All pictures courtesy of Au Co
Kayaking is a must-do activity when visiting the Gulf of Tonkin. For its kayaking excursion, The Au Co goes further than other boats, dropping anchor in a remote expanse of Lan Ha Bay. Here, you’ll strike out on the emerald water, glide below dripping grottoes, and enter calm lagoons. Each lagoon is its own secret scene, sheltered by high, forested cliffs, and silent except for the sounds of insects and bird calls. After paddling through this enchanting seascape, wash ashore on a small, empty beach. Lie on the sand or swim in the gentle current — it’s your choice.
Mealtimes on board The Au Co are a pleasure. Tall windows in the dining room allow the surrounding beauty in. For a more immersive experience, choose a table outside and soak in the sea breeze and passing views of islets and fishing boats with each bite.
Breakfast is served buffet style, with Asian and Western classics, as well as delightful Vietnamese noodle soups. Come lunchtime, the chefs turn out five-course set menus, with dishes inspired by the bay, such as ‘Dragonfruit salad with scallops’ and ‘Lac Long Quan prawn Thermidor’. The final night of the cruise caps off with a sumptuous seafood buffet, served in the evening air.
Some of the most astonishing vistas from your time in Vietnam may come from this part of the trip. The Au Co is the only cruise from Ha Long that’s allowed to enter rarely seen Lan Ha Bay. The ship anchors in an otherworldly spot, full of virgin forested peaks and massive karsts. It’s a primordial scene you’d expect from a much more remote destination.
On Cat Ba island, hop on a bicycle for a ride along winding river, below misty, jungle-clad peaks. The road hugs the hillside until it reaches Viet Hai, a small village which The Au Co endeavours to support through community tourism. Here you’ll get an inside glimpse into how Vietnamese live on Cat Ba. Take a walk to encounter vegetable farms, waddling ducks, and smiling locals, before cycling back again to the dock.
Even though you’re on a ship, you’ll have plenty of chances to encounter Vietnamese culture and learn about the destination. The Au Co’s itinerary features a visit to the Cua Van floating fishing village, and a walk around the archeologically important Tien Ong Cave — both of which will leave you with a deeper understanding of Vietnamese life and culture. On board, you’ll have a chance to discover local traditions through tai chi classes, tea ceremonies, dance performances, and a riveting sand art video explaining the legend of Au Co and Lac Long Quan.
If it’s the bay you’ve come to see, then the cabins on The Au Co may just become your favourite place to see it. Each cabin on the cruise is furnished with warm wood, soothing shades, and uber-comfy beds. Step out of doors into the fresh early morning air, lie in bed and watch the karsts drift by, or experience the sun set from the privacy of your balcony. Best of all, each cabin is a haven, where you can have Ha Long Bay all to yourself.
The Au Co’s three-day cruise is the perfect opportunity to disconnect from the worries of the world. A special feature of the ship is its on-board spa and Jacuzzi. Immerse yourself in the hot tub for a warm and bubbly treat, then sink into a Vietnamese massage and allow the therapists’s skillful hands work your limbs into a state of bliss.
Apart from the spa, morning tai chi classes begin every day on a mindful note, and there is always the option to simply lounge on the sun deck, with 360 degrees of magnificent scenery all around.
For several years now The Au Co has made a name for itself as the leading sustainable cruise company in the bay. The brand maintains several ongoing initiatives, such as the ‘Save the Langur’ project, to protect Cat Ba’s endangered primate; its community farm on Viet Hai village, from where the cruise sources produce and also hires new staff; and the ‘Bhaya Green Office’, which targets eco-friendly operations including reducing energy consumption, plastic and waste.
Perhaps the greatest testament to The Au Co’s commitment to sustainability are its exceptional staff, who go out of their way to provide genuine Vietnamese hospitality to each passenger, allowing them to fully savour the joy of being aboard the ship.