Is visiting Halong Bay on your travel list for Vietnam?
A 2-night cruise on Halong Bay in Northern Vietnam has been a long-time dream of ours. For many years we have seen so many exotic photographs and videos showing the dramatic landscape of Halong Bay and the traditional boats that sailed through her 3000 limestone islands and islets.
Around every bay or craggy rocky outcrop, there is another surprise – a deserted golden beach, a hidden cave through the forested areas of a small island, monkeys clinging to sheer cliffs, and dramatic 360-degree views from the top of small mountains. Halong Bay is one of the Seven New Wonders of the World.
(Editor Update 2021)
There are so many things to do whilst in Hanoi, we would recommend adding a few days to your itinerary to visit Halong Bay, it is only a few hours drive from the busy capital.
During our 2 night /3 day cruise, we were fascinated by the breathtaking scenery but we were also fascinated by the many legends that abound in this area:
- The legends on the formation of Ha Long Bay – which one will you believe?
- One man’s dream to revive the glamour and romance of a bygone era
- A legend of our time who sailed on her (but you will have to read right to the end of the article to find out who this legend was)
We will share with you how you too can experience and relive a memorable journey of distinction, but first, we hope you enjoy the legends as much as we do.Planning a trip to Vietnam read our ultimate travel guide here
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Check out our YouTube Video of our 2 Night/3 Day Cruise onboard Emeraude.
- 1 The Legends Of Halong Bay
- 2 The Legend of Sung Sot Cave
- 3 The Legend of Emeraude
- 4 Our 2-night cruise on Halong Bay Experience
- 5 Who Was The Legend Who Sailed on Emeraude?
- 6 How To Book Your 2 night Cruise of Halong Bay on Board Emeraude
- 7 More articles to inspire you to travel to Vietnam
- 8 Where To Stay in Hanoi
- 9 Travelling Around Asia
- 10 Our Thanks
- 11 Extra Reading On Halong Bay
- 12 Check if you need a Visa for Vietnam:
- 13 Pinterest
- 14 Travel Insurance
The Legends Of Halong Bay
Halong Bay in Vietnamese means ‘descending dragon’. Ha means ‘descending’ and Long means ‘dragon’. The dragon is important to the Vietnamese people. It represents the universe, life, growth and power. According to an ancient legend, the Vietnamese people descended from a dragon and a fairy.
When researching Halong Bay in Wikipedia we came across the legend about the formation of Halong Bay.
“When Vietnam had just started to develop into a country, they had to fight against invaders. To assist the Vietnamese in defending their country, the gods sent a family of dragons as protectors. This family of dragons began spitting out jewels and jade. These jewels turned into the islands and islets dotting the bay, linking together to form a great wall against the invaders. Under magics, numerous rock mountains abruptly appeared on the sea, ahead of invaders’ ships; the forward ships struck the rocks and each other. After winning the battle, the dragons were interested in peaceful sightseeing of the Earth and then decided to live in this bay. The place where the mother dragon descended was named Ha Long, the place where the dragon’s children attended upon their mother was called Bai Tu Long island (Bai: attend upon, Tu: children, Long: dragon), and the place where the dragon’s children wriggled their tails violently was called Bach Long Vy island (Bach: white-colour of the foam made when Dragon’s children wriggled, Long: dragon, Vy: tail), present day Tra Co peninsula, Mong Cai.”
A later legend mentions that in 1898 a French Sub Lieutenant by the name of Lagredin had seen a huge sea snake on Halong Bay that could be described as a dragon. The French had arrived in Halong Bay at this time and the headline “Dragon appears on Halong Bay” appeared in the Hai Phong News describing what he saw.
When the opportunity arose for us to visit Halong Bay with another legend – the classic Paddle Steamer Emeraude which sails under the Victoria Voyages flag we jumped at the chance. Victoria Voyages sponsored us on our 2-night cruise around Halong Bay. Our opinions are as always our own.
The Legend of Sung Sot Cave
As part of our 2-night cruise on Halong Bay with Emeraude, we were able to visit 3 caves over the 3 days. The first one, Sung Sot Cave, comes with its own fascinating legend. This is the legend of Thanh Giong (which means Saint in English). When you enter the cave you will notice a stalactite that resembles a sword and a horse. What is so special about this stalactite and what is the legend here?
The legend of Thanh Giong dates back to the 6th King Hung Dynasty around 1220-1225 BC. His parents were desperate to have a child. One day his mother was walking through the field and came upon a large footprint. Instantly she fell pregnant and gave birth 9 months later to Giong. Up to the age of 3 Giong could not speak, smile or walk. At this time the King was at war with the invading An tribe. The King sent messengers out in the country to call for support to join the battle. Giong miraculously started to talk and asked his Mother to speak to one of the messengers where he asked to join the battle and for the King to give him arms to assist in the war. The villagers on hearing this assisted the family by feeding Giong. Giong grew into a strong healthy man and the King asked his blacksmiths to build a set of iron armour for him, an iron sword and an iron horse. Giong set forth with the King’s instructions and defeated the An army. After this battle, he ascended to Heaven.
The sword and the horse in Sung Sot Cave was left behind by Giong to protect Halong Bay from evil demons.
The Legend of Emeraude
The story begins in France in December 1999 when Eric Merlin was visiting the St Ouen flea market on the outskirts of Paris. In a box of postcards marked ‘Indochine’ he came across two postcards that dated back to the era 1916-1919 of two paddle steamers in Halong Bay. He took out his magnifying glass and was able to read the names of the two paddle steamers – one being Emeraude and the other Perle. Eric Merlin lived and worked in Vietnam and when he returned from Paris he took the postcards with him. He dreamed of one day finding one of these two paddle steamers. Not content with waiting for his dream to become real he went about designing a replica of Emeraude to offer cruises on Halong Bay. He was already running a successful travel company – Exotissimo – since 1993 in Ho Chi Minh City. Using the postcard as the design he commissioned a boat builder and in January 2003 construction on Emeraude began.
Eric was still intrigued by the whereabouts of the original Emeraude and never gave up on his search for her or more information about her. After various attempts for more information at the Maritime Museum in Paris and Britain, he learnt that there was a central archive in Aix en Provence that had documents relating to the previous French colonies including Indochina. He found that the boat had belonged to a barge and a towing company called SACRUC which was owned by a Frenchman by the name of Paul Roque. In July 2003 he went to Paris to meet the 76-year-old son of Paul Roque – Xavier Roque.
A very interesting history of Paul Roque and his colonial adventures during the 19th century can be read in the book written by Eric Merlin – The Jewels of Halong Bay which can be purchased on board Emeraude. It is an interesting read and one that we would recommend if you are interested in the history of Indochina during this period. But our story is about Emeraude, let’s continue.
The city of Hai Phong was founded in 1888 as an important port city in the North of Vietnam 120km east of Hanoi. Paul Roque arrived in Hai Phong two decades after the end of the war with China. This is where he took delivery of four new custom-built paddle steamers, the Saphir, Rubis, Perle and The Emeraude. They were 80-ton single-wheeled paddle steamers that provided a regular service around Halong Bay and the Red River delta for 20 passengers and freight. For the passengers, it was a luxury experience, the boats equipped with the latest in electric lighting, fans, bathrooms, refrigerators and even a darkroom for photographers.
On the 16th March 1937 the Emeraude on its return from one of it’s many journeys collided with a submerged rock just 7km from Cam Pha port. A large hole appeared in the side of Emeraude and she sunk. Fortunately, there was no loss of life. Emeraude remained at the bottom of the sea. In December 2003 the new Emeraude sailed on its maiden voyage and to this very day remains faithful to its 20th-century roots.
Our 2-night cruise on Halong Bay Experience
As part of our Victoria Voyages experience on the Emeraude, our journey began in Hanoi where we were collected by a private luxury minibus for the 3 – 4-hour journey from Hanoi to Halong Bay. On arrival, we settled into the Victoria Voyages lounge, whilst our luggage was collected and transported to our room.
We were fortunate to be able to enjoy our two nights in the Captain’s Suite on the top deck. Emeraude has been fitted out replicating the elegance of the 20th century, dark wooden floorboards and dark wood panelling adorn the large bedroom. Luxurious linens that included a gold and cream throw, comfortable pillows and a king-size bed gave us two perfect nights of sleep whilst Emeraude gently rocked from side to side. The Captain’s Suite included an oversized white tiled bathroom and shower with luxury toiletries, fluffy towels and robes.
All meals were served in the elegant and stylish Restaurant on the bottom deck.
After boarding, we enjoyed a welcome drink before a buffet lunch was served. This was a time to chat and get to know our other companions on board.
A guided shore excursion to Sung Sot Cave (also known as Surprise Cave) was our first activity. We have mentioned the legend above about Sung Sot Cave and the meaning of the sword and horse stalactite.
On our return, deliciously light French mini crepes were served on the Sun Deck where we relaxed for a short while as Emeraude sails to the next activity – a visit to the Pearl Farm or where you can kayak around the gentle scenic bay instead.
What better way to relax at the end of a long day than to enjoy a cocktail or beer at Happy Hour on the Sun Deck as the sun goes down. The weather was perfect at this time of the day with just a soft cool breeze blowing after the heat of the day.
During Happy Hour, if you are interested in cooking, Chef shows you how to make the delicate Vietnamese Spring Rolls. They make it look easy, but it is not. The knack is in the rolling of the rice paper roll (without all the ingredients seeping out of the sides).
A buffet dinner was served in the Restaurant between 1900 hours and 2100 hours. After dinner, we adjourned to the Sun Deck for a nightcap and to enjoy the peacefulness of Halong Bay.
We recommend that you set the alarm for 0600 hours and head to the Sun Deck for morning coffee, tea and pastries and watch the sunrise. If you have not tried Tai Chi before this is your opportunity to learn the art, Tai Chi is beneficial for the health of your mind and body. The main purpose of Tai Chi is to cultivate the chi within us to flow smoothly and powerfully through your body. A second class is held on the 3rd morning at the same time.
An early breakfast was served soon after so that we could depart for our full-day tour at 0800.
The first activity was a visit to the Ho Dong Tien Cave also known as Fairy Lake Cave. There are two chambers inside and they are separated by a narrow tunnel. The first chamber has unusually shaped stalagmites that reach from the ceiling to the floor. The second chamber leads to a crystal clear lake surrounded by steep limestone mountains.
Legend states that the lake inside the cave is where fairies descend to swim hence the name Fairy Lake Cave. (BTW, this is not the 3rd legend and you still need to read on.)
After visiting the magical scenery of Ho Dong Tien Cave we sailed through the east side of Halong Bay passing Trong Cave, Trinh Nu Cave to a small islet where we enjoyed kayaking around the bay to a small beach that is perfect for swimming. You have the option to relax onboard instead of kayaking.
A very substantial lunch is provided onboard the Day Cruise Boat. We lost count on the number of dishes that came out. There were also vegetarian options available. Drinks are at an extra cost on this day excursion.
There is time available after lunch to relax and enjoy the scenery before sailing off to the next activity. There are two options available, a visit to the Pearl Farm or a visit to Me Cung (Maze) Cave on Lom Bo Island. There is an opportunity to visit the cave, a small waterway or to hike to the top for scenic views over Halong Bay.
After the day excursion finished we arrived back on Emeraude to enjoy freshly made banana French Crepes with chocolate sauce. A well-deserved treat before Happy Hour commenced.
After dinner movies are shown on the Sun Deck for all to enjoy or you can enjoy a nightcap before retiring for the evening.
We enjoyed our early morning Tai Chi class on Day 3 before an early visit to Titov Island.
Not to be outdone on the other legends of Halong Bay, Titov Island has its own story, and a quite unique story it is. Titov Island was originally called Cat Nang Island. So where did the Russian sounding name of Titov come from? Russian Cosmonaut Gherman Titov became the 2nd man to orbit the earth in 1961 onboard the spaceship Vostok 2. In 1962 Vostok toured the Island with none other than Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh consulted with the locals about the visit and in a friendly gesture with Russia, he named the island after the Cosmonaut.
The Island also goes by the name of Cemetery Island. In 1905 a French Cargo Ship during bad weather floundered on the rocks and all on board lost their lives. They are buried on the island.
If you climb the 427 steps to the top you are rewarded with breathtaking views over Halong Bay.
At around 0900 hours we returned back to Emeraude for Brunch before checking out of our cabin and sailing back to Halong Bay.
Who Was The Legend Who Sailed on Emeraude?
Season 8 Episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown was filmed in Halong Bay on board the Emeraude. Most of the Western World will know who Anthony Bourdain was but for those who do not recognise the name, he was a famous American Chef who took his own life in 2018 when he was 62 years of age filming more of the series in France. Apart from being a famous chef he travelled the world filming his food travel adventures for his series A Cooks Tour, No Reservations and Parts Unknown. The world lost a special person in 2018 and one who is remembered fondly.
You can watch part of it here.
Apparently, Bourdain walked the docks of Halong Bay looking for the right boat for his adventure. He spied Emeraude and hired the Emeraude for himself and his friends. During his time onboard he stayed in the Paul Roque Suite. You too can book the same suite.
During the episode, he visited one of the local fishing villages on the bay and chatted with the occupants. The villagers have since been relocated back to land as per the Government’s request. It is an interesting episode and as in typical Bourdain’s style it is from the heart.
How To Book Your 2 night Cruise of Halong Bay on Board Emeraude
Have we whetted your appetite for cruising Halong Bay?
Reservations can be made through Emeraude Cruises – click here for more information.
Victoria Voyages also have 1-night cruises available on Emeraude and it’s sister ship L’Azalee.
More articles to inspire you to travel to Vietnam
Where To Stay in Hanoi
During our time in Hanoi we stayed in three properties:
The Trang Trang Hotel is located in the Old Quarter and the Pullman Hanoi is closer to the Temple of Literature. All 3 properties we can highly recommend. When we visit a city for a longer period of time we like to mix the accommodation up and review for our readers.
Travelling Around Asia
For the latest fares and schedules on buses, trains and ferries throughout Asia:
Our thanks to Ana and the team onboard Emeraude who made our 2-night adventure memorable.
Extra Reading On Halong Bay
Check if you need a Visa for Vietnam:
You may require a visa for travel to Vietnam read our article for more information.
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