Indulge your appetite while soaking up views of the city along the Saigon River…
The word “cruise” can conjure up images of wild boat parties on “booze cruises” with deafening karaoke, horrific dance floor moves and belligerent behaviour. Lucky for us, our evening Saigon River dining cruise was just the opposite aboard Lady Hau – a beautifully restored rice barge from the Mekong Delta that was originally used to ferry goods to and from floating markets.
Named after the Hau River tributary passing through the Mekong port of Can Tho, the barge was built in Tien Giang Province and with a maximum capacity of 43 guests, this intimate experience is a far cry from the standard tourist dinner cruise.
Upon arriving, we were greeted by friendly smiles, a pair of violinists performing popular classical songs and waitresses offering flutes of sparkling wine. As the sun disappeared over the horizon, we set off on a 2.5-hour cruise along the Saigon River leaving behind a purple painted twilight sky. We glided pass the colonial architecture of the Ho Chi Minh City University of Transportation, followed by the Ba Son Shipyard.
There are three distinct sections to the Lady Hau. At the bow, patrons can lounge around and enjoy forward facing panoramic views of the Saigon River while the middle is where the majority of the seating is. My dining companion and I chose to sit at the rear, a more intimate section with fewer people. But it wasn’t to bask in the romantic ambience; it positioned us in full view of the barbecue. For somebody who once owned three grills, this was prime spot.
As we cruised under the Thu Thiem Bridge, the waitress took our drinks order and gave us time to decide on the a la carte barbecue menu, an addition to the buffet meal. They also have a cigar menu for those wanting to so indulge with after-dinner drinks. It had been a while since I had bo la lot (grilled beef with la lot leaves) so we immediately ordered a couple of servings as well as grilled scallops. I was feeling in a slightly decadent mood, so ordered an additional serving of sea bass wrapped in banana leaves and vegetable kebabs. Imported sirloin steaks and pork ribs were also on the menu.
As we waited for our BBQ mains, we headed over to the East meets West buffet where chilli lemongrass chicken, banh cuon, egg noodles, stir fried vegetables with shiitake mushrooms, sautéed seafood, papaya salad and banh beo complemented Western dishes such as whole baked potatoes and pesto pasta salad. Without realising it, an impressive mountain of food had accumulated on my plate on one hand and two shot glasses of prawn cocktail and a tuna ceviche were cupped in the other.
As we returned to our table, the Lady Hau was now well into District 2 with views of the picturesque Thao Dien area with its waterfront villas, restaurants and bars, all decorated in fairy lights. Along the port side, there were views of Thanh Da Island and its green patches of farmland.
Han, the head maitre d’ came to greet us as she did with every passenger. She welcomed us on board and talked about the menu and the effort that went into preparing the boat for its October launch last year. She told us the head chef has 12 years experience in five star restaurants and oversees a total of six chefs who assist in the preparation of the entire menu on board.
Everything was perfectly cooked from the fresh and crunchy textures of the vegetable stir fry, to the temperature of the tender lemongrass chilli chicken and the overall attention to detail in the presentation. As soon as the barbecued dishes came out, every item we ordered was cooked perfectly – it’s no easy feat cooking every individual dish made-to-order on a grill. The bo la lot was juicy, with a hint of smoke and no signs of burning on the leaves. The scallops were smaller than I’m used to, but came out nice and firm, with a drizzle of chive oil that left a moorish feeling on the palate. I left the sea bass in banana leaves until last as I was still tackling the remains of the buffet. Despite the wait, it was still tender and juicy and infused with a mild smoky scent from the banana without overpowering the delicate flavour of the fish.
Given that Lady Hau has only been in operations for two months (at the time of writing), everything seemed to run like clockwork. They provided top notch service from beginning to end and kudos to the chef and his team for the delicious food. And the views of the city skyline were amazing. It’s a great option for anyone seeking a unique Saigon River dining cruise experience.
The cruise route is approximately 24km (2.5 hours): setting off from Bach Dang Pier in District 1 in a north-easterly direction up to Thanh Da, Thao Dien. The Lady Hau Cruise sets sail daily for lunch (12pm – 2pm, VND595,000 net) and dinner (6:30pm – 9:30pm, VND895,000 net); 50 percent off for children aged six to 12; those under six are free. For reservations call 6294 7048 or email firstname.lastname@example.org ; www.emmhotels.com