Neither tacky nor touristy, this is mainly for travelers looking for a boutique experience.
For more information go to aucocruises.com and use code JETSET20 for 20% off (applicable for all cruise-only packages and valid until December 20, 2019).
Suitable for: Couples, friend getaways, weddings, families with older children.
The one sight that’s on everyone’s mind when they travel to Vietnam, is the floating limestone karsts of Ha Long Bay. Legend has it that when invaders attacked Vietnam from the north, a mother dragon was sent from heaven and spat fire and jewels into the sea. These jewels turned into islands and islets that formed an invincible wall against the enemy. After defeating the intruders, the dragon and her children chose to stay in the sea which is how the name Ha Long (“descending dragon) came to be.
This stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site is best experienced on an overnight cruise, where you can sail among the verdant karsts scattered through shimmering turquoise waters. With literally hundreds of cruises disembarking for Ha Long Bay each day, it’s extremely difficult to choose one that ensures superior quality and comfort. The Au Co Luxury Cruise operated by Bhaya Cruises stands out for its exceptional design, exclusive itinerary and outstanding service. The Au Co is an unforgettable way to experience Ha Long Bay and we loved every moment of it from beginning to end.
The Au Co ship is beautifully designed like a classic white cruise liner with oriental details. The ship has 32 cabins with queen or twin beds, all of which have private balconies except for the grand deluxe cabins. The Au Co can accommodate a maximum of up to 64 people but typically operates at 70% capacity (45 people) on most journeys.
The rooms are luxuriously decorated to ensure maximum comfort. Most cabins feature warm tones of beige and olive green against dark teak wood floors. Only the Au Co Suite is decked out in all white walls and nautical blue. Before boarding, guests get to select between jasmine, lemongrass or rose scented oils to infuse their cabin throughout their stay. The bathrooms are elegantly designed with just as much detail to make sure guests don’t lack anything during their stay. Each bathroom features a mirror, standing rain shower, towels, bath mats and all the toiletries you would ever need. Those who are lucky enough to stay in the Au Co or Long Quan Suites will get a full bathtub as well. The suites also feature a spacious private terrace where guests can take in the marvelous views at all hours of the day. Every room comes with a kettle, French press coffeemaker, coffee, tea, mini-bar and complimentary bottled water throughout the cruise.
The common areas include a bar, sundeck, dining room, library and spa. The spa has an outdoor Jacuzzi (with more lukewarm than boiling hot temperatures) which guests can reserve for private use at no extra cost. No matter where you are on the ship, you’ll be greeted with up-close views of lush limestone karsts and turquoise green waters. Every part is designed with elegance and sophistication featuring many places to lounge, so that guests can relax and unwind at every moment aboard the Au Co.
Personally, this was my very first time on a cruise. I always assumed cruises were tacky and touristy, but this was definitely not the case with the Au Co. The small number of passengers, mostly couples aged anywhere between 25-70, plus a few friend groups, creates a boutique experience that doesn’t feel forced or lame. Everything from the ship to the cuisine and the excursions, is designed to enhance guests’ experience and understanding of the intricate seascapes.
Cruise ships in Ha Long Bay are not allowed to sail into Lan Ha Bay and vice versa. But Bhaya Cruises is the only cruise operator that has permission to do so, thanks to the company’s activism in Cat Ba Island. Bhaya Cruises has a foundation to save the Cat Ba langur, a highly endangered species of which less than 100 currently survive. The company also works with Viet Hai village to provide economic support, farming and educational supplies, as well as hospitality jobs to local people in the farming community. The exclusive itinerary which features both Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay makes it worth booking with Bhaya Cruises, as the only cruise company that can take guests through both bays.
As an artfully curated experience with an authentic sense of place, the Au Co Luxury Cruise is a must for anyone looking to fully immerse themselves in the beauty of Ha Long bay.
Dining on the Au Co focuses on traditional Vietnamese cuisine with creative, multi-cultural reinterpretations. The five-course meals are the most exciting part, as each dish is beautifully presented featuring the freshest ingredients, some of which is sourced from Bhaya’s community farm in Viet Hai village. The ever-changing menu includes colorful dishes such as Dragonfruit Salad with Scallops, Braised Beef with Five-Spice, Grilled Prawns with Wasabi Mashed Potatoes and Mango Moneybag Crepes with Vanilla Ice Cream.
The buffet breakfast is also a colorful affair featuring Western and Vietnamese items, plus an omelet and noodle bar. On the last night, a festive BBQ buffet dinner takes place with the ship’s staff. Guests can indulge in an unlimited amount of sizzling mussels, tiger prawns, steak filets, squid and chicken.
A full-bar is available to guests throughout the cruise and during meal times. Everything from beers, wines and cocktails are very reasonably priced, with daily buy-one-get-one-free happy hours from 5:30-6:30.
The excursions were the part I was most wary of, as most cruise ships dump passengers in crowded tourist attractions from what I understand. It was a relief to find out that all excursions on the Au Co are exclusive to Bhaya Cruises and its passengers. Over three days, the cruise takes guests to remote locations throughout Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island that are both culturally engaging and breathtaking.
The first day’s excursions include a short tour of Tien Ong Cave, an imposing archaeological site on an island in Ha Long bay, and then a boat ride through Cua Van Fishermen Village. Cua Van is an extremely isolated site that guests wouldn’t be able to access otherwise on their own. The few remaining inhabitants living in floating villages lead very self-sufficient lives, with their own group traditions preserved throughout many generations.
The second day starts with a bright-and-early bike ride through Cat Ba Island, through lush mountains to Viet Hai Village. There, passengers learn all about the development of the farming village and Bhaya’s work in helping local communities and wild life on Cat Ba Island. After lunch, passengers have the option of kayaking through limestone caves in Lan Ha Bay, then swimming at a beach on a remote island.
The Au Co offers optional on-board activities before and after meal times for guests to pass the time. There’s tai chi on the sundeck in the morning, for those who are capable for rising at 6:15 in time for sunrise. Pre-dinner activities include a cooking demonstration by the ship’s chefs and touring the engine room to learn about the mechanics of the ship. Evening activities include late-night squid fishing, fruit carving lessons and enjoying the ship’s outdoor cinema.
- Bottled drinking water throughout duration of stay.
- Tea & coffee maker in cabins.
- Personal toiletries including shampoo, conditioner, body wash, towels, vanity kits, dental kits.
- Spa treatments for singles or couples.
- Outdoor Jacuzzi available for booking at no extra charge.
- Two five-course lunches.
- One five-course dinner.
- One BBQ buffet dinner.
- Two buffet breakfasts.
*There is a typo at 3:42 and 4:03 in the video. The correct spelling is Cua Van Fishermen Village, not Cua Ban Floating Fishing Village.*