BAI TU LONG BAY ON THE DRAGON LEGEND

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While it’s true that our three-day, two-night cruise on the Dragon Legend was the most extravagant part of our South-east Asia trip, it’s also true that that yesterday, after hours of trying to find the cheapest places, I booked a 2 night stay in an extremely basic New York hotel for almost the exact same price. No breakfast, and about half a square foot of floor space. The experience on the Dragon legend was a little more elaborate…

Imagine admiring the jagged, looming limestone karsts you’ve seen in Thailand all from the comfort of a floating, luxury hotel room. Add to that some once-in-a-lifetime outings and a few seven-course lunches and dinners and you have yourself the Dragon Legend cruise.

While we liked the look of the ship when we were shown pictures at the agency in Hanoi, they really didn’t do any justice to how breathtaking it is in reality. All the interiors, including the cabins, are covered entirely in dark wood panelling, and embellished with 1930’s Saigon-style flourishes and luxury touches. Hand-made local art is dotted around the cabins and decks, reminding you constantly that here you are not on any typical, commercial cruise ship.

I could have spent the entire time in our cabin. While the boat dwarfs in comparison to the cruise ships you get in the Med or the Caribbean, the cabins themselves are enormous and beautiful. The huge, dark-wood beds with their fluffy, white duvets and pillows coupled with the rhythmic rocking of the water made for one of the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had, and waking up in the morning to precipitous karsts slowly drifting past the window was indescribable. My routine was to make the in-room coffee, put on the wonderfully cosy robes they provide, and switch to the window seat to watch the scenery some more.

Then there’s the bathroom. I’ve seen the pictures of beautiful bathtubs all over social media – stunning hotel bathtubs, outdoor bathtubs, bathtubs strewn with petals and flowers… But sinking into a warm jacuzzi tub while floating past misty, rocky drop-offs with a chilled glass of wine? That was definitely a new one for me.

THINGS TO DO:

After a welcome drink and amazing outdoor lunch, the first day’s activity is kayaking around the karsts in Bai Tu Long bay, where you can meander through and see the beautiful rocky formations up close. It was typically drizzly and moodily grey for our trip, and since it can actually get quite cold that far North it was a nice touch for the staff to greet us with hot Vietnamese tea on our return to the ship.

Back on board, you can swim in the outdoor or indoor mineral seawater pool, use the fitness room or enjoy the spa and massage services provided. Later in the evening you can either hang out and socialise on the deck or watch TV in bed. They also offer night-time squid fishing as an activity.

The next day there’s the option to start your morning with Tai Chi and hot tea and coffee on the deck (we slept in but it sounded cool). After breakfast it’s a trip to Vung Vieng fishing village and Pearl farm. A traditional Vietnamese row-boat takes you to the village, where a tiny fishing community used to live right on the water in little floating homes. There’s even a mini floating classroom where schoolkids would take their lessons. At the Pearl Farm you’ll learn the process of pearl-farming and local Vietnamese culture.

After that it’s an amazing barbecue lunch on the beach. The tables are set up just as they are in the restaurant, but on a beautiful white sand beach with the limestone cliffs as a backdrop. The food is grilled right there and then, mostly fresh fish and lots of seafood.

While they set up the tables there’s the option to follow a tour guide up the beach path to Thienh Canh Son cave. While I’m not the worlds biggest cave fan, this one was enormous and didn’t feel claustrophobic at all, in fact they set up candlelit dinners in here when the weather’s bad! Still, perhaps the best part is exiting, where you get a high-up view of the surrounding bay and the Dragon Legend ship in the distance. It was an afternoon I won’t quickly forget.

On the way back to Hanoi the next day you’ll be taken to Yen Duc agricultural village to watch a traditional puppet show on the water. I didn’t really know what to expect from it but it was actually a lot of fun.

WHAT TO EAT:

One of the highlights of the Dragon Legend cruise is the sheer quality of the food they provide. On the 3-day, 2 night you’ll be getting three lunches and two breakfasts and dinners. Lunch is usually outside depending on the weather, so of course you’ll float past the incredible views as you enjoy your meal. Menus on the table will tell you what you’re eating that day, and of course they can cater to any food requirements. Usually it’s a seven-course fare of deliciously fresh food with a focus on local seafood. Indochina Junks traditional mackerel on sizzler plate and San Diu ethnic minority grilled pork were just a couple of the amazing dishes we got to sample on our cruise.

 

Jost Van Dyke

Girl under palm tree on sandy spit in BVIView of sandy spit in the ocean with boat in Jost van Dyke in BVIWhite BayView from hike in jost van dykeGirl on bench in jost van dykeCorsair's restaurant and barGirl on swing in jost van dyke in bviCorsair's bar and restaurantboat on sandy spit in jost van dyke in bvigirl hiking in jost van dyke in bviWhite Bay from up very highCorsair's bar and restaurantOls military jeep in jost van dyke in bvigirl in front of Corsair's bar and restaurantLittle Jost Van DykeGertrude's bar on White Bayjvd23Foxy's TabooLittle Jost Van Dyke B-Line Beach BarGirls in white bay on boat in jost van dyke bviParty in white bay in jost van dyke in bvi

Named after a 17th Century Dutch pirate who settled there, utterly unspoilt and laid-back Jost Van Dyke is the quintessential Caribbean island. Also known as ‘the barefoot island’, Jost’s grand metropolis, Main Street, is a sandy extension of Great Harbour beach, with lazy beach bars and restaurants on one side, and hammocks so low they touch the sand on the other. When there isn’t a Reggae or Calypso band playing at the quasi-mythical Foxy’s bar, the main form of entertainment here is the hook game. A hook, connected to a string, that you must swing so as to attach it to a metal circle on a palm tree. Another past-time is watching the fishermen return to the harbour in their little boats with their less-than-little and indignant lobster spoils. Importantly, you can do both of these from your hammock.

Just over the hill is White Bay, which boasts the kind of desktop-wallpaper beach where you heavily suspect someone has played fast and loose with the saturation button. Only it really does look like that – the water is that brazenly turquoise and the sand as white as the name promises. White Bay is home to the famed Soggy Dollar Bar, itself home of the Painkiller cocktail – dark rum, coconut cream, orange juice and a pinch of nutmeg. Soggy dollar is so called because if you’re arriving by boat, as most people do, the only way to the beach is by wading in and paying with perfectly acceptable soaking wet money. If that wasn’t chilled out enough, a lot of the bars here (including Gertrude’s) are honesty bars, where you go behind the bar, make your own drink with as much booze as you like, and then tell the owners what you’ve had. Needless to say, White Bay is a party beach. The sheer drinkability of a painkiller and contagious festivity of happy yachties on holiday is a heady combination. If you want to enjoy the beach minus the people, Ivan’s stress-free bar is exactly that. Though still part of White Bay, Ivan’s is separated from the main beach by rocks and is much quieter. It’s accessible either by boat or a short hill walk.

One good way to see Jost is to hike it. We’ve done this a few times and while it’s challenging, the views are absolutely worth the uphill pain. Hiking from Great Harbour to the West side of the island by Foxy’s Taboo brings you to Bubbly Pool – a sea-water pool described as a natural ‘jacuzzi’ because when the swell is up the waves enter from a crevice in the rock to create surfy bubbles. But my favourite way to see the island, a view that I’m sure is shared by many, is to sail it. Having your own boat has the added advantage of being able to go to Sandy Spit – without a doubt my favourite place to visit when we go to Jost. About a five minute sail from Great Harbour lies an almost comically beautiful and stereotypical castaway island – a tiny mound of white sand surrounded by an aquamarine sea and inhabited by a few forlorn palm trees. There is absolutely nothing to do here apart from perhaps bring a bottle of rum and pretend to be shipwrecked. If I knew any I’d sing some sea shanties. From here it’s an even shorter sail to the isolated B-line bar on Little Jost Van Dyke. Moor up on the jetty and order a Passion Confusion and either tan on the beach or play Corn hole. You’d better enjoy either of the two, the bar is the only thing on this roadless paradise island.

Things to do on Jost Van Dyke:

  • Have a Painkiller on White Bay
  • Go to Bubbly Pool
  • Hike the Island – There are a few routes. Go West from Great Harbour for the shorter 2 hour hike past Garner bay and to Bubbly pool. Go East from White Bay (starting behind Perfect Pineapple Guest Houses) for a longer, more uphill, 3 hour hike with spectacular views of Jost all-around.
  • Have a drink at Corsair’s – Adorned all over with yachtie memorabilia and graffiti, listen to country and rock at the bar and chat.
  • Eat in Great Harbour – Corsair’s has the fanciest food but is the priciest option.
  • Go to Sandy Spit – If you’re not on a boat then you can rent a dinghy out at Great Harbour from the Scuba shop. Grab a drink/coconut while you prepare to inevitably wait for it to be fixed.

Anegada

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Pineapple bikini – Midori Bikinis – Top, Bottom; Crochet dress – Souvenir from Cuba.

If the BVI is already off the beaten tropical track, then lonesome Anegada, the most remote of the Virgin islands, has fallen clear off and into the ditch. Being on Anegada feels like being on another planet. The landscape is eerie and desert-like, populated by cacti and swampy-sea shrubs. The island is so flat that you’d be forgiven for missing it on the way in on the ferry – the biggest giveaway that you’re arriving is the ocean going from a deep blue to a dreamy tropical turquoise.

If you’re looking for an activity holiday then this probably won’t be it. They say that the donkeys and flamingoes outnumber the people (this is definitely not true), and there are only a handful of sun-bleached bars and restaurants. But if if you like the idea of feeling like you’ve been ship-wrecked on a desert island, and having nothing much more to do than listen to the sound of lapping waves, then this is the place for you. One of our favourite things to do was to walk along the endless deserted beaches to our favourite sleepy, pastel-coloured bar for a rum cocktail. If we were feeling lazy we’d go in our Wrangler rental with the local radio station on at full blast – having the radio on here feels strangely like a link to forgotten civilisation. It’s a cliche’ but my boyfriend and I decided that if paradise had beaches they couldn’t look much better than the idyllic beaches on Anegada. They’re even mysteriously strewn with hundreds of huge, beautiful pink Conch shells that you stumble upon everywhere. Maybe I’ve not travelled enough – is this the case anywhere else?!

The irony of travelling to such a remote place is that you end up getting to know the few tourists and locals you meet better than you probably would somewhere busier. It’s also the perfect place to go with a group of friends. The second time here we sailed over in a big group. We moored up to a bar with a pretty empty dance-floor but we soon changed that around and ended up having one of the best nights of our time out here.

Sleeping: We stayed at the Anegada Beach Club sea-front tents, which we saw on our first visit and vowed to come back and stay in. It’s not really camping as you know it – think four-poster beds with mosquito nets blowing in the breeze, deck hammocks, solar-powered showers and views overlooking a milky-blue Atlantic Ocean. Each tent even has it’s own mini path to the beach. They have paddle-boarding and snorkelling gear for in- between tanning sessions.

Eating: Anegada is famous for its lobster. They have so much of it and in most places it’s plucked straight out of  lobster traps and cooked right in front of you in converted oil-drums. We went to the Lobster Trap for my birthday meal. It has tables on a jetty decked out with fairy lights right over the water. We were the only people in the whole restaurant! If you want to visit at a busier time of year then the lobster festival is held on varying dates in November. 

Neptune’s Treasure: Famous for it’s cinnamon buns and home-made bread.  Have breakfast while watching the boats moor up on the harbour.

Anegada Beach Club: Get the coconut French toast!