Adventuresome Cruising Through Halong Bay in Vietnam
HALONG BAY, Vietnam (Jan. 2011) - Halong Bay and its panoramic seascape of limestone karsts is usually experienced passively, from the top deck of a cruising vessel, gin and tonic in hand. But there’ll be no excuse for indolence this month when Emeraude Classic Cruises debuts a three-day / two-night itinerary that plays up a healthy dose of island adventure.
The Emeraude’s new soft adventure options run from rock-climbing to butterfly trekking on Cat Ba Island. In between, there’s compelling middle ground in kayaking.
"Halong Bay is so much more compelling when it’s not a passive experience," said Kurt Walter, group general manager of Apple Tree Group Hospitality. "Yes, it’s one of the most magnificent seascapes you’ve ever seen, but when you get out into it, with a paddle in your hands, or your hands on the grit of these limestone karsts, then you’ve just gained a whole new dimension of experience."
The new soft adventure program is managed by Slo Pony Adventures, a Vietnam-based travel company run by Onslo Carrington and Erik Ferjentsik, two American-trained outdoor enthusiasts. Participants can book the soft adventure of their choice independently, or as part of a group effort.
For rock climbers, Slo Pony is cultivating 20 different venues around the bay, including the Polish Pillar, a karst that exemplifies the bay’s fantastic limestone formations.
Most climbing for beginners and intermediates takes place at Moody’s Beach, where a two-faced crag is laced with easy-to-moderate routes.
"No matter how intimidating the prospect of rock climbing may seem for some, especially among formations as otherwordly as Halong Bay’s, the experience we’re promoting is accessible to anyone," said Onslo Carrington. "If you can walk up a flight of stairs, you can climb!"
On Cat Ba Island, Slo Pony leads trekkers through Butterfly Valley in the National Park. Here the experience is less predictable but serendipitous with waterfalls, exotic wildlife, rainbows and spectacular views. On the bay itself, Slo Pony’s kayak guides steer Emeraude passengers to deserted beaches and in and out of myriad lagoons.
"As a destination, Halong Bay is one of the most amazing backdrops to an adventure, and always has been," said Walter. "But we’ve always thought it’s more than a backdrop. What we want to do is put these karsts in the foreground of everyone’s memory of Halong Bay."
Halong Bay assumed a prominent spot on the world stage in 1994 after UNESCO inscribed its 1,600 islands and islets on the World Heritage List . But even among the select company of UNESCO’s natural wonderlands, Halong Bay is a standout. As one of 28 finalists in the New7Wonders of Nature, the bay itself is now in the running for a spot as one of the select seven. At present, Halong Bay ranks fifth in the voting for this designation.
Launched in 2003, the Emeraude is a near-replica of the eponymous stern wheeler that plied these same waters between 1906 and its wreck in 1937. The modern vessel accommodates 74 passengers in 12 superior cabins, 22 deluxe cabins and three suites.
Until this month, the Emeraude’s Halong Bay excursion was a two-day / one-night cruise, calling on limestone karst islands hollowed out by wondrous grottos.
For those passengers in the soft adventure program, a Slo Pony tender retrieves climbers, kayakers and trekkers at 9am.
After a day on the bay, adventurers return to the Emeraude before dinner, and just in time for a nightly showing of the French epic, Indochine, part of which was filmed in Halong Bay.
ABOUT THE EMERAUDE: The 2003-built vessel evokes the romance of the nautical age with classic architecture, polished wooden floors, beadboard wainscoting and brass fixtures. Its spacious onboard restaurant specializes in western fare and freshly caught seafood. Each cabin features outdoor seating, as does the commodious sun-deck.
Emeraude Classic Cruises is owned and operated by The Apple Tree Group, a French-owned, Ho Chi Minh City-based company with interests in tourism and hospitality, real estate and construction and import and distribution all over Southeast Asia. Its hospitality properties also include La Residence Hotel & Spa in Hue and the Press Club in Hanoi, as well as the Kamu Lodge on the Mekong River near Luang Prabang, the Villa Maly, a boutique hotel in Luang Prabang and the Nava Mekong, a dinner cruise on the Mekong.
For cruise reservations, contact Emeraude Classic Cruises at (84 4) 3.934.0888 or mail to: email@example.com.