Descending dragons and 1,000 cascading pearls – the legend that surrounds the creation of majestic Halong Bay suggest drama, beauty, and enchantment. And although the legend may have little more substance than the ribbons of mist which descend here at dawn the drama, beauty and enchantment are VERY real.
Why We Choose Vietnam To Shoot Our Newest Advertisements?
I have arrived at this UNESCO World Heritage Site along with a group of photographers; our mission is to capture a series of videos and photos which will best represent the guiding purpose of Windstar for a new advertisement campaign.
“This purpose is on laying before travelers a joy in the simple things in life – the whole liberally colored with culture-rich experiences, living connections to the past and firsthand experiences of the timeless traditions which contribute to making a place special.”
Vietnam embodies for us our spirit of travel and is a destination which easily showcases the Windstar philosophy of embracing a different direction. We strive to reveal adventures of the authentic local kind to our guests by visiting small ports and destinations off the beaten path. Vietnam has proved so popular with our guests that we will be continuing to travel its waters in 2019 on the Icons of Southeast Asia itinerary.
Limestone Islands of The Halong Bay
The Halong Bay scene before us now has each of us in its thrall. The ‘pearls’ of the legend are in fact a series of limestone islands sculpted into strange shapes, rising sheer and sentinel-like from waters the color of emeralds. Most appear to be sprouting a hairstyle of lush tropical greenery. The fantasy film-like scene has the photographers exchanging contented smiles … smiles which say making Halong Bay look spectacular in photographs is going to be a walk in the park. Anxious to get into this natural wonderland we leave the Halong Bay shores.
I had thought my first glimpses of this destination unbeatable, but out on the water, it is like being transported to another world … especially when that transportation is by traditional sampan. This is how our guests will get to explore some of the bay’s more secret parts after anchoring overnight on Star Legend in Halong Bay.
Windstar offers its guests two different shore excursions to explore Halong Bay. One is a 4-hour sailing boat trip which weaves its graceful way among the sheer cliffs, dramatic rock arches and secret coves of the islands with their fantastical names such as Heavenly Gate, Tea Pot Rock, and Devil’s Face and on to the spectacular Thien Cung Cave with its legends of princes and maidens. After climbing a series of 180 steps (so comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen and a hat are a must) the entrance of the cave opens out to a vast, creatively lit natural grotto full of stalactites and stalagmites which is justifiably touted as Halong Bay’s most beautiful cave.
Windstar’s second Halong Bay excursion option gets you up into the air with a bird’s-eye view by seaplane. A 25-minute scenic flight meanders over this magnificent landscape of limestone pillars and sparkling green ocean, allowing a breathtakingly memorable and totally different perspective. From above the unique and Mother Nature-sculpted shape of each island becomes more obvious, firing the imagination and bringing the legends of Halong Bay to vibrant life.
As we now head out to one of Windstar’s off-the-beaten-path places I am reminded of the wise words which tell us to focus on the journey and not the destination. This particular journey is spellbinding.
We pass picturesque junks with their towering sails and other sampans, gliding low in the water, their standing rowers clad in conical coolie hats to protect them from the beating sun. With occasional glimpses of secret white-sand beaches at the bases of the limestone towers and the whole suffused with an air of the decidedly exotic, we arrive in waters where few boats venture and the fishing village of Vung Vieng. This isolated and fascinating place is a prime example of Windstar’s 180 degrees from ordinary pledge to our guests because this is no ordinary village. Vung Vieng sits anchored amid the lime and spring-leaf green waters – one of Halong Bay’s floating villages.
Authentic Experiences in HoiAn
Continuing our Vietnamese odyssey, we arrive in yet another World Heritage listed site – the ancient spice-trade port of Hoi An. We are beginning to learn that Vietnam is a very special destination and HoiAn, it would appear, is intent on reminding us of that fact. As we wander in search of photo opportunities the beautifully preserved Chinese-style merchant houses, the gorgeous Thu Bon River waterfront with its 400-year-old Japanese bridge and bobbing boats along with buildings festooned with flowers leave us spoiled for choice.
Atmospheric temples, colorful boutiques, welcoming cafés and enticing galleries can all be found on strolling the labyrinths of back streets. Whether relaxing with a coffee and watching the world go by, bargaining at the lively markets or making a purchase or two to take back to the ship – the timeless ambiance of HoiAn is waiting to be discovered by Windstar’s guests during their leisure time.
As part of the Windstar itinerary for HoiAn involves exploration of the vibrant markets and a regional food discovery with the ship’s chef. We decided to do a little culinary pre-sampling of our own. During a break in snapping the breathtaking scenery, we have our first taste of egg coffee. Since it is such a famous Vietnamese drink, I felt somewhat obliged to give it a go although admittedly dubious. However, hooked from the first sip, I am now more than a little addicted to this hot sweet, vanilla-y specialty. Lunch gave me another addition to my new favorite food and drink list – cao lau; a noodle dish which is all HoiAn’s own.
As the sun sets on this beautifully preserved town which appears to be so frozen in time, I head off for a meander. There is a dream-like quality to HoiAn after dark, created principally by its swaying lanterns and softly-twinkling colored lights. Lanterns – many of them exquisitely decorated – are the signature here with a monthly lantern festival and the almost nightly tradition of floating lit lanterns down the town’s river; a moving and magical sight.
Get Close To UNESCO World Heritage Site Of My Son
The final stop on our Vietnamese photo gathering tour brings us to the highly evocative Champa ruins of My Son, once the most important city in the Champa Kingdom and the favored final resting place of Cham royalty.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site which dates from the 4th century is one of the stops, along with HoiAn, which is included on a 9-hour excursion possible while overnighting in Da Nang. A 90- minute coach journey takes our guests past swathes of lush green paddy fields and bustling market towns to the ancient and tranquil ruins of My Son – considered one of the foremost Hindu temple complexes in the whole of Southeast Asia.
At My Son – and as is so often the case with enigmatic places which emanate mysticism and an indefinable something – photographs cannot tell the whole story. The moss-speckled ruined Hindu temples and crumbling façades here are full of echoes, whispered secrets and the faded glory of an ancient kingdom which thrived for 1,000 years.
The third destination which makes up the triple helping of World Heritage Sites which can be visited by shore excursion from Da Nang is the imperial city of Hue – once the home of Nguyen Dynasty emperors and still the spiritual heart of Vietnam. Packed with historical monuments, imperial temples and the tombs of emperors and woven about with highly photographic bridges, canals, and lakes, Hue is a deeply evocative and beautiful place to explore.
All of these unique places can be discovered by cruising Vietnam with Windstar Cruises. You can see all of the above destinations on the Icons of Southeast Asia itinerary.
But for now, for myself, photographers, producers, talent, and videographers, with our stomachs full of Vietnamese delights and data cards full of photos and videos, we take our reluctant leave of Vietnam in a way I suspect many have before us … with these words on our lips … “thank you Vietnam, we can’t wait to share you with our guests.”.
Written by Jessica Chiang, Windstar Cruises Director of Brand Communications