by James Ruggia
Last updated: 4:00 PM ET, Tue January 27, 2015
PHOTO: A familiar sight is returning to Vietnam's Halong Bay. (Courtesy of Emeraude Halong Bay)
One of the most familiar sights on Vietnam's Halong Bay is getting ready to return after completing a major, three-year overhaul. The 37-cabin Emeraude, the first luxury cruiser on the bay, was acquired by a Hanoi-based investment firm, Openasia. Though now owned by Openasia, the ship will continue to be managed by the same team. In fact, Kurt Walter continues on as general manager after more than 10 years of running the ship. Openasia moved the vessel's dock to Hon Gai and opened the Emeraude Cafe as a point of embarkation.
UNESCO-rated Halong Bay, famous for its scenic cruises past thousands of majestic limestone karsts and small islands, has been a staple of American travel to Vietnam since Americans began going as tourists in the early 1990s. In 2011, the same year the bay was named one of the "New Seven Wonders of the World," there was a ship sinking that led to new safety regulations and standards on the bay.
Now all vessels must have fire-fighting systems, GPS and other more sophisticated accident prevention measures. Work just began on a modern four-lane bridge that will cut the distance from Hanoi to Halong Bay from about 100 miles to about 70 miles.
Launched in 2003, the Emeraude replicates a historic stern paddle wheeler that plied these same waters between 1906 and 1937. The refurbishment of the new Emeraude is thorough. The baths, for instance, were reduced to their infrastructural base and completely recreated with rain shower heads, new sinks, and repositioned toilets, and were completely redecorated. All cabins have also been stripped back to basics and redesigned with new beds, new wall coverings and new linens.
When it sails again in April, the Emeraude will add new experiences to the program including a bamboo boat passage through Luon Grotto. The 60-meter long, four-meter wide passage slips the ship's rowboat into an enclosed salt water lake surrounded by towering limestone cliffs. The Emeraude will continue to call on Surprise Grotto on the first day of its itinerary.
Openasia, which has made tourism in Vietnam one of its favorite investment arenas, also took charge of The Press Club Hanoi. First opened in 1997, the Press Club recently hired a new executive chef, new food and beverage staff and will renovate the club between May and August.
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