Aboard the Emperor’s Boat – “An Opulent Day Cruise on Nha Trang Bay”
In an effort to re-imagine the cruise experience, and offer something different to the thousands of tourists who sail on Nha Trang Bay each day, Emperor Cruises has truly set the standard. Inspired by the lavish lifestyle of Emperor Bao Dai, the last Emperor of Vietnam, the stunning boat is designed to reflect the style of the 1930’s aristocracy. This is a place for the most sophisticated of travelers to enjoy Vietnamese culture, history and gourmet cuisine, where royal glamor and heritage combine to create the epitome of elegance.
The morning begins at the port, where guests are greeted and welcomed aboard with a traditional drum beat. The boat is magnificently decked out in a style befitting an Emperor. Ornate wooden furniture is present throughout, and the walls adorned with colorful oil paintings from internationally famous Vietnamese artist, Pham Luc. As the boat sets out, one can see the islands in the distance, and it glides easily through calm seas as it heads towards the first stop at Hon Mieu Island. A speedboat takes the guests on the short, calm ride over to the island which has some 3000 inhabitants.
Despite all the modern advances seen in Nha Trang City, the locals here still have no access to clean running water, and it must be ferried in each day for consumption. It is however, a thriving community made up of generational fishing families. A forty minute tour begins where you can meet the locals and watch them at work making the iconic ‘basket boats’ used to get around the island’s waters.
Just off the harbor lies numerous floating sea farms that cultivate a variety of marine delicacies which are sold to mainland restaurants. Arriving in traditional style, you jump into one of the coracle ‘basket boats’ to be ferried across to the platforms. Each ‘farm’ is home to a colorful assortment of creatures including Moray Eels, Crabs, Lobster, Grouper, Stingrays and Black Kingfish (Cobia) each in various stages of development. A group of young ladies are busy at work creating the hundreds of nets that are used to catch and contain the fish, and they happily show you their impressive weaving skills as they expertly fashion the nets. The trip to Hon Mieu is a fascinating insight into island culture in Vietnam, and as the speedboat takes you back to the Emperor Boat, you can capture some fantastic photos of the island receding into the distance.
Back aboard, the day continues, heading towards the private Bai Cau Beach. Here, privacy is the main attraction as the beach is uninhabited. The landscape is breathtaking with the white beach, turquoise waters and the cruise ship away in the distance. Sun loungers are strewn across the sand, and a small beach bar serves refreshing cocktails and drinks. Snorkeling gear is provided to allow you to head out into the shallow waters filled with a colorful array of soft corals and small fish. You can also take one of the transparent, glass-bottomed kayaks to paddle further from the shore and bask in the glorious sunshine. The island offers ample opportunity for trekking with some well defined paths travelling inland through the brush.
After all this activity, as the hunger pangs begin to take hold, the group is taken back to the boat for an incredible 9-course meal that mirrors the cuisine of the late Emperor Bao Dai. This is fine dining at its most luxurious: the backdrop of islands, the artfully designed dining room and the gentle movement of the sea all combine to create an atmosphere of pure elegance. The waiter presents each course with a brief history of its origins, and cooking methods used by the chefs to create the historical authenticity of the dish.
First up is the local delicacy, Bird’s Nest Soup. Created from the nests of the indigenous Salangange Swiftlet, it has long been considered the food of kings, and is known for its excellent health benefits. The soup is served in a ceramic pot over a flickering candle, and is both light and delicious. This is followed by entrées of a zesty, sour mango salad, rice paper rolls packed with fresh vegetables and herbs and wonderful steamed tiger prawns in coconut juice. Each serving is a delight to the senses, combining vivid colors, tastes, aromas and the textural contrasts so important in Vietnamese cuisine.
The main courses are quick to follow, and represent local ‘land and sea’ produce of crispy dragon fish, stir-fried ostrich in pepper and deep-fried squid with fish sauce. The dishes are impeccably presented, and while a 9-course meal may seem a little over-indulgent (especially with the free-flow wine), each portion is light, and not at all overwhelming. A platter of fresh, seasonal fruit and a sweet lotus soup help to complete the feast and cleanse the palette, and you can then move to the outer deck to take in the sunshine and allow the food to digest.
As the day nears completion, the boat heads back to port into the setting sun. This is a perfect time to lay back on a lounge on the top sun deck and reflect on the day’s experience. Consider the age-old term, “Fit for a King”. You have just experienced a day in the footsteps of the Emperor himself!