Grotto de la Surprise. Understating a Fact!
It’s another chilly day. Thankfully my cabin is warm and I’m glad for my recent purchase of a warm ‘hoodie’ in Hanoi. After breakfast, we sail on to Bo Hon Island and join a multitude of other eager tourists.
Bo Hon Island or Soap-Berry Tree Island, is one of the larger islands to be found at Ha Long Bay. We climb steep stone steps, through some shrub jungle to the entrance of the Surprise Cave. Now, quite familiar with the way in which these islands are named, I am curious about the ‘surprise’ in this cave. I enter the cave through a narrow opening, walk a few meters inside through a narrow tunnel, and lo and behold, step into one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.
“Oh wow!” Is my first reaction, which is echoed by almost everyone in front and behind me. Known as the ‘Grotto de la Surprise’ it is no surprise how this cave got its name. It is as if I have entered Mother Nature’s Amphitheater.
Discovered by the French in 1901, this cave, with three interconnecting chambers, is over 12,200 square meters and 25m above sea level. The first chamber has hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites protruding from the ground and hanging from the 30-meter high roof. I am mesmerized. I find someone gently prodding me from the back… to move on.
A narrow passage leads to the second chamber. This is so huge that is can actually accommodate thousands of people at one time. Giant boulders reach up to the top, with a huge stone column standing in the centre like a sentinel. This is even more stunning the the previous chamber. The third chamber opens up like some medieval theatre. Absolutely breathtaking! It is actually hard to explain the beauty within.
At one of the deepest points is a ‘royal garden’ with a clear pond that is so still, that it is hard to imagine its really water and not some mirage. Adding to the stunning beauty is some ingenious artificial lighting. Apart from all of this outward beauty are the whimsical legends and tales that make it even more fanciful.
Back on the boat, we are given a demonstration on how to make Vietnamese spring rolls (!) and after lunch we sail back to Tuan Chau International Marina, where we catch our ride back to Hanoi, and then our onward flight to Saigon.
But before we leave to the airport, we feast on Vietnam’s delicious street food. From bowls of Pho Bo noodle soup accompanied with fresh mint, lime, chilli and sugar, to deep fried shrimp cakes called Bahn Tom, and Banh Khoai, fried pancakes stuffed with pork and shrimp served with peanut sauce.
I have loved Hanoi from beginning to end. The people and the place have treated us kindly. Will I be back? Absolutely!