‘Dragons appear on Ha Long Bay’

 

 

An old, popular legend repeated hundreds, if not thousands, of times says that  …

‘…Many years ago, when Vietnam was just starting to develop into a country, they had to fight against invaders. Seeing this, the Gods sent a family of dragons as protectors and so, to help the Vietnamese defending their country…

This family of dragons began spitting out jewels and jade which would turn into the islands and islets dotting the bay, in such way that the rocks were linked together to form a great wall against the invading forces. Magically, numerous mountains abruptly appeared on the surface of the Tonkin sea, blocking the way of the aggressors. When the first of the enemies’ ships reached the bay, they struck the rocks and, in a domino effect, those which followed , struck the first ones…

After winning the battle, the dragons were more interested in peaceful sightseeing of the Earth than battles, so they decided to stay in this bay. The place where the mother dragon descended was named ‘Ha Long’; the place where the dragon’s children attended upon their mother was called ‘Bai Tu Long ‘ island (Bai: attend upon, Tu : children, Long: dragon). And the place where the dragon’s children wriggled their tails violently was called ‘Bach Long Vy’ island (Bach: white colour of the foam made when Dragon’s children wriggled, Long: dragon, Vy: tail)…’

Although this legend is an old one, this is not how the bay was called all through its history. It was only in the late 19th century, when Vietnam wasn’t Vietnam as we know it today but part of the French Indochina, that the name Ha Long Bay appeared for first time on the Maritime Map of France. It was when the French-language Hai Phong News reported: ‘ Dragon appears on Ha Long Bay.’
But that was the 19th century. That was history…

… Year 2018.  21st century : …’ Towering limestone pillars and tiny islets topped by forest rise from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Designated a World Heritage site in 1994, Ha long Bay’s scatter of islands, dotted with wind – and – wave eroded grottoes, is a vision of ethereal beauty and, unsurprisingly, northern Vietnam’s number one tourism hub…’, the announcement said.

Reading the article, I started to think that although we had been living in SouthEast Asia, in Thailand to be more precise, for already fifteen years, we had never been in Vietnam. It is a neighbor country with a rich history, remarkable rich. It is just a few – hours flight. Shame on us.

We should go. We could go. We checked the calendar. There was a short public holiday ahead. Decision made. We went for six days, starting on the last days of April until the 2nd of May. We decided to do Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, on our first visit. From there we could visit Ha long Bay. Wonderful. Our trip coincided with the celebrations of ‘Reunification Day’ and Labour’s Day. Vietnam, Ho Chi Ming’s home country. Great.

The day, as all the three previous days during which we had been touring a grey and wet Hanoi, dawned dark and with heavy clouds. A few hours later, we were navigating deep into Ha long Bay. In the distance, we could see the first limestone formations. Our anxiety was growing. The sky, still menacing. ‘ Don’t worry, Madam, the weather will change, you will have a nice time. We have two days ahead in the bay ‘, said the young, smiling man on the boat deck. The bay, Ha long Bay, where the dragons descended and stayed…

As soon as we got settled, we were given an official welcome by the crew of the boat along with information about the two – days cruise that we would have ahead in Ha Long Bay. Among  drinks and snacks, the staff informed us that our boat was heading towards Lan Ha Bay, a separate, less crowed – more quiet area of Ha long Bay. General silence. They had our full attention by then. More than one face of concern, and an unspoken common thought: ‘ but we had booked and paid  a tour in  Ha Long Bay ‘…

Then, more welcomed than the drinks, came the clarification: because Lan Ha Bay it is not situated in the normal route between Ha long City and Cat Ba, one of the biggest islands of the bay, it is just left aside by the majority of boats cruising the area. Great. General relief.

With around 1,600 limestone monolithic islands, there are countless bays so, why going where the majority of the excursions go? It made sense. Instead, we were heading to an area known for its pristine beaches and spectacular beauty, having around four hundred fascinating islands. Unlike the main, Ha Long Bay, the islands of Lan Ha Bay are forested, and most of them are not so high. Smiles.

Still under grey, heavy skies we kept navigating among the islands and islets for hours. Everything was dyed in greys, blues, greyish – blue – greens: the sky, the water, the limestone formations sprouting up out of the sea of Tonkin. Everything. Ha Long Bay in greys and blues. Not so bad, in the end.

Looking ahead, for moments, we just only saw one island next to the other without a single, narrow, space between them, much less a room for an invading armada. I couldn’t help thinking in the dragons. Yes, they had done an excellent job.

Absorbed in what we were seeing, all track of time lost, we reached the small, beautiful Lan Ha Bay. A solitary, calm and tranquil area. It was true. They were right.
The program included: ‘ kayaking and enjoying the sunset on the boat deck’. So we did. At the time for enjoying the sunset…well, it was still clouded. So I decided just to forget about the weather and enjoy the scenery as it was, which had a magnificence in its own.

With dinner finished, the day was declared done and everyone had free time. We went to our room, to its balcony, really. Sitting on comfortable deck – chairs we had nothing to do but simply enjoying the sounds of the reigning silence and the beauty of that evening turning into night.

A symphony of greys, dark greys becoming blacks. And as I couldn’t with  myself, my camera was next to me, ready. Then, magically, the skies started to open. As if waiting for the right time. Little bit by little bit. It was a full – moon night. It was Magical. Just incredible. Unbelievable. Unforgettable. It was a very short spell of time. Very short, but enough. Like in an incantation, like  in a  spell. A dragons’ gift?

The following morning, still amazed for what we had witnessed  the previous night, we headed out in canoes to explore the area of the bay where the Sang Toi cave is situated. Another extraordinary experience was awaiting us… Although we had read about the Dolines, one of the distinctive features of Ha Long Bay’s karst formations, nobody prepared us for what we saw. The Dolines, are also known as Cenotes, or Sinkholes, or Sinks, or just Lakes. You just name them. They are inside the limestone islands. What means that those islands are hollow, what, in turn, means that once you go in through the entrance caves, you will be able to see the sky. You will be inside the rock formation by then.

We went on kayak, under a bright, warm sun. It  is a family business : mom, the oarswoman of one kayak, dad , rowing a second one, where we were seated.The little son, seated on the top of Dad’s boat during the whole journey, living in his own world of fantasies and crunchy snacks, not paying attention to what occurred around him. We couldn’t stop expressing our surprise and astonishment of what is  an ordinary day for the little boy. The extraordinary of the ordinary.

We reached Sang Toi cave. Passing through its arched entrance, shocked by the view of hundreds of stalactites hanging so close to our heads, we came across a tranquil lake, surrounded by luxuriant vegetation, including tall trees and high stone walls. Just breathtaking. The beauty of it is difficult to put into words: the lake, that looked circular, which it wasn’t, and small, without being small, simply because it was completely surrounded by cliffs, high cliffs to the point of having to crane our necks up, up, to see the blue sky.

The oarsman  of our kayak stopped rowing in the middle of the lake. Calm. Mountains, the sky, the colourful boats, all were reflected with an incredible clarity on the huge, polished – emerald mirror in which the lake had transformed itself. Silence. Nobody on the kayak dared to break it, even the rower’s little son stopped cracking his bag of snacks.  As if we were under a spell, an enchantment. Yes, it was magical.

Hours later, already back on the main boat, we were ready for our journey back to the coast, to mainland. Navigating again along the same route, but in the opposite direction, was as if we were watching a movie backwards. It was the same path. But it wasn’t. ‘ Same, same but different’, we would say in Thailand.

The same karst formations, the same islands, but it looked like another scenery. Then, we saw the bay’s floating villages which had called our attention the previous morning and we didn’t know what they were. The Vietnamese have been living in these floating houses for many generations as fishing was, and still is, the villagers’ main income.

Without realizing, we found ourselves in Hon Gai harbour. Where our journey started only 24 hours ago. Incredible all what we were be able to live, savour and enjoy in such a short period of time. Behind us, in the distance, deep into Ha Long Bay, the Tonkin sea peppered by those fantastic limestone formations. The magical full moon. The dragons.The dragons that appeared on Ha Long Bay. Only for us…

 

 

Now, lets tour Ha Long Bay through pictures …

Under grey, heavy skies we kept navigating among the islands and islets for hours. Everything was dyed in greys, blues, greyish – blue – greens: the sky, the water, the limestone formations sprouting up out of the sea of Tonkin. Everything. Ha Long Bay in greys and blues. Not so bad, in the end.

 

Looking ahead, for moments, we just only saw one island next to the other without a single, narrow, space between them, much less a room for an invading armada. I couldn’t help thinking in the dragons. Yes, they had done an excellent job…

 

Protected by the Dragons’ barrier, lies Ha Long City..

.

 

With around 1,600 limestone monolithic islands, there are countless bays so, why going where the majority of the excursions go? It made sense. So we kept going…

 

At the time for enjoying the sunset…well, it was still clouded. So I decided just to forget about the weather and enjoy the scenery as it was, which had a magnificence in its own…

 

… Then, magically, the skies started to open. As if waiting for the right time. Little bit by little bit. It was a full – moon night. Magical. Just incredible. Unbelievable. Unforgettable. A dragons’ gift?…

 

The following morning dawn grey again. Still amazed for what we had witness the previous night, we headed out in canoes to explore the area of the bay where the Sang Toi cave is situated. And yet another extraordinary experience was awaiting us…

 

The oarsman  of our kayak stopped rowing in the middle of the lake. Calm. Mountains, the sky, the colourful boats, all were reflected with an incredible clarity on the huge, polished – emerald mirror in which the lake had transformed itself. Silence…

 

 

…’ We started our way back towards mainland. The same route, opposite direction.Then, we saw the bay’s floating villages which had called our attention the previous morning and we didn’t know what they were. The Vietnamese have been living in these floating houses for many generations as fishing was, and still is, the villagers’ main income…

 

The last ‘junction’ of the path. Mainland was close, ‘just around the corner ‘…

Behind us, in the distance, deep into Ha Long Bay, the Tonkin sea peppered by those fantastic limestone formations. The magical full moon. The dragons.The dragons that appeared on Ha Long Bay. Only for us..

 

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By
Argentine, civil engineer by profession, ex-city planner by choice, amateur photographer and travel writer by chance; without speaking any English, I moved into Pattaya because of my husband's job in March 2003, along with our fifteen -years old son. With great conviction, will power and a great group of friends, those hard times are part of the past. Slowly, I started to find my own space, to recognize and feel Pattaya as my own city, I started to have a ...home, so far from Home.

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