The Emeraude Classic Cruises in Ha Long Bay is dedicated to ushering guests through some of the world's most wondrous scenery on a vessel that maintains the strictest safety standards.
Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular travel destination, located in Quang Ninh province, 165 km from Hanoi. Covering 43,400 ha and including over 1,600 islands and islets, most of which are uninhabited and unaffected by human presence, it forms a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars and is an ideal model of a mature karst landscape developed during a warm and wet tropical climate.
The outstanding value of the area is centred on the Bay’s limestone karsts landforms, displaying spectacular pillars with a variety of coastal erosion features such as arches and caves that form majestic natural scenery. The repeated regression and transgression of the sea on the limestone karsts over time has produced a mature landscape of clusters of conical peaks and isolated towers that have been modified by sea invasion, adding an extra element to the process of lateral undercutting of the limestone towers and islands.
In 1999 a young French entrepreneur, Eric Merlin, was rummaging in the St Ouen flea market in Paris, looking - as was his habit - for anything old with links to Vietnam and Indochina. On this day he found three postcards, dated 1916, 1917 and 1919. Two pictured paddle steamers in Ha Long Bay, while a third showed a steamer at port in nearby Hai Phong. A magnifying glass revealed the name of one of the vessels, the “Emeraude”.
For some time the cards lay on Eric’s desk in Paris. From time to time he took them out and showed them to friends. He dreamed of finding the old vessels. Later, as such prospects dimmed, a new dream took sail. He’d rebuild one of the old paddle steamers. The vision was far more than mere homage. He planned to launch the boat on Ha Long Bay. Realisation would conjure up not just a much missed means of transport but a lost era of glamour, romance and discovery.
In January 2003, with postcards as the only guide, he commissioned boat builders to bring back the Emeraude. For Eric, however, it was not quite the end of the story. He and his brother Jean-Marc continue to develop business in Vietnam and across Southeast Asia. From scratch they’ve built up a portfolio of businesses in the Apple Tree Group that now employs over 2,000 people.
Every day the Emeraude journeys through one of the world’s most dazzling natural wonders and into the sepia realm of a dream. Its air-conditioned cabins, en-suite bathrooms, award-winning cuisine and spacious deck space set the stage for the voyage of a lifetime. “While most of the boats in the bay offer an aesthetic experience that celebrates the junk sailing vessel, we at Emeraude Classic Cruises steer a near-replica of a paddle-wheeler,” said Mr Kurt Walter, Group General Manager of Apple Tree Group Hospitality. “We like the junks, too! We think they’re great to look at from afar … from the deck of the Emeraude.”
The Emeraude accommodates 74 passengers in four standard cabins, eight superior cabins, 22 deluxe cabins and three suites. The new bathrooms feature rain shower heads, new sinks, repositioned toilets and an aesthetic makeover that trades in the old school nautical feel for softer mosaics. New wallpaper adorns the cabin walls, new mattresses cover the bedsteads, and new linens drape the mattresses.
The vessel evokes the romance of the nautical age with classic architecture, polished wooden floors and beadboard wainscoting. The restaurant specialises in western fare and freshly caught seafood. Each cabin features outdoor seating, as does the sun-deck up top where the crew screens a movie nightly. The company went to great lengths to ensure that it had as much outdoor deck space as possible.
The executive chef at the Press Club, Marcel Isaak, is the executive chef on the Emeraude. Marcel has been cooking in Vietnam since the 1990s. His menus combine the best of the East and the West. “Travellers come to us who want a comfortable perch from which to view the wonders of the bay, and who want to be seduced by the boat’s colonial-era ambiance,” Mr Walter said. “In the beginning, Europeans flocked to our berths, but over the past several years we now see more and more Asians booking passage.”
On an Emeraude Cruise, kayaking and swimming are first and foremost activities that guests can join. Caving and hiking the Titov Islands are also popular among all guests. “But we’ll go way out on a limb here and recommend the number one recreational pursuit: reading,” Mr Walter said. “That way, sitting on a deck chair with a book in your lap, you’ll be in perfect position to see the karsts.”
From the perspective of a new investor, a broad environmental scan is critical before decisions can be made. That includes buying power, substitutes and suppliers among other criteria for specific market segments. The presence of Emeraude on Ha Long Bay is one of the benchmarks in luring more travellers. “We will continue to upgrade our rooms during the wet-docking period,” said Mr Walter. “We expect to finish another eight rooms this spring.”
Hotels & resorts in brief