Every tourist to Vietnam should include an overnight stay on a boat in Halong Bay. From Hanoi, the trip is about 3 hours, but once out of the city, the highway is reasonably free of traffic. We hired a driver to avoid being stuck in a van subject to a schedule of when to leave and return.
Along the way, I am fascinated by the new Vietnamese houses along the road.
In many of these houses, the bottom floor serves as either a shop or a garage with the living done further up. Almost all are 3 stories high. The newer ones are usually quite attractive with wooden doors and attractively trimmed with colorful paint. The number of new houses I saw along the way is evident that economic development is doing well within the country.
When ever one travels along a tourist route, it is almost certain that the driver will stop where a WC can be used if desired and shop for silk and other items indigenous to the country. We are very wary of spending money for items that are very attractive, because we are always concerned about how to transport anything back in our suit cases. Nevertheless, Judith bought some coffee table/serving dishes for future gift giving and I bought an embroidered panel that I am still wondering how to display it. Some of the embroidering was simply breathe taking and is a big cottage industry judging from the number of young people engaged in producing some very high quality work.
The signs told us the proceeds are used to fund orphanages.
We welcomed reaching out destination and had some time to stretch and drink a diet Coke, which are plentiful throughout Vietnam. We quickly see that there will be only 3 other people on our boat. Our large cabin is at the front of the boat and affords ultimate privacy with lounge chairs on our private balcony.
There are more people traveling as staff than passengers for a Thursday overnight stay, but the crew said the boat is booked full for the weekend.
We lunch on board after getting settled in our cabin. The galley is well appointed and the food is delicious. In the evening the French captain comes to every table to chat temporarily leaving his young Vietnamese girl friend. He spoke English very well with just a trace of French accent, helping to add an exotic favor to our conversation and the boat’s atmosphere.
We discover that the five star Emeraude is modeled in the tradition of the single wheel steamboat of the colonial era. The original Emeraude was one of the flotillas owned by the Roque family who left Bordeaux in 1858 in search of fame and fortune. The fleet cruised along Indochina waterways and Halong Bay in the olden days. The original Emeraude sank in the Bay in 1937. Using advanced techniques, French architects painstakingly modeled the new vessel from old photos and drawings found at the Paris' Maritime Museum.
Halong Bay is a Unesco World Heritage Site (and one of the 1000 things to see before you die) so capitalistic competition has come here with several newer and more attractive boats visible on the waters.
The boat is geared to act as a cruise ship with a list of activities, including an excursion to a cave, kayaking, swimming off the rear of the boat, the making of spring rolls, and showing the movie “Indochine” in the evening. As we have been through a number of limestone caves in the past, we choose to have massages while the other 3 passengers went through the cave.
I am making a spring roll here after watching the head chef making a couple of them. Mine were not as pretty, but just as tasty. This is something to try at home, if you can find the thin rice wrappings.
Sitting on a private balcony, cruising through Halong Bay with a refreshing drink on hand, has to be a tourist’s dream.
Back to Hanoi the next morning and on to Hue the next day.