We sailed past a milestone earlier this month at Emeraude Classic Cruises, when we celebrated our 10th year anniversary as one of Vietnam’s most distinctive travel experiences.
There are not many people anywhere who will be able to picture the dramatic progress Vietnam’s tourism industry has made over the past decade, but suffice to say a lot has changed. The greatest evidence of the bay’s growing renown among international tourists was its inclusion as one of the New 7Wonders of Nature in late 2011. Who would’ve thought that this little-known corner of Vietnam would one day feature on the bucket lists of travelers from all over the world?
In fairness, we had an inkling.
It all began on a crisp December morning in 2003, when the Emeraude’s first cruise departed the port in Halong City. The vessel was unlike any other on the waters that morning. Its old-world appeal was anchored in the history of its namesake: a French-owned paddlewheel steamer that plied the bay between 1906 and 1937.
The Emeraude debuted with 34 colonial-inspired cabins and one Paul Roque Suite. Its French captain, world-class instruments and adherence to international maritime standards set a new precedent for safety in the bay.
Half a year after its launch, the Emeraude introduced Vietnam to the joys of glamorous caving, with its annual black-tie Wine & Dine Cruise Classic, now also in its 10th year. Our mid-May overnight cruise and culinary extravaganza is attended by some of the country’s most noted figures and is still the only annual wine dinner in Vietnam that continually makes waves in the local and international press.
By 2008, we’d added two new suites--the Emeraude Suite and the Captain’s Suite--to offer prime lounging space and an additional element of privacy for the ship’s growing roster of VIP passengers, who now included the likes of US Senator John McCain, and five other US senators.
In June 2012 the ship underwent its most extensive refurbishment to date, with renovations to its deluxe and superior cabins, the installation of fresh furnishings, wall coverings and light fixtures, and a complete redesign to its bathrooms. For the first time since its launch, the revived Emeraude set sail with a seasoned Vietnamese captain at the helm: Captain Nguyen Van Quan.
On the eve of our 10th year anniversary, we published a 112-page book by author Pam Scott with research by entrepreneur Eric Merlin. The volume, titled ‘Jewels of Halong Bay’, chronicles Merlin’s discovery of a vintage postcard in a Paris flea market in 1999, the story of the Roque brothers who made a fortune in colonial Indochina, and the resurrection of the Emeraude as a living piece of French-Vietnamese history.
Looking back from now to 2003, so much has changed in Halong, yet there is still nothing out there quite like the Emeraude. The best part of the Emeraude’s remarkable legacy is that it’s not simply a thing of the past: it’s written every day we cast off from the shore, every time a new traveler is introduced to the wonders of this spectacular destination.