100 years ago, the king of ships Bach Thai Buoi launched the first steamship in 1919 at Cua Cam, Hai Phong. 100 years later, Pham Ha – Founder and CEO of LuxGroup, has designed and built a new Made in Vietnam cruise ship named Heritage Binh Chuan, also located in Hai Phong.
Entrepreneur Bach Thai Buoi came up with the business philosophy of “Vietnamese people use Vietnamese products” and “People travel on our ships.” Following the ideas of the ship king Bach Thai Buoi, CEO Pham Ha has drawn many experiences and valuable lessons from predecessors and applied them in his career in business management, leadership art, delegation of power, and utilizing human resources effectively. The business philosophy of Bach Thai Buoi has been carried on by Pham Ha through initiatives such as “Vietnamese people travel in Vietnam” during the three years of the Covid-19 pandemic.
With permission from the family, Pham Ha cast a bronze statue of the ship king Bach Thai Buoi, placing it prominently on the Heritage Binh Chuan cruise ship (photo provided by Lux Group).
Heritage Binh Chuan carries a mission: “A ship becomes a heritage that transports travellers to seek dreams, imagination, and explore natural heritage,” as historian Duong Trung Quoc once said.
The space on the Heritage Binh Chuan cruise ship is designed to be cozy and filled with historical stories and cultural heritage, from photographs, paintings, architecture to the arrangement of musical instruments… and the cuisine, which includes dishes that reflect the cultural characteristics of the Red River Delta combined with European-style service to elevate Vietnamese cuisine.
All these elements make domestic and international tourists remember the destination and the Binh Chuan cruise ship with its unique and distinct cultural heritage, as remarked by historian Duong Trung Quoc.
Enjoying Vietnamese cuisine and listening to stories about Vietnamese cultural heritage is an attractive experiential product for international tourists (photo provided by Lux Group).
“Vietnam possesses a rich cultural heritage, but currently, we have not transformed culture into products or what is known as the cultural industry, like other countries have done. Take South Korea as an example; they have successfully turned their cultural elements into messages or products that tourists can access and transformed them into the cultural industry, creating values beyond factories and enterprises.”
Pham Ha, Chairman of Lux Group, hopes to continue the maritime business legacy of the ship king Bach Thai Buoi.
“Vietnam, with its 54 ethnic groups and 54 different cultural identities and ways of life, each region has its own cultural values, not to mention the cultural heritage, whether natural heritage, tangible or intangible cultural heritage… that will be attractive and the soft power for us to exploit and incorporate into tourism products,” said Pham Ha, Chairman of LuxGroup, who is concerned about creating Vietnamese cultural values on tourist ships, as well as enriching the nation through the business philosophy that the ship king Bach Thai Buoi successfully implemented.
During interactions with foreign tourists, CEO Pham Ha realized that they are very interested in and curious about cultural tours and experiences, including cultural customs, festivals, traditional costumes, cuisine, architecture, etc. Therefore, he has incorporated cultural elements into his tourism products, integrating them into cruise experiences to ensure that foreign tourists can deeply and delicately experience Vietnamese culture. www.heritagecruises.com
Lux Cruises’s Heritage Cruises Binh Chuan Cat Ba Archipelago to receive TripAdvisor’s Traveller Choice Award 2023 for the second time.
Vietnam’s 5-star boutique cruise, Heritage Bình Chuẩn, has been honored with a TripAdvisor award in 2023. This prestigious recognition comes from the “TripAdvisor 2023 Travelers’ Choice” category, based on thousands of comments and reviews from travelers worldwide.
Inspired by the legendary “king of ships” Bach Thai Buoi, Heritage Bình Chuẩn (www.heritagecruises.com) was launched in 2019 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vietnam’s first ship built by renowned businessman Bach Thai Buoi. The cruise ship was meticulously designed by an art lover, resulting in an interior that exudes a sense of heritage.
Every space on the cruise ship has been utilized to provide guests with an immersive experience of art and the stunning scenery of Lan Ha Bay. Heritage Cruise embraces an Indochinese design style, drawing inspiration from the historic Bình Chuẩn ship. Along the corridors of the yacht, guests can admire photographs showcasing old Vietnam. The ship’s design maximizes natural light through skylights, arched stairs, and windows.
The cruise ship comprises four floors, with three of them housing 20 luxurious rooms of four different types, ranging in size from 33 to 48 square meters. The sundeck, located on the fourth floor, offers passengers the opportunity to recline on deck chairs and marvel at the beauty of the entire bay. The interior of the yacht features long corridors and impressive winding stairs.
At Heritage Bình Chuẩn, guests can enjoy comfort in every area, including restaurants, bars, swimming pools, reading rooms, and rooms with large windows overlooking the sea or rooms with bathing areas near the windows, providing unrestricted views of the lush Lan Ha Bay. During the two-day, one-night cruise, visitors have the chance to explore destinations like Ba Trai Dao and Bright Dark Cave, allowing them to connect with nature. Activities such as snorkeling, kayaking, and swimming are available for guests to enjoy.
Each room is equipped with two sets of Vietnamese costumes for both men and women, allowing tourists to capture memorable photos and “relive” the ambiance of the ship’s heritage. To enhance the overall experience for travelers, the staff members are dressed in 1930s attire, including four-piece dresses and scarves. The average room rates range from 500 to 700 USD per suite per night for two people. Guests can opt for maxi 3 night cruising experiences in the Gulf of Tonkin.
According to Tripadvisor.com, Traveler’s Choice to experiences and attractions with a high volume of above-and-beyond reviews and opinions from our community over a 12-month period. Each winner has passed our rigorous trust and safety standards. Fewer than 10% of Tripadvisor’s 8 million listings are awarded Traveler’s Choice, signifying the highest level of excellence in travel. www.heritagecruises.com
An exotic destination with pristine beaches, secluded lagoons, coves, tropical forest, and lakes allows you to discover the best places for kayaking, biking and hideaways.
Head out of Cat Ba Town to the entrance of the well-signposted Cannon Fort, just 15 minutes away, and take a leisurely 20-minute stroll to the fort. Take time to investigate the narrow passageways and go into the underground tunnels and rooms which were once used for storage or as sleeping quarters. The gun emplacements and enormous guns are still there, and the views across the island and sea are incredible. In one direction, are the green-clad limestone karsts stretching into the distance while the opposite side is dotted with colorful fishing boats, beaches, and the town itself.
Viet Hai village
No visit to Cat Ba is complete without a short visit, or even an overnight in Viet Hai village, a sleepy place in a valley, with high mountains as a backdrop. Despite the influx of visitors to the island, life has changed little in Viet Hai, where the locals live in thatched huts and mainly earn a living from fishing and farming, with just a few catering to the tourist trade. To reach Viet Hai take a 3-4-hour guided trek or cycle ride passing Ech (Frog) Lake, the island’s largest lake, or an hour’s boat trip from Cat Ba Town and then a 45-minute walk (or short ride by
electric car) to the village itself. Lush green paddies stretch along the valley floor and locals can be seen carrying water and produce on shoulder poles. Home-stays are possible or stay in a small, simple bungalow resort where the sound of frogs is the
only sound to break the silence at night.
CAT BA NATIONAL PARK
Cat Ba National Park was established in 1986, covers 9800ha of forest and 5400ha of marine habitat and is distinctive because of its limestone mountain range with an average height of 150m above sea level. The highest peak is Cao Vong at 322m. Adjacent to the mountains are white sand dunes, freshwater lakes and mangrove forests. The weather is pleasant throughout the year, with an average temperature of 23C and the dry season between November and April. The park is home to the largest primeval tropical forest in Vietnam with some hundreds of species of plants, including various rare trees that need to be protected. It is also home to several endangered mammals including the golden-headed langur. In the past there were thousands of these langurs on Cat Ba, but because of intensive hunting there are believed to be just a few dozen surviving. Other endangered species include the rhesus macaque, black giant squirrel, and civet cats.
Cat Ba island lies on a major migration route for waterfowl that roost in the mangrove forests. Around 70 different species of birds have been spotted here, including hawks, hornbills and cuckoos.
The details Flora
Tropical moist evergreen forest covers most of the park’s area with over 745 flora species belonging to over 123 families, including approximately 300 medical plant species. The richness of floral biodiversity here amazes visitors with its endangered plants, hundred-year-old trees, moss, lichen, and creepers. There are also regionally important habitat types including fringe coral reefs, mangrove forests, sea
grass beds, willow swamp forest and tropical limestone forest. Most of the habitats are under severe threat, especially due to encroachment. Because of these important habitats, Cat Ba was acknowledged as a World Biosphere Reserve in 2004.
Wildlife in Cat Ba National Park is plentiful with over 20 reptile and amphibian species and 32 mammal species including the golden-headed langur, which is found on Cat Ba but nowhere else in the world. Golden-headed langur live in small groups of 5-10 individuals in remote parts of theisland.
Cat Ba is an area of diverse bird species as it lies on a major migration route for waterfowl that roost in the mangrove forests. Around 70 different species have been recorded and visitors can easily spot kingfishers, sunbirds and magpies. Deeper in the forest, great hornbill and pied hornbill, the biggest bird residents in Cat Ba can be seen in pairs or alone, in the early morning or late evening.
A number of insect-eating bats live in various caves within the park, and Trung Trang Cave is most easy to access. When visiting please keep quiet so as not to scare the bats.
SUGGESTED WALKS IN CAT BA NATIONAL PARK
This is a good starting point for any route within the park as the guides can provide information and play a video about the park before visitors head off into the park. There is also a very informative Environmental Education Center from where maps can be bought.
Nature trails and points of interest
There is a nature trail network linking the headquarters and various points of interest within the park. The nature trails follow signboards or signs on tree trunks or on rocky cliffs and visitors must stay on the main paths and trails. It is recommended that walkers take a map, water and food (for some of the longer trails). Leech protection socks and insect repellent are also advised, especially during the rainy season. Long
trousers and good boots are needed at all times of year. A compass and binoculars are never a bad idea either.
Some suggested walks
1. Headquarters to Kim Giao forest.
Start from the park’s main gate, cross the zoo and botanical gardens and from the foot of the mountain go up the rocky steps, to the first intersection, and turn right to Kim Giao (a precious timber tree) forest
Terrain: easy. Distance: 1km. Walking time: 30 minutes.
2. Headquarters to Ngu Lam Peak
Start at the main gate and at the intersection, follow the main path. Cross over the Yen Ngua Peak (where the two mountains meet), turn left and keep walking to the top of the mountain. At an altitude of 210m stop to take in the view of the tropical karst forest and the sea beyond.
Distance: 1.5km. Walking time: 1 hour.
3. Headquarters to Trung Trang Cave
Start from the headquarters, walk around 1km towards Cat Ba town and a signboard for visitors is on the left side of the road. Trung Trang Cave has mysterious stalactites with amazing shapes and styles. Visitors can go through the cave and return to Headquarters. It is advised to take a torch if isiting the cave.
Distance: 3.5km. Walking time: 2 hours.
4. Headquarters to Ao Ech.
Start from behind the Headquarters and take care following the trail as the terrain is relatively hard, with lots of intersections. A newcomer may get lost without an accompanying guide. For the adventurous, this is an interesting route as it crosses hills, dense forest, and grassland.
Distance: 5km. Walking time: 2.5 hours (one way).
5. Headquarters-May Bau-Khe Sau
Start as route 4, pass May Bau Peak and continue down to the grasslands below (3km from the headquarters) and take a right-hand turn. Pass the primary school and through the limestone mountain forests and walk 2.5km along the main trail to Quan Y Cave. A lift in a pickup can be arranged from the cave.
Distance: 5.5 km. Walking time: 3 hours.
6. Headquarters-Ao Ech-Viet Hai fishing village-Lan Ha Bay.
Start as route 4 and from Ao Ech, keep walking along the main path to Viet Hai village (3 hours). A transfer by boat can be arranged to Lan Ha Bay, and from the bay to Cat Ba town (2 hours). This is a circular route, so a boat can be hired either in Cat Ba town or with the park's guides. A lunch break or an overnight at Viet Hai village are suggested for those interested in learning a little more about
local customs and culture.
7. Marine ecotourism route by boat
Start from either of the two main ports at Cat Ba town. Go through Ang Qua and Ang Vem to Lan Ha Bay, and if possible to Halong Bay. Visitors may stop at pearl cultivation spots and fish farms along the way. Short visits to the beaches at Van Boi, Cai Dua and Ba Trai Dao islands are recommended. Sailing time: 3 hours (by small boat).
Cat Ba Island
Many legends and mythologies surround the island’s name
From my vintage postcards of French Indochina, I treasure a rich collection about local life, people, landscape, townscapes and villages in the early 1930s, as well as some of the many legends and myths which have been handed down the generations. The first is the legend of the name ‘Cat Ba’, which means Island of women in Vietnamese, where, once upon a time the island used to be the realm of women who grew vegetables and supplied food to the men so that they could have the strength to fight off invaders.
Cat Ba island is also characterized by the Kim Giao tree (scientific name Nageia-fleury) whose origin is linked with an ancient legend. These species grow in Cat Ba National Park and the most notable characteristic of these species is that the wood changes color when it comes into contact with any toxic substance. Therefore, in the past, this kind of wood was often used to make chopstick for the king.
The legend surrounds a romantic love story between a talented man, Kim Ngan, and a beautiful princess, Giao Thuy. The man was poisoned by envious and sycophantic courtiers and died. The princess cried so much for her lover that she lay down by his tomb and died with grief. Afterwards, two trees grew from the tomb and local people named the species Kim Giao in their honor. Cat Ba is the largest of the 366 islands, spanning over 260 km 2, that comprise the Cat Ba Archipelago, which makes up the southeastern edge of Halong Bay, and is a new hotspot for cruises, cultural activities, heritage travelers, and holidaymakers.
The Ao Dai is the most recognizable traditional dress seen in Vietnam, and though western-style clothes are popular, this beautifully styled outfit is still worn throughout the country during Tet, at work, to weddings, and other national celebrations. Ao Dai mean “Long Dress” and is a two-piece garment. The bottom part consists of loose pants that reach the ankles. The top is a tight-fitting tunic with long sleeves and a high collar with two panels that float loosely down the front and back.
The Ao Dai is famously known to “cover everything, but hide nothing,” and it perfectly accentuates the long, lithe body possessed by Vietnamese women. On board Heritage Cruises, our in-house guests have the opportunity to try on a 1930s-stye Ao Dai, a memorable experience.
The Ao Dai has a long history which evolved over time; it can even be seen as a motif on the drums of the Dong Son, a Red River culture. Since then, both men and women have worn different variations of the Ao Dai. It has never been an official ceremonial dress but has always been used as an everyday outfit.
Now, with western fashions popular in Vietnam, the once “everyday” Ao Dai is now only worn on special occasions and by office staff in companies that require it. It has experienced a revival in recent years, and it’s extremely common now to see women navigating traffic on bicycles and motorbikes, expertly lifting the long panels away from greasy spokes and gears. Men no longer wear the garment as much as women do, confining it to traditional weddings and for photo shoots, popular with Vietnamese all over the country.
The variations in color of this unique national costume is striking: high-school girls wear white, female cabin crew on Vietnam Airlines wear red, and bank employees wear ones matching their company’s logo. It’s also quite common for older women to wear Ao Dais made of a velvety material and accentuated with a rope of pearls. The style of today’s Ao Dai remains close to the original, having changed very little in the last 100 years. However, in the last thirty years subtle changes have been made to the pleating and the length of the collar.
Many Vietnamese designers are now reinterpreting the Ao Dai, experimenting with new materials, decorations, and adornments. Many of their studios can be found in Saigon and Hanoi with prices ranging up to several hundred dollars for one of their creations. For foreign women traveling in Vietnam, Ao Dais make excellent handmade souvenirs. Shopping for material in Saigon’s Ben Thanh market is a good excursion, and you will make friends along the way by asking for suggestions and recommendations for tailors.
Numerous tailors can be found in Saigon, Hoi An and Hanoi that specialize in making excellent Ao Dais. Most of them can make the outfit in 24 hours or less. What better way is there to remember your fantastic trip to Vietnam? You’ll be reminded of this beautiful country every time you put on your Ao Dai.
[Hanoi, Vietnam – June 16, 2023] – Heritage Cruises, an extraordinary sailing experience inspired by the legendary Bach Thai Buoi, known as the king of ships, has been honored with a prestigious nomination for the highly coveted title of World’s Best Boutique Cruise Line 2023. This esteemed recognition marks a significant milestone as Heritage Cruises receives its first-ever nomination for this internationally acclaimed award.
Established in 2019, Heritage Cruises was brought to life by Pham Ha, the visionary founder and CEO of Lux Cruises, with the vision of celebrating the revered Bach Thai Buoi and reviving Vietnam’s rich cultural heritage. Pham Ha, along with the entire team and corporate culture at Lux Cruises, takes great pride in this well-deserved nomination.
Featuring 20 lavish cabins that can accommodate up to 60 passengers, Heritage Cruises boasts an exceptional staff-to-guest ratio of 1:1, ensuring personalized and attentive service throughout the voyage. The cruise line specializes in 1 to 3-night expeditions in the Gulf of Tonkin, with a particular focus on the captivating Lan Ha Bay and the enchanting Cat Ba Archipelago.
Heritage Cruises has been the recipient of numerous international and national awards, underscoring its commitment to excellence and further solidifying its reputation as a premier boutique cruise line. These accolades are a testament to the company’s unwavering dedication to delivering an extraordinary and immersive cruising experience.
The term “boutique cruise” refers to a type of cruising that offers an intimate and personalized approach compared to larger, mainstream cruise ships. Borrowed from the retail industry, where it typically describes small, stylish, and specialized shops that offer unique and curated products, the concept of boutique cruises centers around exclusivity, attention to detail, and a more intimate ambiance. These cruises often feature smaller ships with a limited number of cabins or suites, providing guests with a tailored and personalized experience. The focus is typically on delivering high-quality service, immersive itineraries, and distinctive amenities.
Boutique cruises offer a range of features, including gourmet dining experiences, luxurious accommodations, personalized service from a dedicated crew, and unique activities or excursions. They often cater to specific interests or themes, such as cultural exploration, adventure, or relaxation, aiming to establish a more intimate and immersive connection to the destinations visited.
Today’s travelers’ never-ending search for something “new and different” inspired the evolution of boutique hotels and cruises. But what exactly is a boutique cruise? While there is no strict definition of a boutique cruise, the genre does tend to have some common features. Here are top ten characteristics of boutique cruises such as Heritage Cruises: Size, Individuality, Design, Character, Culture, Service, Gastronomy, Clientele, Sense of a place, Authenticity.
With voting for the World’s Best Boutique Cruise Line 2023 set to commence from June 14 to September 15, cruise enthusiasts and travelers worldwide have the opportunity to cast their votes. The highly anticipated gala dinner and awards ceremony will take place in Dubai on October 15, 2023, where the winner will be revealed and celebrated.
To support Heritage Cruises and cast your vote, please visit https://worldcruiseawards.com/award/world-best-boutique-cruise-line/2023
Under the visionary leadership of Pham Ha, the company has realized his childhood dream of showcasing the beauty of Vietnam from the North to the South by constructing 30 ships that sail along the Vietnamese coastline. For more information about Heritage Cruises, please visit www.heritagecruises.com.
About Heritage Cruises:
Owned by Lux Cruises, Heritage Cruises is a boutique cruise line in Vietnam that offers a unique and immersive sailing experience. Established in 2019 to honor Bach Thai Buoi, the king of ships, Heritage Cruises brings Vietnam’s rich cultural heritage to life through meticulously crafted voyages. With a strong emphasis on excellence and personalized service, Heritage Cruises has received numerous international and national awards.
Step into a world of refined elegance and unmatched luxury with Lux Cruises, proudly presented by Emperor Cruises and Heritage Cruises. As you explore our remarkable fleet of cruise ships, you’ll discover a harmonious blend of timeless beauty, exceptional service, and unforgettable experiences.
At Lux Cruises, we believe that every voyage should be an extraordinary affair, where indulgence and sophistication go hand in hand. Our meticulously designed ships are a testament to this belief, showcasing exquisite craftsmanship, attention to detail, and a commitment to providing the utmost comfort and opulence for our discerning guests.
From the moment you step on board, you’ll be enveloped in an atmosphere of refined sophistication. Our highly trained and dedicated staff members are passionate about curating unforgettable moments for you, ensuring that every aspect of your journey is flawlessly executed. Whether it’s a warm smile as you embark, a personalized greeting from your butler, or the seamless coordination of your itinerary, our team is committed to surpassing your expectations at every turn.
Indulgence knows no bounds aboard Lux Cruises. Our stunning staterooms and suites are designed with your comfort in mind, featuring lavish furnishings, luxurious amenities, and breathtaking views of the surrounding ocean. Unwind in a haven of tranquility, enveloped in sumptuous fabrics and surrounded by elegant touches that elevate your experience to new heights.
Culinary excellence takes center stage on Lux Cruises. Our team of world-class chefs is dedicated to creating gastronomic masterpieces that tantalize your taste buds. From delectable international cuisine to exquisite regional specialties, each dish is crafted with the finest ingredients, showcasing the rich flavors and culinary traditions of the destinations we visit. Indulge in a symphony of flavors, complemented by impeccable service and an extensive selection of fine wines and spirits.
As you sail with Lux Cruises, you’ll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in captivating destinations and captivating experiences. From secluded beach excursions to immersive cultural encounters, our expertly curated itineraries showcase the best of each region, allowing you to connect with the local heritage, natural beauty, and vibrant communities that make each destination unique.
Lux Cruises is more than just a cruise; it’s a gateway to unforgettable memories and transformative experiences. Whether you seek a romantic getaway, a family adventure, or a celebration of life’s special moments, our sales team is here to assist you in creating a personalized journey that exceeds your expectations.
Escape the ordinary and embrace the extraordinary with Lux Cruises. Elevate your travel experience to new heights and embark on a voyage of indulgence, where impeccable service, exquisite accommodations, and awe-inspiring destinations seamlessly blend into an unforgettable journey. It’s time to set sail and create memories that will last a lifetime. Contact our sales team today to embark on your extraordinary adventure with Lux Cruises. Discover more at lux-cruises.com
Revered by the people of Hanoi, Long Bien Bridge is living historical evidence of the courage of the capital throughout the ups and downs of the 20th century.
Construction began in 1899 and when completed, in 1902, the bridge was named after Paul Doumer, the French Governor General of Indochina. At that time it was the fourth-longest bridge in the world and the only steel bridge spanning the Red River. In 1954, it was renamed Long Bien Bridge.
At 1,648 metres in length, including 19 spans, its main purpose was a strategically vital one as a direct rail link between Hanoi and the port of Hai Phong.
For many people, Long Bien Bridge is a reminder of French technological innovation at that time. However, it would be an oversight not to mention the more than 3,000 Vietnamese workers who undertook the challenge of building the bridge, using cement from Hai Phong, lime from Hue, and thousands of cubic metres of wood from Thanh Hoa, Phu Tho and Yen Bai provinces.
The bridge has been a major witness of national history and has stood firm throughout two wars against the French and Americans. During the French War (1946-1954), the French used the Hanoi – Hai Phong railway line to evacuate their civilians and troops. It was across the Doumer Bridge that the final contingent of French soldiers walked on the afternoon of 9 October, 1954, after withdrawing from Hanoi Citadel. Vietnamese soldiers then took possession of the bridge, officially renaming it Long Bien Bridge. On the morning of 10 October, 1954, troops entered the city and declared it liberated.
Later on, during the American War (1955-1975), the bridge became a key target of US bombers. In March 1965, as the Americans unleashed their sustained aerial bombardment known as ‘Rolling Thunder’, anti-aircraft guns were installed on the central bridge towers. From May to October 1972, President Nixon’s ‘Operation Linebacker’ inflicted further damage on the bridge by hitting it on four occasions, demolishing three more spans and once more severing the vital rail link between the capital and the coast. Altogether, seven spans and four support columns were destroyed during the American War.
After the Paris Peace Accords, work began to rebuild the bridge using steel supplied by the USSR, and by March 1973 trains were once again running from the centre of Hanoi to the Gia Lam junction. But this reconstruction left only half of the bridge with its original shape.
Long Bien Bridge is now over 100 years old and remains an important part of daily life for residents of the capital. The bridge is one of five now crossing the Red River and the only one where traffic moves on the left-hand side. Young teenagers, expats and tourists alike love to walk across it on the weekend, buying boiled glutinous corn or charcoal-grilled sweet potatoes from vendors. The bridge is also the best place in town to watch the sunrise or sunset. Many brides and grooms as well as hip young local people choose Long Bien Bridge as the backdrop for their photos. In the afternoon, people in Ngoc Thuy village and Ngoc Thuy ward pick up fresh vegetables or fish for dinner from the small open-air afternoon market on the bridge.
Despite the repairs, however, the bridge is seriously degraded. There have been several proposals put forward recently to modify and modernise the bridge, so that the city can tackle the increasing amount of traffic between the districts of Hoan Kiem and Long Bien.
The first plan was to build a new bridge on the site of the Long Bien Bridge, keeping the central part in place and retaining the railway track but moving other sections of the bridge elsewhere for preservation.
The second option was to construct a new bridge with a similar design and preserve the old one.
The third proposal was to upgrade the bridge while keeping its central part and framework.
The biggest challenge for Hanoian authorities is identifying the best solution to deal with the architecturally-important bridge, a treasured heritage site with cultural and historical significance.
So far, every proposal to change the image of Long Bien Bridge has had its share of supporters and detractors, but one plan has truly sparked controversy. A project to transform the bridge into a cultural and arts space was put forward by Vietnamese-French architect, Nguyen Nga, in a recent interview on RFI (Radio France Internationale).
‘Instead of reminding us of wartime, which resulted in so many losses, the bridge could be a symbol of hope and culture, beautifying Hanoi, the city of peace,’ she said.
Under her plans, the damaged spans of the bridge would be repaired and the whole bridge then converted into a giant Contemporary Arts Museum.
‘A large space would be built on the bridge’s structure to exhibit old steam locomotives and antique carriages would become cafés and restaurants and the bridge covered with transparent glass panels,’ she explained. ‘This would will give the bridge a new appearance while maintaining its structural integrity.’
The central rail track would become a new space dedicated to creative and cultural activities and trees and streetlights would be incorporated to create a romantic walking path.
The highlight of the project would be redesigning the Middle Bank (Bai Giua), an island under the bridge, turning it into an Art Park with gardens and orchards, cycling paths, a skating rink and a climbing wall. One idea is to also have a mulberry plantation and to build a silk weaving village.
Nga has also suggested building a Lotus Tower Contemporary Arts Museum on the right bank of the Red River, where 2.5 ha of land is currently used for light industry.
The tower would be in the shape of a flowering lotus, the national flower of Vietnam, and made from metal and wood. It would house contemporary works of art, as well as new technology from Vietnam and other countries.
Besides housing short-term and permanent exhibitions, the museum would also be a cultural space, with a library, a concert hall, cafés and restaurants and, on the top (ninth) floor, an open space with panoramic views over Hanoi.
‘The project would help improve the living environment of Hanoi residents, gradually changing the urban space around the capital’s green walking routes and adding more green spaces to Hanoi,’ Nga emphasised.
While there is currently no agreement on the future of the project, it is still a positive and bold idea for the development of Hanoi and the country.
Cruise along Ha Long Bay listed among 15 travel ideas to explore Vietnam’s hidden gems including Heritage Bình Chuẩn
Australia’s Lonely Planet Magazine has recommended 15 top travel experiences to discover the culture, cuisine and the hidden gems of Vietnam.
Ha Long Bay
It is said that cruise tour is the best way to explore the world heritage site Ha Long Bay, which is dotted with karst limestone mountains rising out of emerald waters.
For those who want a luxurious overnight stay to watch the sun come up on Ha Long Bay, Heritage Cruises, Indochine Cruise, Paradise Cruise and Stellar of the Seas are worth considering.
All five-star cruise ships in Ha Long are equipped with luxury cabins and modern amenities like bars, swimming pools, a golf club, a gym and spas.
They also offer outdoor adventures like kayaking, cave exploring, onboard cooking classes, squid fishing at night and excursions to floating villages.
If Ha Long is crowded, its sister Bai Tu Long Bay is an alternative choice where there are still few tourists.
Other experiences include tasting Hue’s imperial cuisine, watching rare monkeys on Son Tra Peninsula, exploring a UNESCO-protected Hindu temple complex, visiting the Cao Dai Temple, jumping on a motorbike, conquering Ban Gioc Waterfall, breathing the fresh air in Da Lat, visiting Dak Lak’s coffee plantations, discovering Vietnam’s Maldives in Phu Yen…
In Vietnam, coffee is enjoyed at all times of the day, from the first glass at breakfast, to meetings, dates or social gatherings with friends and family. Coffee has a special place in Vietnamese culture, and this simple drink forms the epicenter of daily life. Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a coffee demonstration when cruising aboard a luxury boat with Emperor Cruises, on the pristine Bai Tu Long Bay. The presentation allowed me to really understand the origins of coffee in Vietnam, the steps involved in making the perfect cup coffee, and the various regional differences in how people enjoy their coffee from North to South.
The Origin of Coffee in Vietnam
Cà phê, café or coffee, depending on which language you speak, originated in the West, and the French have been importing it into Vietnam since colonial times. Back then, coffee was a drink reserved only for the nobility, French officials or intellectuals. Gradually, coffee has become a favorite drink in the lives of all Vietnamese people. In the 1870’s, the first coffee trees were planted at churches in Ha Nam, Quang Binh, Kon Tum Province by monks. In 1888, the first coffee plantation was established in Ke So, Tonkin by the French residing the riverside area. As it became more popular, other plantations were created in highland areas such as Phu Quy, Nghe An, Dak Lak and Lam Dong. Today, Vietnam is the world’s second largest producer of coffee beans and has developed its own distinct coffee culture. Across the country, cultivation focuses on three main types of coffee: Arabica, Robusta, and Excelsa (also known as Liberian coffee).
The sophistication of coffee is reflected in the drinking style of Vietnamese people, who each have their own unique way in which to enjoy it. They don’t consider it a quick caffeine fix to wake you up in the morning like in America. Instead, they sip a cup of coffee and think about life in the same way you might indulge in a good glass of Scotch. The beans are mixed in different ways to create various flavors. The three main coffee styles in Vietnam are filtered, iced, or with condensed with egg or coconut to enhance the taste.
Coffee in Vietnam is often brewed in small metal filters known as a “phin” (which comes from the French word, “filtre”). The Vietnamese filter is akin to a tiny coffee pot that looks like a hat sitting atop the cup or glass. Inside is a chamber for the ground coffee beans, which are placed inside, and hot water is added and allowed to percolate through the small holes. The process can take up to fifteen minutes to complete, and this harks back to the Vietnamese ritual of taking one’s time over coffee.
Iced Milk Coffee
Iced milk coffee (Cà phê sữa đá) consists of filtered coffee with condensed milk, which adds a sweet taste to the typically bitter coffee. Iced milk coffee and iced black coffee are the two most popular types you will find in coffee shops or at home. Vietnamese iced milk coffee was voted one of the 15 best coffees in the world by the renowned American travel magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, and is also considered one of the top 10 most unique and delicious coffees of the world by Bloomberg.
While adding an egg to your coffee appears very strange to foreign visitors, egg coffee is a favorite of the residents of the country’s capital, Hanoi. Egg coffee is made up of coffee, eggs, and milk—three simple ingredients that when mixed, create a unique flavor. This coffee must be enjoyed as soon as it has been mixed and is still hot. In Hanoi, egg coffee is famous as a culinary specialty, first appearing in the early 20th century. The most famous coffee shop is Giang Café.
Differences in Coffee Culture
Different regions in Vietnam have their own distinct way of preparing and enjoying a coffee. For example, Southerners often wrap ground coffee in a thin fabric bag and cook it in an earthenware kettle, preferring to drink iced coffee. Northerners usually choose filtered coffee and black or brown coffee beans that have a very strong flavor. All coffee shops have their own unique character and styles, and many have been operating from generation to generation.
For the Saigonese, iced coffee is a popular drink for all ages. When you say “Coffee?,” it is an excuse to invite friends for good conversation. The cups of coffee become the link between two or more people. You will see men who are drinking coffee with the daily newspaper, sitting on low plastic stools on the sidewalk, while the coffee shops are full every morning. “Cafe bệt” is a humorous term used in Saigon, where everyone sits freely on the ground to drink coffee. Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica is the ideal place for this type of coffee. Here, black coffee and milk coffee are not brewed using filters, and they are often served in plastic cups with straws so you can drink on the move.
One of Hanoi’s oldest cafés, Cafe Lam Hano is a one-room establishment that is practically a historical monument. Its proprietor, Nguyen Lam, provided coffee, and often loans, to the city’s impoverished artistic community during the war. Rumor has it that he is sitting on an art collection now worth a fortune. He serves Vietnamese-style hot and iced coffee to a crowd of faithful regulars. Many of the great names in Vietnamese painting have passed through here: Nguyen Sang, Nguyen Tu Nghiem, Van Cao and Bui Xuan Phai, a veritable collection of masters in Vietnamese art culture.
Cafés in Hanoi are commonly named after the owner, and many streets are devoted to coffee shops, such as Hoe Nhai, Phan Dinh Phung, Nguyen Huu Huan and Trieu Viet Vuong. In Hanoi, coffee is the most favorite drink of artists, the elderly and businesspeople. They consider drinking coffee as an art that hides a long story.
Hanoians have a much greater variety of names for their coffee compared to the Saigonese. One regional specialty is brown coffee (cap phe nau). It is served with condensed milk without ice, and is considered far more bitter than the Saigon version. Because of its small size and dense population, Hanoian coffee shops are simpler than in Saigon, and locals prefer to drink in small cafes in the Old Town or on the sidewalk.
Tea drinking has been a tradition of the Vietnamese people for over 3,000 years and, like many places throughout the world, is an integral part of Vietnamese culture. Present everywhere from daily life to holidays and weddings, tea brings friends and family together in conversation and celebration. As a Vietnamese person, I newly discovered our drinking culture and its sophistication while recently cruising aboard a luxury boat. I loved the tea demonstration and the introduction of tea aboard Emperor Cruises on the pristine Bai Tu Long Bay. The demonstration allowed me to really understand the art of drinking tea, from the countryside folk and montagnards, to normal people and royalty.
Che or Tra, is still confused even by Vietnamese people in daily language, and although many foreigners believe all teas in Vietnam are simple green teas, this is not really the case. There are many types of tea in Vietnam, each with its own unique flavor and properties, and there are many aspects of tea culture worth noting. The therapeutic and medicinal functions of tea are well known. In humid weather, hot tea is devoured for its surprising cooling effect, and in cold weather for its warmth.
Tea cultivation, its historical influence in Vietnam, its relationship to the environment, its economic impact on the ethnic minorities who grow it, combined with the aesthetic aspects and social importance of tea-drinking rituals, could all provide topics for extensive research.
Like many locals, I often drink ‘Tra Nong’ (Hot Tea) or ‘Tra Da’ (Iced Tea) when I have a few moments to myself. My parents in the countryside of the Red River Delta drink green tea at home and in their fields daily, as their parents, grandparents and ancestors have done since the old times. There are many original varieties of tea enjoyed in Vietnam such as green tea, black tea, perfumed tea, or tea with flowers. The countless methods in which to prepare and enjoy them are very interesting to discover.
Vietnam is among the top tea producers in the world, and the people have a habit of drinking tea every morning, after lunch and on special occasions. A cup of tea is always a good excuse to start a relaxed conversation or serious discussion, and is also very important to show hospitality to guests that visit your house. They often drink “tra man”, fresh tea buds with some dried leaves that are steeped in water.
In the countryside, locals collect the green leaves of the plants, toast them and boil them. They keep it warm in a ceramic tea pot Bat Trang used by the whole family, and every household will have the same teapot for many years. Sometimes, they bring it to the fields and drink tea on their lunchbreak.
In the mountainous areas, the montagnards drink so called ‘Shan Tuyet Tea’, which has a special processing technique. The fresh tea buds are as big as banian buds and coated with lanugo. After being processed, they are covered with a milky layer of “snow,” (shiny aromatic herbs) and the gas that is released is then inhaled. When drinking it, the tongue will feel a slightly bittersweet taste that is followed by a persistent sweetness in the throat.
If travelers go to Suoi Giang in the tea harvesting and processing season, they will smell a characteristic flavor of this tea region. Due to the special climate here, locals do not have to use any kind of pesticides because pests are not an issue. In the winter, there is little sunlight, and fog covers the entire region. The tea buds are also covered by fog and you will feel a biting cold on your fingers when picking them.
The tea trees here are over 300 years old. Their trunks and buds are very impressive, which makes them different from other types of tea. Shan Tuyet tea varieties have all three main characteristics: aroma, a strong taste and blue water. The tea, from harvest until processing, is produced manually by the Mong ethnic people here.
Although without much of the ceremony associated with Japanese tea culture, Vietnamese tea culture is not without its own sophistication. The art of drinking tea is based on the tea preparation, the invitation to the guests, and the act of enjoying the brew.
The tea connoisseur says, “Nhất thủy, nhì trà, tam bôi, tứ bình, ngũ quần anh” which translates as, “Of most importance is the water souce, the second is the tea variety, the third is how to prepare tea correctly, fourth comes the tea pot, and fifth is loved ones enjoying it together”.
Drinkers can imbibe it solo (nhat am), in pairs (doi tam) or in groups (quan am). Depending on the particular situation, there are various sized teapots used for different occasions.
Vietnamese tea drinking is simpler than the Chinese or Japanese customs, but it bears the essence of Vietnamese culture. The yellow and green of the tea and the natural scent of flowers symbolise the country, rich in culture and natural resources. Bitterness in the first taste reflects the hard-working life of the people, while the sweet and cool aftertaste that lingers evokes the Vietnamese soul – sentimental and faithful.
A tea course requires a brazier, a boiling pot, an earthenware pot of cold water (usually rainwater, and on special occasions, some dew gathered from lotus leaves). To serve, one uses a teapot, teacups, a tea box, and a few pieces of aloe or aromatic wood.
The host will boil the water for a few minutes, then take it off the fire and let the temperature drop to about 80-90 degrees Celcius. It is poured gently into the teapot, and then covered tightly for about five minutes. While the tea is brewing, tea connoisseurs will comment on the fine aroma of the tea, always keeping it as the focus of the conversation, as you would do when wine tasting. From the teapot, the tea is poured into a large cup called a soldier-cup.
This procedure ensures an even distribution of the tea’s flavour and color. If it were poured directly into each cup, the first cup would be more diluted than the last. As you sip the tea, discuss its taste and the mood it brings you.
“A tea server slowly pours tea into cups from a teapot. The pouring is performed gracefully, in a manner known as ‘high mountain-long river’, which helps the scent of the tea spread evenly. Offering it to guests, the host holds the cup with three fingers, offering the tea in that symbolizes ‘three dragons flanking a pearl’.
That’s only a snapshot of the tea drinking culture of the Vietnamese people. “Enjoying a cup of tea and thinking about life helps people to be good and avoid evil,” Quang says.Four words – Hòa, Kính, Thanh and Tịch – are used to describe the intangible aspects of tea drinking. Hoa means peace, Kinh implies respect for the elderly and friends, Thanh means tranquility, and Tich signifies leisure.
Quang says serving tea correctly is an elaborate ritual. For starters, you have to choose your teapot and cups with care, and they must match the tea.”The cup also changes according to the season. In winter, it should have a bottom and rim of equal size, so it doesn’t lose its heat, and the drinker can hold it inside his palm. But in summer, tea should be served in a cup with a larger rim, so it can cool quickly,” he notes.
All the pots and cups are cleaned in boiling water, which gets rid of the dirt and warms them up. Dried tea leaves are put inside the pot, which is then filled with boiling water and covered. More hot water is poured over the pot, so that it is heated both inside and out, and the leaves are thoroughly brewed.It can be said, that Vietnamese tea is a sophisticated art which takes lots of time to master.
However, it can of course be enjoyed in a very simple manner.” Tea types can be divided into three kinds with different properties, including dried tea leaves, tea combined with herbal remedies and tea scented with flowers.
Lotus-Scented Tea for the King
Besides unscented green tea, teas with the scent of flowers are unique examples of Vietnamese tea culture. The whole process is completed by hand, in a very careful manner, to transmit the natural scents into the tea. There are many varieties of tea enjoyed in Vietnam with flowers. Among them is jasmine tea (tra nhai or lai) or lotus tea (tra sen).
Lotus is Vietnamese national flower and grows across the country. Hue lotus tea is Hue’s speciality. Enjoying this lotus tea is a traditional ceremonial art of the Imperial City of Hue. During the Nguyen Dynasty, imperial maids used to row to Tinh Tam Lake to collect dewdrops from the sen leaves to make tea. The maids served it to kings in special teapots, one for each of the four seasons.
“Lotus tea has its own summer teapot, for example,” says Quang – our tea expert on board Emperor Cruises Halong. “Sen flowers grow in all of the country’s rural areas. But a sen tea connoisseur prefers tea scented by flowers that grow in Tinh Tam Lake, where the lotus flowers are much more aromatic than from elsewhere”, he explains.
Lotus flowers bloom from early May through June. This is the season when dried tea leaves are traditionally placed in newly opened lotus flowers, and then tied to perfume the tea.”When the lotus flowers opened at midnight, the tea leaves were placed inside the flowers. At 5am, these same flowers were then harvested to make tea,” adds Quang.
Lotus flowers for fragrant tea should be picked before dawn. Cool air and fog help to preserve the light, pure fragrance of sen, because, after sunrise, sen loses its fragrance due to the heat.In the past, lotus tea was only served to kings in Hue, Minh Mang and Tu Duc. Emperor Bao Dai is among some of the famous rulers of the past who loved to enjoy tea daily.
Nowadays, everyone can enjoy lotus tea aboard Emperor Cruises Halong, and the surrounding villages and areas are famous producers. For example, Quang Ba, Tay Ho and Nghi Tam Villages have long been renowned for making high quality lotus-scented tea.
“As a result, many Hanoians have known for generations how to enjoy lotus tea in the most sophisticated, precise and stylish way”, added Tuan Nguyen says. West Lake lotus tea is considered the most precious lotus tea because of its beauty and aroma.
There are also many closely guarded secrets for making tasty lotus-scented tea.“One method involves layering dry tea and dry lotus anthers, then wrapping them in water-resistant paper for three days to preserve the delicate fragrance. This process must be repeated seven times for three weeks to make the most perfect sen tea”, says Mr. Trung, a tea maker in the West Lake, who learned the art from his father.
20th Century writer Nguyen Tuan, praised lotus tea for embodying the highest cultural values of the Trang An (an old name for Hanoian natives). “It reflects the precision, style, elegance and connoisseurship of Hanoian culture, and Sen Tea is the most precious and popular perfumed tea”, he remarked.
The sen fragrance embodies the most essential qualities of earth and heaven. “Lotus plants grow in black mud, but never smell bad. Therefore, the lotus represents the most important qualities of sky and earth. This is why the lotus roots, leaves and flowers are precious herbs,” said Vietnam’s most renowned herbalist, Hai Thuong Lan Ong (1720-1791).
The tea connoisseur and renowned painter, Mr. Pham Luc, enjoys lotus tea for its aromatic fragrance, compared to other teas. “Tra sen is a national heritage which should be preserved,” Luc says.