Halong Bay, Vietnam, 27.01.2020 – History
One of the newest additions to luxury cruising in Lan Ha Bay, Indochine Cruise, has been a project in the making for the past two decades. Indochine Cruise is a part of Indochina Sails, a highly respected cruise company with a legacy beginning during the birth of tourism in Halong Bay. Its mother company, the Huong Hai Group, has over 20 years of experience in this incredible corner of Vietnam and was the first to revolutionise itineraries with overnight cruising.
In 2007, Indochina Sails introduced luxury cruising to Halong Bay with its ground-breaking vessel of the same name. The Valentine Cruise was launched in the same year as a 5-cabin ship, while the Valentine Premium’s 2-cabin ship set sail in 2010, taking Hollywood megastars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie along for the ride.
The experience gained by the long-running services of Indochina Sails and the Huong Hai Group led, in 2019, to the introduction of a new cruise tailored on feedback received from customers. As a result, Indochine Cruise is a cruise designed by passengers, one that encapsulates the artistic period of Vietnamese history throughout its evocative colonial era.
Mission and Philosophy
With Indochine Cruise, Indochina Sails envisioned a vintage-style vessel as a floating embodiment of the company’s philosophy. The focus on the passenger has been ever-present throughout Indochine Cruise’s journey from planning to sailing; hundreds of reviews were read to determine exactly how the new cruise should operate, then both the onboard and offboard experiences were tailored accordingly.
One key area of this was the staff. Indochine Cruise selected staff with huge amounts of experience in Halong Bay and proven credentials in a luxury setting, starting with a dependable captain and team of engineers and ending with the guide, housekeeping, kitchen and hospitality staff. Each member of staff carries a passion for Halong Bay and the desire to help passengers fully immerse themselves in their homeland.
This is part of the Indochina Sails philosophy: to show passengers the natural beauty of Halong in a manner befitting its tranquillity. To this end, Indochine Cruise sails the lesser known route of Lan Ha Bay, which takes in the majesty of tree-topped mountains across a much quieter landscape. The beaches, islands, villages and shimmering waters of Lan Ha display their beauty along cruise paths visited by far fewer tourist ships.
It is this sanctity of Lan Ha Bay that inspired Indochine Cruise to adopt an eco-friendly and responsible attitude to its cruising. Paper straws and refillable water bottles are used throughout the cruise, as is Japanese technology that ensures the 100% safe disposal of wastewater into the sea. The locals of Viet Hai, one of the villages featured on the Indochine Cruise itinerary, benefit from visiting passengers in both a financial sense and as a way to preserve their antique culture.
From the very start, Indochine Cruise had a vivid identity that set it apart from other cruises in the Halong region. Its style is forever tied to Vietnam’s colonial period; the late 18th and early 19th century rule of the French over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, when art and aesthetic took a distinctively European turn. The unique blending of colonial French and feudal Vietnamese motifs finds a perfect marriage on board Indochine Cruise and governs the design of the boat across all of its rooms.
This starts first and foremost in the cabins, where large spaces are adorned in the grandeur of Indochina. Burnished wooden furniture and decorative touches in the antique telephone and table fan add a sense of European luxury to each cabin, topped off by a gorgeous en suite bathroom and a private balcony decked with comfortable chairs.
Outside of the cabins, the colonial French aesthetic is continued across corridors decked with Indochinese artwork and crowned by the majestic central staircase rising up through three decks. Above this lies the sundeck, an exquisite open space evoking a wide French avenue through arched lampposts, potted plants and decorative handrails.
Perhaps the best embodiment of Vietnam’s colonial era is found in the Cochinchine Lounge. This is a huge area furnished with chairs and sofas in a sultry tone, then highlighted by colourful throws to match the vibrancy of its floral motifs. Such motifs are found at the accompanying bar as well as in the curtains, each of which displays a unique work of embroidery in the image of Vietnam’s national flower – the lotus.
Culture and Landscape
Despite its allusion to a bygone French era, Indochine Cruise remains proudly Vietnamese in its design and itinerary. Strong Vietnamese themes find a home amongst those of colonial French, with several of the materials used and the crafts employed being of staunchly Vietnamese origin.
Ceramic, for example, graces the communal areas of the ship in varying fashion. Beautiful pieces of ceramic feature prominently in the Cochinchine Lounge on a central display cabinet, as well as in the Tonkin Restaurant. Each individual piece comes handcrafted from Bat Trang, a village near to Hanoi with a long tradition of artisan pottery-making.
Likewise, embroidery across the unique curtains and cushions comes from Van Phuc village, located just south of Hanoi. These handstitched patterns can be found most notably in the cabins, right alongside one of the defining features of Indochine Cruise. The lacquer artwork stretching from the head of the bed and across the ceiling is a unique addition to Halong cruising and is sourced from Ha Thai village, where families have been engaged in this art medium for the past few centuries.
The proud local nature of Indochine Cruise’s décor is matched by the splendour of its home. Lan Ha Bay is a Vietnamese seascape with instances of the country’s culture flecked throughout, most notably in its villages, which can be found both at sea and on land. Both villages feature in a distinctive itinerary that offers passengers a choice between the two for their first activity.
Van Boi floating village represents the village at sea, as well as a way of life that is highly unique to Vietnam. The vibrant houses that comprise Van Boi are attached to floating rafts buoyed by large drums, sitting beside vast mountain ranges and amongst fish-filled waters. Alternatively, passengers can opt to take a shuttle bus or bicycle along the sea-lined road to Viet Hai village, where the rustic beauty of Cat Ba Island becomes most apparent. This is an ancient village where many aspects of life still operate as they did hundreds of years ago, with rice farming, ox-ploughing and construction from hardened mud.
However, one of the most engaging ways for passengers to absorb Vietnamese culture is at mealtime on Indochine Cruise. Vietnamese food is world renowned and is featured heavily amongst the ship’s breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, presented in the forms of phở, spring rolls and some of the delectable seafood of Halong.
Though Indochine Cruise is patriotic in its championing of Vietnam, it is also a 5-star cruise of definitively international standards. The pearl white of the ship’s exterior and the burnished brown of its handrails show this beautifully, but it is the luxurious rooms and amenities within that exude its strongest aura of opulence.
Again, this starts in the cabins, which are amongst the largest offerings across Halong with sizes from 32 to 80m2. Cabins are centred around a large king-sized bed or two highly comfortable twins, with a widescreen TV in front and a cushioned sofa to the side. A furnished balcony in every cabin offers another way to experience the fresh atmosphere of the bay, while a freestanding bathtub, gold-flecked rainfall shower and dual vessel sinks complete a stunning bathroom.
Beyond the cabins, further luxury can be sought in the Jacuzzi area, which occupies a light-flooded conservatory behind the lounge. This communal pool has space for 10 people and is the perfect place to sit back with a drink from the international selection at the bar. The luxury continues upstairs amongst the wicker sofas of the sundeck and the magnificence of the Sky Bar; a round bar hewn from stone and fitted with enchanting LED lights.
Herein lies the appeal of Indochine Cruise; a local ship set to lofty international standards. Its unison design of French with Vietnamese and local with luxury has resulted in a truly unique cruise in Lan Ha Bay; one sure to appeal to potential passengers looking to escape the norm in Halong cruising