Ha Long Bay dazzles, enticing all and leaving no survivors in its crusade of resplendence. Like waking up in a dream, everything around you seems ethereal, a shade of glitter is painted over your eyes like a filter even Instagram couldn’t touch.
The exhaust left us nauseous in the harbor as the boats collected their respective crews, hoards of foreigners lined up for boarding. The vessel, the Golden Voyage, a white cruise liner, was white with three levels, the first, the rooms for the guests, the second the dining area, seven tables draped with nice white cloth, plates and cups with utensils, a quasi mini bar situated in the corner. Overhead the occasional clinking of the glassware hanging from the racks in the ceiling, four large windows with golden drapes surrounded both sides of the room, giving guests a better view of the bay and its wonders.
The third was on the top designated for relaxation, one long row of lounge chairs, a dining area under a much needed canopy style roof on one end, the other, a large pole with rungs leading up to a lookout point above.
I underestimated the humidity in the air and it’s effects on hydration, leaving one with that “we’re drinking tonight,” feeling you get around 11:00 on a Friday night, at 11:00 in the morning with one beer. Our tour guide informed us of our plans to visit a natural cave formation inside one of Ha Long Bay’s many islands.
Coming around the bend of a massive rock structure, cruise liners came into view, rocking with the tide, ours eventually docking onto, or into, a wooden pier. We made our way up the stairs, the sunshine showing through the jungle canopy, showering us with the early afternoon’s leftover rain. The tour guide made a note of this specific area, informing us this was where the most recent Jordan Vogt-Roberts film, Kong: Skull Island (currently holding a firm 75% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) was filmed, recognizable from the cover, a large hairy primate behind the mountains being pursued by smaller less hairy primates treading through water and flying helicopters; never got around to catching it.
|A cave in Ha Long Bay.|
The trek through the caves wasn’t exactly light work either. A half-mile, sure, but up and around rising and falling staircases coupled with the already strong humidity gave one quite a good workout, enough to burn off the past month’s consumption of western dietary standards.
The inside was much bigger than expected, massive cathedral like “rooms,” moist from the openings of rain water were seemingly carved by human hands, yet the clear distinction of a natural formation was obvious in the jagged unpredictability of the walls and ceilings. In formation, we all scooted along the designated pathways roped off from someone potentially coming under the influence of a bad idea.
The pathway led us to a nice plateau overlooking the water, the highest spot of the path. With this view of the bay, one couldn’t help thinking of past generations stuck in history, explorers and civilizations, taste-makers of their day, navigating the waters in-between the mountainous structures, coming across another cave or beach.
Not having a strong sense of the “sciences,” of the world, you can’t blame them for believing that the formation of Ha Long Bay was due to a massive dragon like creature slashing its way violently through the rocks. It looks so unnatural and magical that belief wouldn’t be too far fetched.
But I digress, as I slip down the cavern steps back towards the boat on the beach. I do my best to not be a clumsy, flaming American, but even my best still makes me seem like a flaming, clumsy American. And so does our next stop, rife with westerners playing volleyball on the beach while they splash in the shallows of a cordoned off section of water (for anybody who comes under the influence of a bad idea).
Hiking up yet another flight of rocky steps, we found our way to the top of a breathtaking sight, this one taking the cake for the day. The sun, with minimal clouds to block its colors, was setting over the bay, bright hues of orange and yellow beamed their way across rolling tides, the green vegetation growing from the rocks just simply glowed, contrasting the even deeper blue’s and green’s of the depths. The earth seemed to be showing off, flaunting almost everything it had, maybe even lifting its skirt a bit too high, and everyone was basking in the very surrealistic, very real moment.
The steps back down were not as slippery as the caves, giving me a chance to blend in with all of the other foreigners (even with my red and white flowered shirt). On the ground we played a game of “shuttle cock” with a couple of Vietnamese. Similar to the movement of hacky sack, shuttle cock consists of a commonly used tool in badminton known as a “birdy,” yet without the foam tip of a birdy. The shuttle contains three rubber disks hooped around a small rod with a spring perfect for kicking purposes, and kick we did, until a loud speaker blared for us to stop.
Our tour guide beckoned form the dock to, once again, re-enter the boat, this time for dinner. A cooking lesson centered around the construction of the Vietnamese Spring Roll was found on the highest deck, the sun setting over the bay as the lights of the countless neighboring cruise liners began to gradually become a bigger presence. One large ceramic bowl of rice in the middle of the table with a silver spoon resting to the side, an assortment of different dishes, fried white fish with tomato and grilled onions, peppered greens lay in a heap, mangled and glistening from the water forced out of its reeds, hockey puck like fish cakes cooked in batter, sinfully good pork bits with chewy fat, a grandiose feast for simply unworthy recipients.
More rounds of Ha Long Beer eventually followed, graduating to Gin and Tonics. The rest of the evening was spent stumbling over American pop hits of the 90’s and early 2000’s, laughing fiendishly at everyone’s missteps and tone deafness, going falsetto during the crooners and channeling low tenors during the jumpy, exuberant, obvious pop tunes.
The morning came gradually; clouds threatening rain blanketed the sky, breakfast of fried eggs with toast and bread. Before we knew it the clouds that threatened rain began to shower violently, cracks of lightning and thunder barged themselves through the atmosphere as the bay pattered with ferocity.
Our plan was to visit a Pearl Farm, an area specifically dedicated to the cultivation and production of pearls. Drenched in rain we boarded the boat and headed out.
We perused the shops displaying shiny pearl necklaces and rings, making our rounds before heading back to the boat, the rain finally letting up. A cloud-smattered sky bid us farewell as we moved across the water, the only sound the hum of our cruise liner, the mountains and rock structures bidding us farewell. The silence of the moment gave way to reflection.
This was a beautiful trip, but more so it was an investigation into the traits and qualities of the country, its food, its culture, its lore, its wonders, all of it encapsulated into two days of stimuli driven inundation. To say Ha Long Bay is just a “bay with some big rocks,” would be criminally trivializing one of the great wonders and awe inspiring essences of Vietnam.