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Wanderlust: A Cruise Along Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay

By T: The New York Times Style Magazine Singapore

 
 

As legend claims it to be, the bay of “the descending dragon”, as Ha Long literally translates, was formed when a band of dragons, under the gods’s instructions, spat jewels, jade and pearls into the sea to create a fortress against invaders.

Situated in the northern tip of Vietnam, the jumbled karst fortress they built is spectacular.

Flecked with jagged limestone islets, Ha Long Bay’s emerald green seascape is a staggering beauty. The cliffs tower over the waters, rising sheer out of the sea and concaving into shadowed corridors in the water, while rocky outcrops give way to large grottoes or mini beaches. Backed with a history that dates back around 18,000 years, these some 1,600 islands — stamped as one of UNESCO World Heritage sites — preserved nearly all its original splendour through numerous wars and invasions.

A jewel to Vietnamese tourism, Ha Long Bay, like the rest of the country’s growing tourism destinations, is striving to keep abreast with the swarming hordes of eager travellers. One way to avoid the inevitable crowd yet still attain the experiential breadth of the bay’s allure, then, is aboard a private-scale cruiser.

 

The new Paradise Elegance steel boat — the latest addition to Paradise Group’s stable of luxury fleets — was built in resemblance to the boxy structure of a turn-of-the-century paddle streamer, meshing Vietnamese old-world charm with modern amenities. At 61 metres long and 13 metres wide, the group claims it to be Ha Long’s largest overnight cruiser yet. It houses spacious cabins with attached private balconies and walk-in closets, though limited at only 31 rooms in a bid to keep overcrowding far at bay.

For the best panoramic view, climb up to the top deck, where a circular bar sits under the shade sail, and watch as Ha Long City slowly recede into the background. Afterwards, head over to the on-board spa located at the main deck for a hot stone session, or the dining room where a piano fills one of its bar corner for a nightcap. Unlike the traditional cruisers, its a la carte menu, studded with local Ha Long Bay cuisines to classic Western dishes, boasts a dine-anywhere concept. Be it on the sun deck or a room’s private balcony, guests have the privilege to dine wherever and whenever (the kitchen is open from 7am until 10pm).

 

On-shore, the itineraries are flexible. Opt from one- or two-night programmes which list excursions to the region’s renowned destinations. Hike to the top of Ti Top Island, traverse the snaking belly of the Sung Sot caverns, kayak through Cua Van floating village. These are scheduled during off-peak time slots to skirt around heavy footfalls.

If that isn’t enough, guests opting for the two-night itinerary can transfer to a smaller boat, the Paradise Explorer, and delve deeper into the area’s snaking currents and less populous islands.