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Sail the Halong Bay and Explore Vietnam on the Emeraude

Mar. 23rd, 2011 | Comments 2 | Make a Comment   
Photo Courtesy of Emeraude Classic Cruises
There's a different type of luxury in getting away from the trappings of the world. One where you experience the natural wonders of the Earth. One where you taste foods you've never tasted before, prepared in ways you've never seen before. One where you leave the stress, the hectic pace and the worries of the civilized world behind.

If that's one of the ways you define luxury, then there is no more luxurious destination than Vietnam. In Vietnam, you won't find any of the common sights and sounds of Western countries. You won't find towering cathedrals, impressive monuments, colossal amphitheaters, or excavations of ancient civilizations. Rather, the fascination for Vietnam comes from its extraordinary beauty and simplicity of life, juxtaposed against its emerging economy.

During a recent trip to Vietnam, nothing said luxury like my excursion along Halong Bay. This bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is dotted with about 3,000 limestone karsts and isles. Local legend has it that long ago, when the Vietnamese were fighting Chinese invaders, the gods sent dragons to help defend the land. The dragons spit out jewels and jade, which turned into the islands and islets of Halong, forming a great wall against the invaders.

Most travelers opt for a short cruise on Halong Bay, half a day usually, to admire the beautiful waterway. But if you have more time and a flair for a romantic journey, I recommend a night aboard the Emeraude. That's exactly what I did.

The Emeraude is a replica, one-of-a-kind steamer from the French Indochina days. When I stepped aboard, its polished wooden floors and brass fixtures and fittings exuded warmth and character. Its distinguished style offered a timeless elegance, and the service was impeccable.

Every cabin has a window and if it's on the walkway, like mine was, it also includes a balcony and sitting area, although you won't be spending too much time in your cabin. During the day, you can treat yourself to a soothing massage on the sun deck while sipping a refreshing cocktail and gazing at the rock formations reflected in the crystal clear water of the bay.

Or you can explore the huge caves with gorgeous stalactites and stalagmites that top the isles. I headed for the Hang Sung Sot Cave. This cave, whose name in English means Cave of Surprises, was named by a French explorer who was amazed by the size and beauty of the cave's interior rooms. It is probably the most beautiful of all the caves found in this region of Vietnam.

When I exited the cave, I found myself high above Halong Bay, peering at a gorgeous panoramic view of the water, the mist, the limestone karsts and the women paddling boats laden with all sorts of things for sale - from conical hats to Ritz crackers and Oreo cookies. It's truly an amazing site.

Back on the Emeraude, the swimming deck provides an opportunity for a dip in the cool waters of the bay surrounded by the majestic scenery. I relaxed with high tea, which is served in the late afternoon. For dinner, the Emeraude's restaurant offers delicious freshly caught local seafood and other specialties.

I discovered my dream menu aboard the Emeraude. I couldn't get enough of pho, a light, delicious Vietnamese soup made with a lovely, delicate beef stock, rice noodles and aromatic herbs. And I can't forget to mention the spring rolls! Vietnamese spring rolls are made with bits of shrimp, sprouts, green onion, fresh basil and cilantro, artistically wrapped in a soft, thin rice pancake. Served along with several types of sauces for dipping, this is one luscious treat.

It's so easy to understand why Vietnamese food is one of my favorite cuisines. It is healthy, fresh and naturally low in fat, yet so wonderfully delicious. It consists of fish and meat in small quantities, plenty of vegetables and fruit galore. And, while we here in the West love our freezers and microwave ovens, in Vietnam everything is fresh. If the spices were picked in the morning, by dinner time, you need a fresh supply.

A special treat aboard the Emeraude is the demonstration of Vietnamese culinary techniques and tips by the chef. It's hands on, too, so you'll get a chance to practice what the chef teaches and at home become the star chef among your family and friends.

After dinner, the Emeraude's decks invite sitting and enjoying the magnificent sunset. When it's dark, the film "Indochine" is screened under the stars. As you settle into your seat, glass of wine or cup of tea in hand, there was a gauzy fog draped haphazardly over the limestone karsts.

But that doesn't obscure them or their beauty. As the movie progresses, the familiar karsts of Halong Bay appear, as lovely and mysterious on the screen as they are in real life. The next morning starts with taking in the calming silence of the bay while practicing T'ai Chi on the deck.

The entire trip aboard the Emeraude is a step back to another time. The excursion along Halong Bay ignited all of my senses. It was an exotic escape that is hard to match and one that every traveler should experience.
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2 Comments on this Article

Philippe commented on September 6, 2013

Most travelers opt for a short cruise on Halong Bay, half a day usually, to admire the beautiful waterway.

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LUXURY commented on March 4, 2013

Ha Long Bay Heavenly Castles on Earth Halong Bay is the jewel in the crown of Vietnam's travel destinations. One hundred and seventy kilometers from Hanoi, in northeastern Vietnam, Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places on earth. The bay is a magical blend of land and sea with thousands of limestone islands and islets in a myriad of shapes and sizes. The shapes are as varied as the sizes and many of the islands have been given names, derived from their shapes, such as Voi Island (Elephant), Ga Choi Island (Fighting Cock), Qua Chuong Island (Bell) and Mai Nha Island (Roof); incredibly 989 of the islands have been given names. Numerous islands contain caves and grottos, some hidden away for millions of years, but now accessible to explore and marvel at their immensity and spectacular displays of stalactites and stalagmites. The bay is bordered on the south and southeast by the Gulf of Tonkin, on the north by China and on the west and southwest by Cát Bà Island and encompasses an immense area of 1553 square kilometers. According to local legend, long ago when the Vietnamese people were fighting foreign invaders, the Gods sent a family of dragons to help them defend the land. The dragons spat out jewels and jade, which transformed into the islands and islets dotting the bay. Their miraculous handiwork formed a great wall blocking the invaders path. With the invaders repelled and the people safe again, the family of dragons became interested in more peaceful endeavors and decided to stay to enjoy their stunning creation. Hence the name Ha Long (Ha: descending, Long: dragon). The island where the dragon children attended to their mother was named Bai Tu Long (Bai: attend to, Tu: children, Long: dragon) and the place where the dragon children wriggled their tails as they frolicked in the sea was called Bach Long Vi (Bach: white - the color of the foam from the wriggling tails, Long: dragon, Vy: tail). Whether or not you are a believer of legends you will be lulled into a sense of peace and contentment by the magical and surrealistic seascape of Halong Bay. The tranquil emerald green waters and the captivating vistas of the seemingly countless jutting limestone mountainous islands will soothe the soul and stimulate the senses. Few places in the world offer a more breath-taking glimpse of the awesome creativity of Mother Nature. The Halong Bay World Heritage Site is universally recognized for the significance of its exceptional geology and distinctive biodiversity, and the rich culture of the local people adds to the charm and enchantment of cruising the bay. Halong Bay cruises have been a fovourite pastime for the Vietnamese for centuries. Now it's your turn. What better way to enjoy this unrivalled destination than aboard an Indochina Sails junk.

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