Sunday, January 30, 2011

Halong Bay - Wow

Gliding across green glass inches above the water gazing at rock towers jutting out of the South China Sea from our kayak, I realized this place is one of the most stunning geographic wonders I have ever seen. Watching the different shades of gray shadows pass our boat because the light mist made ghosts of the mountains. The only noise echoing was the rare scream of the eagle soaring over the canyons in the sea. Halong Bay is another world.

We boarded the Dragon Pearl, the three floor junk boat we were going to spend they night in. Thirteen other travelers would join us on a three day two night tour winding through a maze of water and rock. I had pretended I had read the itinerary when we signed up for the package, but I really only looked at the pictures and was surprised there was more than just floating through the scene, which was all one would really need to be completely entertained.

I want to acknowledge this before I cast some different image, but this area is tourist based and everything we are doing has many groups of tourists snapping off a million pictures with their tour guides spouting similar memorized sayings for three days. Like all the other wonders of the world, we are catered to and herded through. We are well cared for by very nice people and this place is worth seeing even if it's the only place you can make it to in Vietnam. I think this place is hitting the radar heavily. The tourism industry is still in it's teenage years and I am grateful to have experienced this before it is bumper to bumper boats.

The highlight of the tour is each and every boat ride throughout the islands to get from one place to the next which sometimes took hours. We were given food and drink plenty and jumped back and fourth to different sized boats. We spent most of the journey in the tops deck in wonderment. Since my words will never do this place justice and I have not been able to make my photographs capture the depth I think I'll just yap about what else we did.

We traveled into the light haze through the bay that contains some two thousand limestone islands with lush plants cascading down the steep cliffs.
On our first stop we took a trip through a large cave inside one of the islands. It was one of those caves that form thousands of characters in your imagination due to all the grooves and twists of the walls and stalactites. They had different colored spotlights beaming onto different surfaces giving it the ultra surreal look. If there is a rock involved I think of my father (he is a geologist) and when the geography is outstanding I think of him as well. My dad would be moved by this place and I was happy to enjoy it for him and hopefully he gets to experience it through my eyes.

Our second stop was for an hour of sea kayaking that allowed us to get under the overhangs and dip into the caves cut out in the cliffs. Asiana and I sometimes took turns slowly paddling while the other would lean back in the tranquility, take it all in, and occasionally sighing in amazement. The power of Wow.

We returned to our sleeping boat to a feast and some drinks followed by night squid fishing off the bough off the boat. Inevitably the karaoke system was cranked up by the crew since no night in Vietnam goes to bed without karaoke everywhere. I am proud or embarrassed to say I stood up and was the only representative of the westerners to sing... And I did it in Vietnamese! I don't know if I rocked it, but it was fun and a whole bunch of laughter was going down.

I set the alarm for 5:45 am to catch sunrise - looked out the window - no sun - woke up at 9 to the sound of loud Vietnamese opera as our wake up call. Again, we enjoyed the scenery all the way to Cat Ba Island, where we spent half the day riding bikes and hiking through the jungle. In the afternoon our boat took us to Monkey Island. After being in the land of many monkeys (India), I was not impressed by the hand full of monkeys that ran down to the beach to aggressively approach tourists for food once they saw a boat come onto shore. But, some of us left the beach quickly to scale the jagged limestone mountain to get a great view.

A few of us cheaper travelers were dropped off on Cat Ba island to stay the evening in a hotel, while the others chugged out into maze to sleep again on the boat. Tomorrow we will be picked up again early in the morning and spend the day floating back to the mainland where we will catch the bus back to Hanoi.

Location:Halong Bay Vietnam

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