It’s taken me months to write this post. Months to be able to revisit this place in my mind. Maybe I needed it to be hotter. Maybe I needed the humidity to set in for me to be able to go back to the bay and to take you with me. It has been almost a year since I was here, since these pictures were taken. And still, I can pull myself back like it was yesterday….
We sat in the waiting room, sipping out freshly squeezed watermelon juice. This was the first time we got to wait for Stephanie.
Beautiful, tall, blonde and obviously wealthy… Stephanie was the kind of woman who gives Americans a bad name. Which is ironic as she was from Canada. Anyway. Stephanie, upon reaching the port, realized that she needed a hat. She somehow managed to get all the way to the port without this realization. So… we waited. Stephanie went downtown, bought a hat and came back.
Stephanie, new hat in hand and designer sunglasses perched on her nose, led the way as we boarded the dinghy to take us to our boat.
In Vietnamese, Vịnh Hạ Long, literally “descending dragon bay” is an amazing site to behold. The port, where the cruise ships and junk boats dock is just outside of a city. The commerce in the area is largely tourism, but it also still has a healthy balance of the old. Traditional fishing boats and fishing villages still exist. We sped across the bay in our tiny boat as we approached our boat, the Dragon II.
All the boats are painted white, with huge sails. Apparently, because of how many boats are on the bay at any time, they were painted white for safety. (The polished mahogany apparently blended in with the darkness.) We climbed out of the dinghy and got onto our boat, excited to start our adventure.
We had an adorable cabin, with two of the most comfortable twin sized beds I have ever had a change to sleep on. We quickly unloaded our things and changed into swim suits. The boat had plenty of places to relax. An outdoor dining room, an indoor dining room and a beautiful deck with lounge chairs. There was a spot for everyone. Sister and I leaned against the railings, drinking in the view.
The bay itself has close to 2000 islets, mostly made from limestone outcroppings. I don’t claim to understand how that happens, but it looks like these tiny islands were once the bottom of the ocean. Thrust upwards, they towered overhead. I felt quite positive that we would see a pterodactyl or a pirate ship at any moment.
The islets were covered with lush foliage and you could hear the most exotic noises. The hum of cicadas and the shrieks of monkeys mingled with other noises I couldn’t identify. We cruised around, the wind lifting our hair and the sun warming our backs. The humidity was lessened by the breeze from our movement. The water was an intense aquamarine: not blue, not green and almost impossible to photograph. When swimming, the water was warm and silky. Heavy in saline, we floated with increased buoyancy. It was both refreshing and relaxing. Other than the jellyfish. Jellyfish are like ninjas here. You don’t see them coming until they’re almost on top of you. We had to have a jellyfish lookout while we were swimming.
We cruised around the bay for a while and then we dropped anchor in Bái Tử Long, an area of the bay that is more secluded. The literal translation is something about baby dragons, but I don’t remember now.
Our tour guide was delightful, he told us all about it. We dropped anchor in this little area, had lunch and then went kayaking.
Sister and I paddled our way around the area. We went into caves we weren’t supposed to go into and wandered around, mobile in our little paddleboat. It became evident quickly that I don’t know my right from left. Tour guide as always, my sister ran the show shouting out directions so that we didn’t crash into one of the limestone islands. (there are over 2000, you would think I would learn at some point to avoid them.)
After we paddled ans swam for a while, we returned to our ship for an amazing dinner. We realized then that our travel companions all had weird food issues. A vegetarian. Someone who didn’t eat pork. Someone who only ate fish. And then the old lady who wanted everything with no coriander.
Apparently, cilantro and coriander are the same damn thing. I always thought they were totally different tastes and totally different plants. Apparently I was wrong.
This woman could taste it in everything. She had them remake everything. I love cilantro and I would put it in every dish I cook were it socially acceptable to do so. So I got irritated quickly with her continued insistence that everything had it.
“These green flecks, I know it’s coriander. Can’t you cook this without coriander?” It became a theme. Waiting for Stephanie and no coriander.
After dinner, we had delicious Vietnamese coffee and stretched out on the deck to watch the sun dip behind the islands. The sky changed to the most magnificent colors as the sun dropped down.
Once the sun had gone down, the noises from the islands grew eerie but oddly soothing. The alien unseen creatures serenaded us from afar, their lullaby echoing off the water. Stars spread out in a blanket above us. The ship’s lights were dimmed and the moon rose over the water. With no light pollution, the night sky was amazing. Tiny pinpricks in the black velvet backdrop seemed to go on forever. We laid out on the deck, stretched out under the stars pointing out constellations we knew and guessing at the ones we didn’t.
It was glorious.