Hoi An, where they would set off on their next big adventure in Vietnam.