Halong Bay is a must for most travellers visiting Vietnam, but choosing the best tour can be a challenge with a lack of genuine information online. Steer well clear of the cheap and unsafe options and sail the turquoise waters in style aboard the Emeraude.
In 2003 the Emeraude started operating, offering overnight excursions to the UNESCO World Heritage site with entertainment and gourmet food onboard. The classic cruiser is a replica of a 1920s French paddle steamer that sailed around the famous bay nearly 100 years ago.
After a three-hour drive from Hanoi we were delighted to arrive at the private pier, ready to embark and set sail. The vintage style boat is decorated in a French colonial style with glossy dark wood and antique features. There are 34 luxury cabins and three suites on board, each with its own en-suite bathroom and air-conditioning.
I felt very lucky to be staying in the Paul Roque suite, located at the front of the boat with a private balcony. Inside the rooms are old-fashioned and grand, with big comfortable beds and green-tiled bathrooms with showers and all necessary amenities. There were plenty of windows letting in natural light and showcasing the beautiful scenery.
At the start of the journey each guest is provided with an itinerary, listing a varied assortment of bay excursions and boat activities. Hiring kayaks and massages are also available at extra cost. Most of the time is spent leisurely cruising amongst hundreds of islets, on the calmest waters I have ever experienced.
After a welcome cocktail and a delicious Vietnamese buffet lunch we stopped at our first destination of the trip, Sung Sot Grotto. These magnificent limestone caves provide an eerie and magical walk. Escorted by our Emeraude guide we learnt about the intriguing rock formations and found the best photo spots for postcard views across the bay.
Next we enjoyed crepes and a visit to a local pearl farm before it was time for a brief cooking demonstration on deck. A shy chef carefully showed us how to perfect the art of fresh Vietnamese spring rolls. We trialed the technique and tasted the results, while our teacher effortlessly carved swans out of tomatoes!
That night a smart European dinner was served; we enjoyed delicious dishes like creamy pepper beef and a range of sophisticated salads, soups and desserts. Optional squid fishing off the back of the boat didn’t seem to be a popular activity, but we had a go for a little while before the chilly temperatures sent us running back inside. For those still awake, a moonlight screening of Indochine is a lovely way to end the day. I was mesmerised as the film showed images of the iconic bay of islands that surrounded us in the darkness.
The still and serene waters meant it was easy to get a good night’s sleep in the luxurious beds, but we were up early for an al fresco sunrise Tai Chi class. Before a hearty breakfast we were taken on a bamboo boat ride through Luon Cave to an isolated clearing where we spotted golden monkeys hanging from the foliage.
Many wish to just tick Halong Bay off their bucket list, but Emeraude cruises offers the opportunity to relish every moment of the journey with luxurious accommodation, informative staff and a range of interesting activities and experiences.
More information and book a trip with Emeraude Classic Cruises here.