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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

Nicole’s Guide: Where to Book When Swimming is a Must in Tropical Luang Prabang

By: Nicole Long, Laos Country Director

Most travelers appreciate a dip in the pool after a day of sightseeing. We have had guests in the past arrive to one of the quaint hotels located in the old town of Luang Prabang and were surprised to find there were not any pool facilities. The reason there are no pools located in the town center is because it is protected by UNESCO as a world heritage site and pools are not allowed. So, if you are planning on traveling to Luang Prabang and you desire accommodation where floating is required then here is your guide!

The list below shows the top ten hotels with pools, starting with the very best from my personal opinion, and takes into account not only the pool itself, but the overall hotel and location. Happy Swimming!

1.       The Luang Prabang View Resort ( formerly known as Shinta Mani Luang Prabang)

NOTHING can beat the view from this mountain top infinity pool. NOTHING. The hotel is located on the top of a mountain 15 minutes away from the town center and offers 360 degree views of the city and surrounding landscape.  The pool is well designed with many shelves along the edge for a comfy seating while taking in the view. The dark tiles and sheer size of the pool make you feel like you’re swimming in a mountain top lake. This new hotel is still working out the kinks with management and staff, but the pool is definitely spectacular.

2.       La Residence Phou Vao

One of the first hotels in Luang Prabang to offer 4/5 star accommodation, Phou Vao has still maintained this level of quality over the years. This hotel is also located on top of a mountain, surrounded by lush gardens, 10 minutes outside of town.  The infinity pool is smaller than the one at Luang Prabang View Resort, but it has an amazing view of Phousi Mountain and temple.

3.       Kiridara

This boutique property is located on a hillside with a pool looking off to the distant mountains. The pool isn’t huge, but it makes up for it with a great view, fantastic pool side bar/restaurant service and massage jets!

4.       Maison Souvannaphoum

Maison Souvannaphoum is one of the old homes of King Soubannaphoum which has been renovated into a boutique hotel and offers the closest pool to town.  The rooms and pool are on the small side but the location is unbeatable with just a five minute walk to town.

5.       Apsara Rive Droite

This intimate hotel of only nine rooms is located on the banks of the Nam Khan River across from the town center.  With nothing but local village life surrounding the hotel, the pool’s ambience is completely serene, especially amongst all the tropical foliage along the Nam Khan River. The drawback is that you are located across a small river which requires hiking up and down a river bank to the hotel’s free boat taxi.  Just a small price to pay for secluded luxury!

6.       Villa Maly

Villa Maly is a bit further away from town than Maison Souvannaphoum, but closer than most on this list. Some of the buildings were once a part of a royal residence giving off a feeling of yesterday’s aristocrats. Sitting on comfy lounges on the wooden deck by this black and white floor tiled pool will make you feel as if you’re in a different time.

7.       Satri House

Located down a small village lane from Villa Maly is Satri House. There are two small pools (one a bit hidden and good for laps) amongst heritage buildings and tropical flora.  Personally one of my favorite hotels in Luang Prabang, it is located about a 12 minute walk from town. Décor is just exquisite for the destination.

8.       Hotel De La Paix

This hotel is partnered with one of our signature hotels, 3 Nagas. 3 Nagas is located in the center of the old town and so it does not have a pool, but you may go to Hotel De La Paix for a free dip. This hotel offers privacy behind large walls blocking off the outside world. And if you really want something more private than the hotel’s pool then you can book one of their fabulous corner pool suites which offer a private pool, inside/outside rain shower and bath. Ask for one of the two suites that have a lookout tower, allowing you to have a private view of surrounding mountains.

9.       Le Palais Juliana

This large hotel is located about 20 minutes outside of town amongst rice paddies and lush gardens.  The Juliana is one of the only hotels offering a bit of a Jacuzzi experience along with one of the largest pools in Luang Prabang. With such large premises and pool, this hotel is ideal for families.

10.   My Dream

My Dream Boutique Hotel is located on the banks of the Nam Khan River, a bit further from town than the Apsara Rive Droite.  This newly opened hotel does require using the foot/bike bridge to get into town, but with a small pool and riverside views it is one of the best values around.

Wandering around West Baray

By Heather Van Hull- Booking and Social Media Coordinator, Cambodia

Looking at history, a key challenge every major civilization had to overcome was the problem of ensuring a constant water supply- the Romans built cross-country aqueducts and even early Thai civilizations built canals.  The Khmer Empire decided to go above and beyond in their attempt to conquer an environment that was practically desert for half the year during dry season by constructing not one, but two, vast reservoirs now known as East and West Baray.        

Look at the size of the reservoir! Now imagine building it hundreds of years ago.

This past weekend I took advantage of the cool spell, when it was a somewhat frigid 30C instead of the normal 35-40C, and went on a long bike ride to West Baray which is the larger of these two ancient water-holding devices.  West Baray, constructed in the 11th Century during the reigns of King Suryavarman I and his successor King Udayadityavarman II (try saying those names 5 times fast), measures an impressive 8 by 2.1 kilometres and can hold over 50 MILLION cubic metres of water.  The enormous size of the reservoir and the dikes which help contain the water easily make West Baray an engineering marvel of its time.   

On a more interesting note though, as with any great body of water, West Baray is said to have its own monster of the deep.  According to Khmer legend, one fateful day a gigantic and very hungry crocodile rose out of the depths of the reservoir to attack and eat the young daughter of a ruler of Angkor.  Unfortunately the giant crocodile, probably one of the last remaining members of its’ very endangered species, was captured and killed by local villagers.  The princess was, however, rescued from the crocodile’s stomach. 

Today, West Baray continues to serve as an important reservoir for the town of Siem Reap as well as a popular weekend destination for local families.  When the weather is nice people flock to West Baray to go swimming, visit the West Mebon temple located on an artificial island in the centre of the lake or other ruins nearby, or simply to enjoy lunch at one of the many local restaurants. 

Picturesque ruins on the West Baray lake side

Want to check out West Baray for yourself?  Contact us for more information on our Siem Reap tours!