An ode to Ha Long bay

By: Bobby Nguyen

Follow the leader:Holidaymakers explore limestone rock formations in Ha Long Bay.Kayaking is just one of many activities tour operators offer in thearea. — Photos courtesy Indochina Sails

Our three days and two nights on a the wooden junk named Valentine, of Indochina Sailsmay just be our most memorable trip together since I was 10 years oldand accompanied my mother to visit the sea for the first time. Now Iwas a 20-something girl, old enough to stretch by my mother’s side ontwo deck chairs and enjoy the darkness surrounding the numerous whitelimestone towers, not to mention the melodious ballads flying up fromthe wooden deck into the sky. It was our first night on board, a momentso tranquil that it made a western couple stand up and waltz. At thetime, our junk was still moving slowly ahead, passing through the coolsea-breeze and many gigantic limestone towers, which impressed us withtheir bizarre shapes in the darkness.

This wasn’t what we were expecting when we joined the newly- designed cruise.

Wewere excited the moment we took a tender to step onto the giganticwooden junk, which resembled an ancient French-style palace floating onthe sea. Passing through the glittering dining room, with its windowsfacing the sea, we reached our cabin. My mother and I immediately sawbeyond the wooden doors: two parallel white sheeted beds, a jar ofwhite Madonna lilies, two large windows covering almost half of thebrown wooden wall, and a splendid view of the sea outside.

Ourfirst day was spent relaxing on the deck and in our cabin, althoughthere were various activities tourists could enjoy partaking in onland, such as visiting Bat Cave, Cua Van fishing village or Soi SimBeach. Most of us were not interested in stepping off the junk, sinceit served as an idyllic day-trippers’ paradise. Lying on the beds atnight, we could see both the high limestone towers and bright starsglittering in the dark sky.

Wewent to bed early that night. Perhaps it was the effect of consuming afew glasses of good red wine on deck, or the cool breeze coming in fromthe large window mixed in with the intoxicating air from the creamlilies, that served as soothing lullabies.

Thesecond day began filled with energy as we woke up early to participatein a tai chi session on the sun deck. We then transferred to theday-trip boat and cruised to the bay’s most untouched areas. Abuffet-style breakfast was served on the boat, which was not onlyimpressive in its various delicious Western dishes, but also servedvery good Vietnamese pho (noodle soup).

Bythe time we completed our breakfast we had reached Ngoc Vung Island. Itwas sunny and none of us could refuse to take a light bicycle tripthrough untouched forests to enjoy the natural scenery here. After halfan hour, we found ourselves in front of the endless white sand-beachwith not a single human shadow in sight. From afar, the sea couldappeared as an emerald. I changed into a bathing suit while my motherchose to relax under the cool shadows of the pine forest.

Thehighlight of the trip turned out to be kayaking in the afternoon, whenour boat reached Cong Do area. All of us were very eager, although mymother seemed hesitant. She had never squeezed into a kayak before andshe didn’t know how to swim.

Ouryellow kayaks followed each other, moving in the low surf, with thewarm waters of the sea lapping, and the cool breeze wrapping around us.The high rock formations seemed much higher when looked up and couldmake our way through all the narrow slots between the towers todiscover a strange area where big boats couldn’t reach.

Oursecond day came to a good end with a delicious dinner, a grilledseafood feast, after which we went off to see people catching squidsoffshore. Passengers who caught squids could be found at our table fora second dinner, laughing away as they shared their funny stories.

Thenext morning our ship steamed forward to Sung Sot Cave, one of thebay’s most impressive limestone caverns. The entrance required a hikeup stone steps to a spot high above the bay. More steps led intoreceding chambers, past humongous stalactites and stalagmites thatresembled giant sandcastles.

Our cruise ended in the afternoon with us waving to the staff as we returned to land.

Manyhesitate to vacation in a sailboat, but it is worth trying, for onceyou go, you will want to go again and again. It is advisable to go in agroup, as you can share together all the wonderful moments of sittingstandstill in the cool sea-breeze, listening to love ballads, sippingVallformosa red wine, while the limestone towers all around move softlyas the boat keeps drifting ahead.

HaLong is like a story whose ending I thought I had reached but inreality I discovered that it has many alternative endings that need tobe discoveredFree Articles, again and again.

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