No trip to Vietnam would be complete without a visit to Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO heritage site celebrated for its 1,900+ limestone islets rising out of tranquil jade waters. Since the area covers over 600 square miles, cruising is really the best way to appreciate the bay.
As we walked down the pier to board the Paradise Elegance, other ships blew their horns announcing their own departures. We made our way onto the boat and tucked our hand baggage in our cabin before heading up to the deck for our departure. As the port disappeared from view, and we rounded one of the first, and larger islets we realized what all the fuss was about. Gazing out over thousands of islands you feel like an explorer before the age of air travel, discovering a new land as you arrive by boat.
We started with a seafood lunch on the main dining room, a refined space finished in dark, gleaming hardwoods and rich blue textiles. The decor could easily be a setting for a James Bond film, which is apropos since it’s rumored that scenes for the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies were filmed on an islet in Ha Long Bay without the permission of Vietnamese authorities. We also stopped to explore the Sung Sot Cave (also known as “The Amazing Cave”), which is one of the bay’s largest cavern and was magnificent in and of itself despite it’s odd neon accent lighting. In the caves we learned that Ha Long Bay means descending dragon, named for the islets which resemble the scales on the spine of a dragon.
Given that we were on the Paradise Elegance, we dressed for dinner. I love all things nautical and was excited to wear my new blue Mara Hoffman Dress (black version here) that I picked up in Hong Kong. Her midi-dresses are always perfectly proportioned (I have three) and translate from beach days to dinner attire seamlessly due to their elegant silhouettes but light and summery fabrics. When the days are as hot as they are in Vietnam’s summer, I typically put on a clean dress for dinner when it’s cooler, then will rewear the same dress the next day. We were lucky enough to have mostly clear skies and were treated to a sherbet sunset during cocktail hour which ended with a toast and shots of a ho anh bo rice wine. Very merry, we went downstairs and found our table for dinner.
We absolutely loved our cabin, especially the large closet and private balcony which we settled into after dinner for a cigar and very competitive game of Scrabble, while watching the lights of other boats moored in the distance bobbing up and down.
When booking cruises on Ha Long Bay you must be careful as Paradise Cruises ships are so popular that several other cruise companies create sham websites claiming to be Paradise Cruises. This is the link to the real site.
All photos by David and Stacie Flinner for stacieflinner.com