Let me tell you about Ha Long Bay
“You’ve got to see Ha Long Bay,” said everyone who’s been there before. So it was finally our turn. We leave Hanoi after breakfast and head east towards Ha Long Bay. It is also a great opportunity to get out of Hanoi and see Vietnam’s countryside. Maybe I slept through some of the ride but where are all those famous Vietnamese terraced rice fields?
We get to Ha Long Bay by noon and are first given a guided tour of a pearl harvesting factory. The hard work and precision that goes into the process of making that perfect little white ball is quite interesting. And although I feel a bit concerned about the trauma that little oyster must endure for the single perfect little ball, I will wear my pearls with more appreciation!
But the real thrill begins from the moment we arrive at the Tuan Chau Marina, which is a hub of activity as boats dock, offload decks, pick up and then chug off towards the Gulf of Tonkin. On either side of the buzzing harbour are multi-storied chalets and buildings that look like a postcard from Miami Beach. Absolutely picture perfect!
We board our Scorpion Cruise boat and about five minutes from the Marina, we get the first glimpse of one of nature’s wonders and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Bay of the Descending Dragon, better known as Ha Long Bay is peppered with towering limestone pillars and tiny islets that reflect off the blue waters of the Gulf.
According to legend, a great mountain dragon charged towards the coast with its flailing tail creating these impossible valleys and crevasses. As the creature plunged into the sea, the area filled with water leaving only these massive towers protruding from the sea. However, according to geological explanation, these towers are made of marine invaded karst erosion. I prefer the legend of the dragon as it adds poetic beauty to this amazing seascape.
As we sail further out, the towers seem to multiply and we pass some fascinating shapes and formations imaginatively named as the Fighting Cocks Island, Incense Burner, Stone Dogs Island and Duck and Thumb Island etc., and lots and lots of grottos and caves that make up this canvas of one of God’s beautiful creations.
That evening, we climb into a bamboo raft (which we have reluctantly opted over kayaking in this chilly weather) and paddle on to explore the Dark and Light Grotto, a low overhanging cave. As we enter the grotto, our world turns completely dark and absolutely quiet until we come out, a few minutes later, on the other side into yet another sublime lake of emerald blue waters.
Back on the boat, we dine on the deck and enjoy a night of a thousand stars. Meanwhile, around us the rest of the boats light up the surroundings like flickering fireflies.
I fall asleep to the gentle roll of the boat as it settles in the water.