Wednesday, 3 February 2010
Four hours on a bus there, four hours on a bus back. But it was totally worth it! Our passion for Northern Vietnam spiralled as the bus pulled up nearby the harbour in Halong Bay. Looking out far into the distance was like observing the best masterpiece that a painter could create. The water was relatively calm with mellow ripples and the occasional subtle wave. An array of karst limestone formations appeared to be floating as each one boasted its own glory.
It was evident that none of these formations would be anywhere near as magnificent without the others, as together they create a winding labyrinth in which the extremely curious could easily become lost, never to return. Fortunately for us, our captain knew where he was going!
Setting sail on the wooden two-storey junk was no mistake. As we retreated from civilisation, we had some tasty grub that consisted of fish that had been lightly fried with ginger, rice, traditional tofu, nem (spring rolls), a helping of vegetables and some octopus! After wolfing that down, whilst using only chopsticks must I add (we are experts now), we headed upstairs to the exposed deck to absorb the overcast, and slightly peculiar atmosphere. It was just like being in Treasure Island or Pirates Of The Caribbean! Especially with the ravenous eagles and their large, and in fact, intimidating wingspan, which appeared even larger as they swooped down close to us. These magnificent birds of prey weren’t swooping to greet us unfortunately, but as they also have stomachs to fill, they were making a dive for some of the vulnerable marine life to catch some dinner!
We proceeded into the depths of the maze, where a small, floating fishing village emerged. Our captain pointed out where the people were living and he even showed us the floating school, which was little more than a small shack itself. In fact, it’s not dishonest to say that most of the people’s houses there were larger than that school. It was just magical to think of the families there that have no need to go onto the main shore ever. Many of them just grow up and live there happily, surviving on their catches and trading with other locals for produce and other necessities. We hopped off ship to say hello briefly, before jumping into a canoe for some of our own exploration!
“What’s that? ... Is it a tunnel?”, we wondered as we paddled as fast as we could towards it. As we neared the opening we gazed at the majestic stalactites that were pointing down menacingly. To continue was the only option and through the dark, shallow arch we went (being watchful of our heads).
On the other side lay a silent valley of tranquillity where only eagles nested in the walls formed by the tree-covered limestone. Nobody was around! It was only us in the centre of the towering limestone enclosure that had formed a complete circle over many years. The only way out now was back through the tunnel we came. We never got tired of canoeing in and out of tunnels throughout Halong Bay.
When the time came to get back on board the boat, it was indeed disappointing that the canoeing time was over even though the fun wasn’t. The boat sailed around a large limestone peak and entered a small, secret bay within where there’s a large cave that nobody would know existed!
Up the side of the limestone mountain we climbed, through the forest, eager to find the entrance. It was almost like were visiting Hades in the underworld as we exchanged daylight for dark, winding catacombs. The cave became brighter as we ventured deeper into it because artificial lighting had been installed every so often so that us travellers can see our way around! There was an awesome moment inside the cave where the electric lights disappeared for a moment to allow the sun to emit its radiant beams through an elliptical crevasse that slanted in the cliff side. Magical!
After exiting the cave, but before starting our journey back to the main shore, it was popcorn time! We came across a lady on her stall of delicious goodies and a small tub of sweet popcorn caught our eyes. Who says you have to be in the cinema to eat popcorn?!
Sailing back to shore was relaxing as we just sprawled out over the top wooden deck of the ship, watching the karst limestone peaks drift away into the distance.