Springtime has arrived, and the ships of Oceania Cruises are gearing up for another amazing summer season. Excitement is in the air as we prepare to welcome Insignia back to the fleet, fresh from her multimillion-dollar renovations. In the meantime, guests on board Nautica aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to a wonderful winter spent exploring the coasts of Asia. This week Nautica makes her final calls on Vietnam for the season.

Today Nautica sails into Ha Long Bay, just a three-hour drive from the capital city of Hanoi. Whether guests choose to explore the natural wonders of Ha Long Bay or the city sights of Hanoi, there is no shortage of fantastic adventures in store.

The 1,600 islands and islets in Ha Long Bay form a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars, most of which are largely untouched by humans due to the precipitous nature of the rocky islands. Because of its outstanding scenic beauty as well as its geological importance, Ha Long Bay has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The arches, caves and lakes that compose the limestone karsts are the result of a unique combination of geography and climate that sculpted this distinctive landscape over millions of years.

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A beautiful drive through the Vietnamese countryside from Ha Long Bay, Hanoi is an enchanting blend of traditional Vietnamese traditions with a French flair. The capital of Vietnam for over 1,000 years, Hanoi has long been the cultural center of the country. From the local artisans and merchants that have historically lined the streets of the Old Quarter to the French colonial architecture to the many picturesque lakes, the city has much to offer visitors.

One of its more famous landmarks tells darker tales of the city’s history. Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the “Hanoi Hilton,” was originally used by French colonialists to house political prisoners and, due to the terrible conditions, became a symbol of colonialist exploitation. During the Vietnam War, it was once again turned into an infamous prison, where the North Vietnamese Army housed and interrogated American POWs, including its most famous inmate, Senator John McCain. Though the prison was demolished in the 1990s, the gatehouse remains as a museum.

 

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Another highlight of the city is the Presidential Palace, designed in the Beaux-Arts style favored by French architects of its time. Built between 1900 and 1906, the palace was home to French governors until the end of French occupation. When Ho Chi Minh moved into the palace estate, it is said that he eschewed the lavish setting and lived in the servants’ quarters until he built a traditional Vietnamese stilt house with a carp pond on the grounds. While the interior of the palace is closed to the public, visitors can wander the expansive gardens and compare the distinctive styles of the two residences.

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Both Nautica and Insignia will visit Ha Long Bay in 2015, and now is the perfect time to reserve your Asian cruise for next season. Each of these itineraries features an overnight stay in Ha Long Bay, so you will have plenty of time to experience the natural beauty of the bay as well as the fascinating sights of nearby Hanoi.

Photos by Peter Pretty

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