We’re going on a Pirate Boat!

It looks like one to me but as Adam repeatedly told me, its called a Junk. All it needed was a pirate flag and I would have been 100% convinced that we would have to walk the plank at some point. We got a Junk (…pirate boat) as we booked a cruise to go to Bai Tu Long Bay which is a quieter port about 15 minutes from the insanely busy and well known Halong Bay.

We paid a bit extra to go to a quieter place, but boy was it worth it. We were picked up from our hotel in Hanoi and met the other two passengers who would be on our Junk with us. Yes, it seemed we would be sharing a 10 man luxury boat with just one other couple…perfect! As we passed Halong Bay on our bus we were very relieved not to be joining the masses who were getting crammed onto their junks. We moved on past and were dropped off at a secluded port where there were no tourists to be seen, just a few locals transporting goods. We got a chug boat out to sea and we all joked around when we saw a beautiful junk sitting in the water, “so this is ours then?!” we asked our tour guide (called Deni) “yes” he replied seriously, “this is the Santa Maria”, “Oh…really…?” We replied. We did not expect this at all. The boat from the outside was unfortunately painted white as all the junks are now, due to a government hair brained idea that they would look better that way….they do not. But from the inside, it was like a step back in time. Rich mahogany wood covered the whole of the inside of the Junk with beautiful detailed carvings throughout and fresh cut flowers on (nearly) every surface.

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Our guide, Deni sat us down and gave us complimentary tea and went through the history of the boat, why its painted white and about all the detail on the inside. He also had a great surprise for us, he spoke to his boss and he upgraded us to the Royal Suite which not only had its own private deck but a lounge area, large bed and beautiful bathroom. When we were shown our room, I squealed and jumped up and down like a child whilst Adam held his cool until Deni left, then ran around the room.

After getting settled we had a “small” lunch on the boat which consisted of about 6 dishes which we could not finish. If this was small, we were wondering what a dinner would be like! After lunch we cruised for a few hours deeper into the bay going past hundreds of islets which the area is famous for and why it became a World Heritage Site. It was simply breathtaking. Even though it was cloudy and overcast, as it is for 95% of the time there, it made it even better as the islets appear out of no where in a very eery fashion. All of the islets are uninhibited apart for birds and some monkeys. Unfortunately both are rare to see as the locals kill and eat the birds and the monkeys are very aloof- probably as they saw what was happening to the birds.

When we dropped the anchor a small row boat came up to the ship and we all (unsteadily) climbed aboard the small bamboo boat. A lady rowed us over to a cave where we could explore and then she rowed us over to her home at the floating fishing village. Here we were given tea, and rice wine, and we watched their daily life unfold which included buying fish off of the other villagers to sell at market.

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the floating fishing village

the floating fishing village

weighing up some fish to buy to resell at market

weighing up some fish to buy to resell at market

Once aboard the Santa Maria Junk, we got ourselves sorted and had dinner, another feast! So far, Deni was doing an amazing job, as he was not only seeing to us but also teaching the serving crew as they were all brand knew, had no English and it seems, no idea how to serve. Whilst also doing some of the cooking. Dinner was beautiful, courses full of fresh fish and seafood and plenty of vegetables and rice.

After dinner we got to do some squid fishing off the side of the Junk. The crew had started it, and had caught two, and then we got a turn and managed to catch 3 more! Deni then quickly whisked them away and cooked them. Squid cannot get any fresher than that! He sat with us and ate and drank a beer and looked relaxed, which was nice to see as he had been working very hard.

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The next day we got back aboard the small bamboo boat, which we were all still very rocky on. Getting on and off was hard enough, trying to balance the weight of the boat with who was on it and who was getting off without tipping it was scary! We got to hunt around a much bigger cave this time and managed to scramble up quite high and look over all the other islets and see people fishing and just see the tranquility of the place. We clambered back down, back into the boat and off we went to a different fishing village. This one was not as stable as the last. It floated, yes, but it also moved with every step you took and we were warned to only step on the outside of the planks to make sure they don’t sink….Well at one point I just froze. I had to step/jump from one platform to another with only a thin plank to land on and having the option of either landing in the water or landing in a net full of fish, and I opted to just freeze as this seemed liked the safest bet! Until one of the ladies noticed and laughed and gave me a hand over. Felt a bit silly.

this man managed to hold 2 toddlers whilst squatting on the rickety walk way- whilst I could barely walk!

this man managed to hold 2 toddlers whilst squatting on the rickety walk way- whilst I could barely walk!

We then got in some kayaks and went on a long trip in and around the islets. They are impressive to see from a low vantage point, and also quite intimidating. We kayaked through a bit of drizzle and rain but also had a bit of fun and had some races and a general nosy about. We got back to the fishing village and had some lunch. Again a banquet of food came out, fresh prawns, squid, fish and pork with rice and veggies. We were definitely fed well on the trip, no doubt about that! After lunch we were able to go out on the boat with the family and pull in the fishing nets. Well, they pulled them in, kept what they wanted, threw back what they didn’t and threw all the weird stuff at us, in which we poked and prodded, and even kept a few crabs as mascots! After bringing the nets in we got off at the fishing village again we were given some basic rods to fish from the side of their house! We OK at it too, caught at least 10 little fishies!

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this gorgeous boy accompanied us on the boat, helping his grandparents out

this gorgeous boy accompanied us on the boat, helping his grandparents out

We returned to the Santa Maria for another fun filled evening full of surprises….

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