In Halong Bay, I booked passage aboard the Emeraude -- a copy of a French steamer that once plied these waters in the early 20th century. Certainly the largest boat, at 55m (180 ft.) the elegant Emeraude has 38 cabins, a fine-dining outlet, and plenty of room to stretch my legs. The luxury trip comes with a price tag, of course, but the 2-day, 1-night cruise is well worth it.

Leaving Hanoi at 8am, I checked in at the private Emeraude pier and was shuttled to the boat. Before checking in to our cabin, we enjoyed welcome drinks and a quick orientation. Compact, as ship cabins always are, onboard rooms were decked out in hardwood, with nice fixtures like air-conditioning, a private reading lamp, slippers for shuffling about the decks, and a tidy, compact bathroom area with toilet, shower, and a separate room for a small sink stand.

Everything onboard is retro, which means pleasing hardwood, brass, and fine linens. The oversize wicker chairs on the top deck are cozy, and I can found shaded areas as well as sun-worshipping spaces. A casual,
friendly atmosphere pervaded, especially when the corks started popping!

Lunch on Day 1 is followed by a stop at the Surprise Cave, then an afternoon of cruising and great views of the islands. The boat docks in a quiet harbor and guests have an opportunity to, on their own or with a guide, explore nearby Trinh Nu and Hang Trong, the Virgin Cave and the Cave of the Winds, or take a dip in the bay. The back of the boat is low in the water and there is a sturdy ladder making it easy to get on and off (the adventurous will join the crew for dives off the upper decks).

Dinner was a sumptuous affair of fine local cuisine (heavy on seafood) and good Western options. We enjoyed drinks on the upper deck and watched the moonlight glisten off the bay.

Day 2 started with tai chi classes on the sun deck. Blissful. After my exercise, I tucked in to a hearty Western-style breakfast. The boat returned to the dock by 9:30am, and after a direct transfer I found myself back in Hanoi by lunchtime. The trip was amazing! The price for the overnight cruise is $290 for a luxury cabin for two and $490 for the one-suite room. Not a bad deal!

Posted by Javier, 02nd November 2006
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