Photos by Jason Zullo
The fun begins the moment you embark aboard the Emeraude ship, however the service starts before that. A comfortable shuttle will whisk you from downtown Hanoi to the Tuan Chau Marina in less than four hours. As soon as you’re checked in and board the boat, you’ll be guided to your cabin. Look for mosaic tiled bathrooms, Vietnamese-inspired amenities, super soft pillows and mesmerising views from the windows.
Who can resist the urge to explore a beautiful ship? The gentle chugging of the motor, subtle turns in the bow, and a constant pulling breeze are all reminders you’ve left the land behind. Armchairs and loungers are spread across the Emeraude’s three decks so you can take in the scenery from all angles. On the sundeck, you’ll find a full-service island bar. Downstairs, a warm and elegant dining room welcomes hungry passengers.
At mealtimes, the Emeraude serves a winning combination of delicious food and gorgeous views. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are a buffet spread of Asian and Western delights. Start off with nourishing Vietnamese salads and comforting soups, then take your pick from the tasty main dishes. Barbecued seafood, grilled and roasted meats, whole steamed fish and delicately cooked vegetables are frequent stars of the show — all served with complementary sauces and sides (don’t forget to save room for dessert.)
With all the great food on offer, it’s fortunate the Emeraude's itinerary includes several stops where you can work up an appetite and discover must-see attractions in the bay. Cave enthusiasts can take a walk through Sung Sot, an enormous grotto pierced with ancient stalagmites. Later in the afternoon, the Emeraude’s tenders will ferry you to a floating pearl farm, where you can claim a kayak and strike out for a scenic paddle. At sunrise, you have the option to fall in with a gentle tai chi class on the sundeck, go for a stimulating walk to the top of Titop Island, or take a short swim on the beach.
Of course, the main attraction in Halong Bay is the bay itself. The sundeck is the place to take it all in. Here you have a constantly moving panorama on all sides. Every few metres a new scene is revealed: massive rock faces, fluttering Vietnamese flags, tiny fishing boats, little inlets, jungled outcrops, swooping brown eagles, and karsts as far as the eye can see. The views are magnificent, and there's nothing left to do but watch as they goes by. Sunset is the perfect time for sitting out of doors and making friends with the other passengers. Come evening, the ship is surrounded by streaming reflections and deep blue skies. Curl up with a cocktail on a daybed, and watch as the stars come out.
After 24 hours at sea, you'll start heading back to land, but the fun isn’t over yet. Put the finishing touch on your trip by booking a scenic seaplane ride with Hai Au Aviation. After a quick check-in and briefing at the marina, you’ll strap in for an unforgettable ride. The seaplane takes off from the water in under a minute, and for the next 20, you’ll be gazing out the windows, captivated by the views below. It’s a perspective of Halong Bay few travellers get to see: emerald water sparkling in the sun, hundreds of empty beaches, and limestone karsts of every formation. All these scenes of Halong Bay -- its shapes and skies, its magnitude -- are a fabulous final takeaway.