sail boats in Ha Long Bay Vietnam

With a spectacular coastline stretching over 2,000 miles, Vietnam’s maritime communities have been profoundly shaped by the sea. From the fishing villages and floating markets to the iconic bamboo basket boats and sampan boats, Vietnam’s coastal culture is extraordinary. We dive into the waterways of Vietnam to discover the unique traditions and communities that thrive here, from the floating villages of Ha Long Bay to the drifting markets of the Mekong. We also share how you can get a deeper insight with these exclusive cruise experiences on our Cambodia & Vietnam in Style luxury tour. 

1. Discover the water wonderland of Ha Long Bay

cruise boats on Ha Long Bay Vietnam

Set in northeastern Vietnam, UNESCO-listed Ha Long Bay is one of the country’s most famous natural wonders. Its name translates to “Descending Dragon Bay,” as local legend says dragons were sent by the gods to protect Vietnam, creating the bay and its islands. 

The bay encompasses around 600 square miles and has more than 1,600 limestone islands rising out of the emerald waters. Formed over millions of years, the karst landscape has a remarkable concentration of grottoes, caves, limestone peaks, rainforests, and a rich biodiversity. Ha Long Bay is also famous for its unique floating villages, where residents live and work on the water.

Private luxury junk boat cruise

Sailing Ha Long Bay is one of Vietnam’s most iconic cruise experiences, but you’ll get to do it in style. We’ll board a private luxury junk boat for a special overnight cruise on the bay. The boat is traditionally designed, with all the modern luxuries found within. In the evening, you can relax on deck and watch the glorious sunset, or enjoy a traditional Vietnamese cooking demonstration, and indulge in the creations for dinner. In the morning, you’ll start your day with a Tai Chi class before enjoying brunch as you cruise through the limestone karsts. 

Read more: Fine dining, dressed down: the cuisine of Vietnam and Cambodia

floating village on Ha Long Bay Vietnam

Sea caves and floating villages

You’ll also make a trip to explore Tien Ong Cave. It’s famed for its massive stalactites and stalagmites, including one known as “the fairy godfather”. Afterwards, we’ll sail to Cua Van floating village, where generations of fishermen and their families have lived for hundreds of years. The villages are made up of clusters of floating houses, moored to the seafloor, creating a community that lives and works on the water.

Life in these villages is directly tied to the sea. Fishing and acquaculture are the main sources of income and motor and row boats are the main modes of transport. Children even learn to swim before they walk. The populations of these floating villages have dwindled over time due to modernisation and government relocation programs. However, those who remain preserve their traditional way of life and remarkably resourceful maritime culture. 

Read more: Reconnect with the great outdoors at these luxurious back-to-nature retreats

2. Explore the waterways of the Mekong River

Woman rowing a boat on the Mekong River Vietnam

Nicknamed the ‘Rice Bowl of Vietnam’, the Mekong River is the lifeblood of Southeast Asia. Spanning an area of around 16,000 square miles and passing through six countries, the Mekong River is one of the biggest and most fertile deltas in the world. The Mekong supports thousands of animal species, while millions of people depend on it for agriculture and their livelihoods. Locals have built their lives on and around the water and the intricate web of canals is used for everything from transport to trade and fishing.

The Mekong is famous for its unique floating market culture, where people can buy produce from vendors on boats. Houses are built on stilts to integrate with the changing water levels and you’ll see temples and pagodas perched on the delta. While automated mass agriculture threatens farming and fishing traditions, and climate change disrupts the natural cycles of the Mekong, the locals continue to uphold their harmonious relationship with the delta.

Woman selling produce on a boat on the Mekong River Vietnam

Private cruise through the Mekong

You’ll get an insight into the Mekong culture on one of our exclusive cruise experiences. We’ll board a private vessel for a cruise down the rivers and canals of the delta. You’ll first learn about coconut production, one of the major industries for people living along the river. Then have some fun on land with a ride on a tri-motorcycle through the limestone mountains and glistening rice paddies. You’ll arrive at a rice noodle factory and discover how this beloved Vietnamese food is made.

You’ll then meet Mr Sau Tuong, a former soldier, and his wife at their home. You’ll learn how the couple makes rice paper using traditional techniques. Mr Sau Tuong spent years fighting the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and now lives a more peaceful life preserving ancient customs.

Later, enjoy lunch at the charming Mango Home, a thatched floating restaurant. Savor delta delicacies such as grilled fish, giant prawns and noodle soup as you gaze out over the lush waterways.

Read more: Why a Luxury River Cruise is the Best Way to Cruise

3. Bamboo basket boat ride to Thanh Dong Village

man rowing a bamboo boat basket in Vietnam

As part of our journey, we’ll visit Cam Thanh Village and see the thick coconut jungles, once a shelter for residents and soldiers during the Vietnam War. Today, the village is a vital supplier of rice, seafood and vegetables to the region. We’ll explore more of this region with one of our most unique cruise experiences – bamboo basket boat

Bamboo basket boats have played an integral role in Vietnam’s maritime culture for centuries. Their origins date back to the French colonial era. The French imposed heavy taxes on the ownership of boats, making it unaffordable for many local fishermen. In response, the Vietnamese created these unique, lightweight, sturdy, and affordable boats. They could argue they were ‘baskets’ rather than ‘boats’, therefore skirting the tax laws. The boats became a symbol of resilience in the face of adversity and are still used today for fishing and ferrying people and goods.

Tourists riding in bamboo boat basket in Vietnam

Ride a bamboo basket boat to a riverside restaurant

You’ll witness this enduring tradition up close when you ride in a bamboo basket boat to Thanh Dong village. Here you’ll meet villagers and learn how they cultivate produce using sustainable and traditional methods. You’ll continue your peaceful voyage on the bamboo basket boat to a riverside restaurant. It’s an idyllic location right on top of the water, nestled in the coconut forest, overlooking the glimmering rice fields. Here you’ll take part in a hands-on cooking class with a professional local chef. You’ll learn how to make some delicious Vietnamese food and enjoy your creations for lunch. 

Discover these exclusive cruise experiences and more extraordinary adventures with our Cambodia & Vietnam in Style luxury tour.