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Vietnam’s Sea of the Dragons: Halong Bay on Heritage Line’s Jasmine Cruise

Vietnam is a beautiful destination with a natural beauty like no other place in the world. Vietnam’s natural treasure is Halong Bay, an azure  bay dotted with hundreds of conical limestone islands.  One of the best ways to fully experience the area is with a luxury two day journey on the  Jasmine luxury cruise from the Heritage Line Cruises.

Halong Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site. It has been a beauty to behold for a thousand years before UNESCO came to admire it.  Ha Long means ” descending dragon ” in the Sino-Vietnamese language, and when the first inhabitants gazed upon this majestic cluster of conical peaks they believed it was created by dragons sent from the gods. These dragons spat out jewels and jade into the sea which grew into sharp islands in order to protect the local people from invaders.

That explanation is quite feasible when looking at the limestone peaks that seem to jut out of the sea like spikes or canine teeth. Each of the islands is unique with some being small specks above the waterline and others large land masses. Only a few of the 1900 islands are inhabited with about 1500 people who live in four fishing villages.  Many of the islands have unique attractions such as caves, wonderful beaches, or lookout points.

Throughout the bay, boats of varying sizes dart by with other tourists gawking at the towering outcrops or exploring the grottoes around the islets. The Jasmine is the grand dame of the traditional wooden ships and is graceful and elegant as it crisscrosses the bay.

The ship was built in the style of a traditional Vietnamese junk, with three tawny sails and dark wood-cladding. The craftsmanship on these traditional ships is wonderful with the wood panel carvings of animals, flowers and other ornate patterns.  The details and style of the ship gives it the refined air of an Indochina-era sailing ship.

On board it never feels crowded and there are plenty of spaces to spread out. On the second deck there is a sitting area with board games with an adjacent bar area. On the deck there are wide open spaces to have meals or a coffee while taking in the fresh air and incredible views. There is a huge sundeck on the top for sun bathing on chaise longues. For the early risers in the group, there are also Tai Chi classes held there each morning.

There are 23 cabins on board. The deluxe rooms are comfortable in size with rich wood panelling, a queen size bed and en-suite bathroom with shower. The Junior Suites are even larger with a Jacuzzi bath as well.   All have large French doors and windows letting in the sunlight as well as panoramic outdoor views.

The dining experience is delightful as well. In the dining room there is a buffet for breakfast and lunch with all kinds of exotic local dishes as well as traditional western offerings. Guests can choose to dine in the wide open dining area or alfresco on the terrace.

The restaurant hosts a Seafood BBQ night with an outdoor grill firing up fish, shrimp, lobster and steaks. The tables are spread out and couples can choose to dine alone or join another couple for interesting dinner conversation.

During the first part of the trip guests are just agog and fascinated about being amongst these incredible formations. After they settle in they will be ready to explore and see more of the sites and the islands up close and personal.

There are wonderful excursions available including kayaking, swimming and other options. Our first group excursion was to visit one of the fishing villages. We were greeted by local ladies who took us in their row boats along the bay and to a fish farm.

It was humbling to see how these people live day to day in a simpler way of life.  Along the way we saw other fishing boats, the floating homes in the village and a lady selling goods from her own floating market.

The next excursion brought us to the Tien Ong cave which saw human inhabitants from 10,000 BC. It was a massive cave with impressive stalagmites and stalactites.

Our final excursion was to Ti Top Island. This tear shaped island is probably the most popular with many of the area’s boats setting off their passengers for a visit. In addition to a few food and vending stands there is a popular beach. The main attraction is the look out.

After a vigorous hike up 400  steps, the space opens up giving 360 degree views of the bay.  The boats, other islands and the blue waters of the bay are in clear focus to allow visitors to really take in the majestic beauty of Halong Bay.

The Halong Bay cruise is something that should be on everyone’s bucket list. This spectacular seascape of limestone pillars is like no other in the world and will not be forgotten after the luggage is unpacked back home. A wonderful way to experience all that this destination has to offer is on the luxurious Jasmine ship and Heritage Line luxury cruise experience.