Sustainable tourism in HaLong Bay
aboard the Au Co - A Bhaya Luxury Cruise
HaLong Bay - where the dragon descends into the sea.
According to legend, the bay was formed when mighty dragons were called upon by the gods to protect the Vietnamese from invaders. The dragons swooped down from the heavens, dropping jewels from their mouths that formed the islands of the bay. Unable to pass this indestructible, protective wall, the invaders were defeated. Once peace was restored, instead of returning to the heavens, the dragons plunged into the bay.
Today, HaLong Bay is one of the most visited destinations in Vietnam with millions of visitors coming to marvel at its 1,600 emerald green islands and crystal blue waters each year. Though the high influx of tourism has had positive impacts on the local economy, it has, in some instances, had detrimental effects on the environment. Some say that, due to these negative impacts, tourists shouldn't visit HaLong Bay at all, however, I think this may do more harm than good in the long run.
The most important thing you can do when planning your trip to Halong Bay is a bit of research because there ARE cruise companies that care about protecting and preserving the environment. One of which is Bhaya Cruise Line, a company that is absolutely leading the way for responsible and sustainable tourism in HaLong Bay.
Since its first cruise set sail in 2007, Bhaya has become the largest cruise operator in HaLong Bay offering several tour itineraries aboard its four different vessels - Bhaya Classic, Bhaya Classic Premium, private charters, and the Au Co Luxury Cruise.
This summer I explored HaLong Bay aboard the Au Co, and lets just say I was not disappointed. The only thing I would change is I wish we could have stayed longer... and next time, we probably will - (hello three days, two nights)!
Sustainable Tourism Initiatives
As the biggest cruise operator in HaLong Bay, Bhaya knows they have a responsibility to protect and preserve the environment. They also aim to ensure that their guests behave responsibly while on board, gain a greater understanding of the local environmental situation, and that they leave HaLong Bay with a memorable experience.
Neahga Leonard, manager of the Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project, one of Bhaya’s partner initiatives, believes that Bhaya is taking the necessary steps to accomplish these tasks. Leonard says that with their regularly scheduled trash clean ups in the bay, training courses for boat managers, and involvement in environmental planning discussions for the region, it is evident that Bhaya understands their responsibility.
In 2017, the company launched the following sustainable tourism initiatives.
Through its Bhaya Green program, the company aims to reduce its environmental footprint by reducing carbon emissions and saving electricity, water, and diesel in its vessels and corporate offices. Bhaya participates in tree planting projects like “Roots and Fruits” and is committed to raising environmental awareness among its employees to build a responsible corporate culture.
Additionally, in 2018 the company was one of the main sponsors of the “Action for A Green Halong : Towards Zero Waste” Campaign. This event attracted over 100 volunteers who cleaned up approximately 741kg of waste on Coc Cheo and Ang Du beach. This is the 4th cleanup the company has been a part of since 2016. Another cleanup is scheduled to take place in October 2018.
Situated in the middle of Cat Ba Island you’ll find the village of Viet Hai. The Bhaya Community project is based on their relationship and partnership with this remote but beautiful village. In addition to providing disaster relief when necessary, Bhaya has also invested in revitalizing a Community farm and helping local farmers to cultivate the land. Vegetables grown here become the ingredients used to create the delicious meals served aboard Bhaya’s cruises. A visit to Viet Hai is the highlight of some Bhaya cruise itineraries.
The Bhaya Care project is dedicated to the company’s committed employees. Bhaya Care’s campaigns are designed to support all company staff members, like, for example, by providing all staff with on-site housing.
save the langur
According to the World Conservation Union, the Cat Ba Langur is one of the most critically endangered primates in the world with less than 100 currently surviving in the wild. The main threat to their survival in the past was poaching, as they were hunted for the preparation of a tradition medicine called monkey balm. By the year 2000, poaching had reduced the population to about 50.
In late 2000, in an attempt to stop the impending extinction of this species, the Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project (CBLCP) was formed. Since its creation, the CBLCP has worked at several schools on Cat Ba Island to educate children on environmental topics, conducted adult education programs, and assisted with training for a number of HaLong Bay tour companies.
On Bhaya's cruises, guests are free to make a direct donation to this project, or they can purchase a Langur toy or other souvenir. 50% of proceeds benefit the Langur Conservation Project.
For more information about sustainable tourism with Bhaya and the Au Co Luxury Cruise, visit their website.
Bhaya’s Au Co Luxury Cruise
Who is Au Co?
Au Co is the name of the beautiful mountain fairy known as the mother of the Vietnamese people. Read more about the legend of Au Co here.
The Au Co features five different types of cabins and suites on board, each with an ensuite bathroom and incredible views of the bay. We stayed in one of the Deluxe Cabins and loved it!
Located on the main deck, the twelve Deluxe cabins are a generous 20 square meters (the same size as the grand deluxe and executive cabins). Though it isn't the most luxurious cabin on board, it had everything we needed - water, aircon, a hot shower, the occasional wifi connection, a private balcony, and two comfy beds (that we pushed together to make one)!
Grand deluxe cabin
There are two Grand Deluxe Cabins (measuring 20 square meters each) located on the upper deck. Though they do not have a balcony like the other rooms on board, they do offer a killer view of the bay through their panoramic windows.
The Au Co's 12 executive cabins, located on the upper deck, also measure 20 square meters and each have their own private balcony.
Au Co Suite
Located on the bow of the ship, the Au Co suite features a spacious room with a queen-sized bed and an en-suite bathroom with a free-standing tub. This suite also has a larger, private balcony.
Long Quan Suite
Located on the aft of the ship, and measuring 40 square meters, the Long Quan is the Au Co's most spacious and luxurious suite. This suite has a large balcony area with lounge chairs and additional seating. The ensuite bathroom features both a shower and a free standing bathtub (with an incredible view).
So which should you choose?
While the high-end, luxe cabins and suites look incredible, there isn't nearly enough downtime to really enjoy it on a 2D 1N cruise. If you plan on booking a three day and two night cruise, by all means splurge, because you’ll likely have more time to actually relax in your room. If you don’t have the time to stretch your HaLong Bay trip, save a few bucks on your cruise and go for the deluxe cabin instead.
As if all of the in-room perks aren’t enough, the Au Co has several other facilities for guests to enjoy. The spa offers several packages designed to help you unwind - including a beautiful jacuzzi (with an even better view). This is something I wish we’d had the time to take advantage of!
Additionally, the Au Co has a library, a beautiful restaurant, an open-air terrace bar, and a sundeck. All of these communal areas offer lots of seating, and magnificent views, ensuring all guests have a comfortable and enjoyable onboard experience.
For additional information about the various services, facilities, and amenities aboard the Au Co, visit their website.
From check-in to check-out we were so busy that we barely spent any time in our room, and, to be honest, I loved this about this cruise (though it would have been nice to have just a bitttt more down time to spend just hanging out on board).
All of the included activities were always on time, and the staff members leading the excursions made them fun and informative.
Not into activities? That’s fine - they’re all optional!
This is what we got into.
1:00 - Safety Briefing and Lunch
After boarding the ship, everyone came to the dining area for a safety briefing, introduction, and an absolutely delicious lunch. This is just a small sample of the meal we had... featuring Andrew already taking a bite in every shot - Boys gotta eat I suppose!
I snuck out between courses to grab some photos of the ship’s deck areas before they filled with people. The beautiful rooftop sundeck is pictured below.
3:15 - Visit Tien Ong Cave
There was a cave excursion on my first cruise in HaLong Bay, but this one was WAY more informative. It was cool to see all of the artifacts discovered in the area before exploring the cave.
This cave visit was also a lot more intimate and didn’t feel as touristy as my first. There was only one other group at the cave, and they arrived as we were leaving (in comparison to the hordes of people parading through the cave and straight back to the boat on my previous visit).
The Tien Ong cave visit was very interesting and informative, but, in hindsight, this would have also been a great time to relax on the boat. If caves, artifacts (and bats) aren’t really your thing, hang out on the sundeck and enjoy the view instead (or book an afternoon at the onboard spa)!
4:30 - Swimming and Beach Time
I was so excited for swimming and beach time, and it did not disappoint.
The weather during my first visit to the bay was so rainy that most of the excursions and activities were cancelled, so I was really excited for some good weather and swimming this time around. Though some travel blogs and guides warn against swimming in the bay, the area where we spent the afternoon was perfectly safe and clean.
Lounge on the beach or go for a swim... (or, if you're like us, swim back to the boat to jump off with the staff).
5:30 to 7:00 - Happy Hour at the Bar
...Or, in this case, happy hour and a half.
Enjoy sunset at the terrace bar and buy one get one free deals on selected drinks and cocktails!
6:00 - Cooking Demonstration
After watching how the pro's do it, about half a dozen people were selected to participate in a cooking challenge. They competed to see who could roll the best spring roll. In the end, an absolutely overjoyed French boy, the youngest person on the cruise, was crowned the winner (with a chefs hat). It definitely made his day!
7:30 - Barbeque Buffet Dinner
This. Meal. Was. Delicious - and was one of the highlights of the cruise.
I find it really cool that one of Bhaya’s sustainable tourism initiatives is their Community Farm on Cat Ba Island. They support local farmers by using the vegetables grown on the farm to create the delicious dishes served on board.
I can't even tell you how many plates of food we ate, because I genuinely lost count.
9:00 - Squid fishing on the main deck or movie time by the bar
After dinner, guests can enjoy squid fishing on the main deck or watch a movie by the terrace bar.
In our case, this was "Grab a bottle of champagne, and drink it on your private balcony" time... though I'm sure the other activities were fun, too!
6:30 - Tai Chi on the sundeck.
Regardless of your experience level, this 30-minute class is perfect way for everyone to start their morning… except for those who had a bit too much fun at Happy Hour the night before… or a bottle of champagne.
We didn't make it up and out in time for this, but we did see some folks doing Tai Chi on the rooftop of the other Au Co boat from our balcony.
That counts, right??
Maybe next time ;)
7:00 TO 9:30 - Breakfast buffet.
Sadly, I didn't get any pictures of the delicious breakfast buffet, as we were a bit rushed to get a bite to eat before heading to the fishing village.
7:30 - Visit Cua Van Fishing Village.
After arriving at the fishing village you have the choice of going for a locally led bamboo boat ride, or doing some solo or partner kayaking. We went for the latter, and, though it started to rain, we still had lots of fun... and got in a great workout!
There is also a museum where you can learn more about life in the fishing village.
9:00 TO 9:30 - Check out
Check out is a bit tricky, as everyone is trying to do it at once. This is when you settle up for any extras you purchased on board. Though you can pay with a card, due to spotty wifi service, it takes awhile for the card reader to process. Save time and bring cash instead.
9:45 - traditional Vietnamese Tea Ceremony
After checking out, guests can spend time relaxing on the decks and soaking in the view. To end the trip, there was a traditional vietnamese tea ceremony by the terrace bar, accompanied by this song.
As we arrived back at the port, “Hello Vietnam” played on a loop… A loop that continued as we left the boat… (and for the rest of the three week Vietnam trip thanks to Andrew)… I guess it is pretty catchy.
10:45 - Disembark
As you can see, we weren't too excited about this part...
Overall, we had an incredible time exploring and learning more about HaLong Bay aboard the Au Co. The only downside to this trip is that we wish it had been a bit longer!
Though this is advertised as a two day one night cruise, and the itinerary does take place over the course of two days, you are actually on the boat for less than 24 hours. The second day felt a bit rushed for us since breakfast, the fishing village excursion, and checkout were all happening at the same time.
As far as the timeframe goes, the same can be said for the last HaLong Bay cruise I went on.. (and for all other cruise itineraries I have seen), so don't feel like you're getting shortchanged here.
To avoid feeling rushed, and to get a bit more bang for your book and time in the bay, I would recommend booking a three day two night cruise - (a package which Bhaya offers on all three of its vessels)!
Support sustainable tourism in HaLong Bay and book your Au Co cruise directly through Bhaya's website.
Get 5% of a 3D 2N cruise booking when you use code AUCO5.
Valid until December 20, 2018.
*I was a guest aboard the Au Co, but, as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.*