Owned by the French Roque family, the original Emeraude was one of a small flotilla of paddle steamers that cruised Ha Long Bay in the early part of the 20th century. Although the Emeraude of today is not an exact replica, it recreates the grace and grandeur of the expatriate French upper classes during the Colonial period almost to perfection.
Built from the original marine engineer's drawings, the Emeraude has three decks. Two contain 38 cabins and a suite, as well as an excellent restaurant. The upper deck has a sundeck and a covered area with a bar.
The cabins are necessarily small, but each has large comfortable twin or double beds, unobtrusive controllable air-conditioning, a washbasin, and a small en-suite toilet and shower.
The single suite is located towards the bow - it's larger and has a splendid forward view. All cabins and the restaurant are rich with period fittings, hardwood block floors, and high-quality furniture and soft furnishings.
Lunch, dinner and breakfast are served on board. The restaurant is a gem, and the food is excellent. Served buffet-style, the dishes include fresh Ha Long seafood (reputedly the best in Vietnam), French charcuterie, salads and patisserie, Vietnamese cuisine and Indonesian specialities. All are well prepared and presented.The wine list is surprisingly comprehensive, given the limitations of space.
All meals are included, but not beverages. However, prices are not excessive. Service is friendly and very efficient.
The Emeraude is a classic cruise ship, not a sightseeing ferry. It sails at noon, and returns to the pier at 10.00 the following day.
The boat makes only one short stop to visit one of the Bay's caves, and that's optional - you can choose swimming and/or kayaking (at extra cost) instead. The rest of the time, apart from anchoring for the night, the boat cruises smoothly and almost silently between the rocky islands.
A cruise on the Emeraude isn't cheap, but comparing it with the cost of a hotel at an equivalent standard, three first-class meals and ten hours cruising, it's very good value.