Where Daily - Halong Bay Vietnam

A cruise through the karsts of Halong Bay near Haiphong Harbor in Vietnam is an eerie one indeed. Strange rock formations crop up through the fog and haze, ghosts really, of some dismal times recalling French Navy boats that patrolled the waters in the earlier parts of the last century looking for subversives and smugglers among the fishing junks. And then later, of U.S. Navy vessels trawling the deserted coves in search of guerrilla activity and or just a reason to be there. 
But these calm waters have always been a place of ghosts - mostly of the ancestors of farming village residents in these parts who have lived here for hundreds of years.
A cruise on the Emeraude from Halong City on an overnight venture through the mystical outcroppings easily puts the visitor back a century. Time melts on this carefully reconstructed 1910 paddle steamer, and then stops altogether. The ship silently slips around a forest of limestone islands and rock formations - there are more than 1000 of them in this sleepy bay in northern Vietnam - as mesmerizing in their spectral presence as they are historic.
As a passenger, the lazy overnight journey requires a cocktail on the top deck lounge before reading on a chaise, perhaps The Lover by Marguerite Duras, and whiling the afternoon away in dreams. 

Emeraude Entertainment
But the boat is not without its bustle of activities. A tender takes brings passengers who want to go ashore to Sung Sot Caves (Cave of Surprises) on an out island by a small village. There are options for kayaking and swimming near Hang Trong. Vietnamese cuisine demonstrations reveal the secrets of really good pho and a night at the movies watchingIndochine under the stars upon the Emeraude sun deck simply sizzles. The trip ends the next morning with early t'ai chi and tea before a packed buffet.

Affordable Spa Treats
Pampering has a place here, too, and for a fraction of what it costs elsewhere. The recent onboard opening of the Hanoi-based Santal Spa adds another layer of relaxation to the dazzling views with massages, facials and body scrubs. Santal is best known for its signature massage: the "four hand" treatment performed by two therapists using a blend of Shiatsu, Thai, Swedish, Balinese and Hawaiian Lomi-Lomi techniques. Other available treatments include traditional Vietnamese massage, warm stone treatments, reflexology and foot massages as well as body wraps and scrubs and a range of facials, all using quality cosmetics from France and Germany. An hour-long Swedish massage here might cost $30, rather than up to $200 paid on luxury cruise ships.

Onboard Details
The ship's 39 air-conditioned cabins come in deluxe and superior classes (including three suites) and keep the style of simpler times with wooden floors, modest wood and rattan furnishings and a small bathroom and shower. Buffet meals offer an array of Vietnamese and Continental dishes, along with fresh caught seafood, to suit the preferences of the 74 passengers it can carry.

The Deal
Rates for the two-day, one night cruise experience run $308-$557 for one and $350 to $624 for two. Transfers from Hanoi hotels (Halong Bay is about three hours by car from the city) run $45 pp for a shared van or $125 for up to two people in a private car ($135 for 3-5 persons).

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