Ha Long Bay: Day One
We’d barely touched down in Vietnam when we were scooped up by our enthusiastic Vega Travel guide, Dang, and herded onto a minibus headed for Ha Long Bay. On board were 12 other intrepid sailors joining us for the three-day trip, which included one night on a traditional Vietnamese junk boat.
En route, Dang regaled us with legends of the bay; how Mother Dragon and her children descended to earth to help ancient Vietnamese people defend the country. This family of dragons spat out jewels which turned into the thousands of islands and limestone ‘karsts’ which linked together to form a great wall against the invaders. The name Ha Long literally means “descending dragon”.
The boat was far more elegant than we’d anticipated. Painted white (as all Ha Long Bay boats must be since May 2012) with flower baskets, a well-stocked bar, sundeck with loungers and little cabins that looked out over the great expanse of water as flat and still as a mirror.
That first afternoon, we sailed to Hang Sung Sot or “Surprising Cave”, so called not because it is surprisingly beautiful (which it was) or surprisingly big (which it also was) but because of the enormous penis-shaped rock protruding from a stalactite at its centre, strategically lit with a red glow to ensure no tourist misses out on its mysterious wonder. A Belgium couple from our boat panicked slightly when their curious seven-year-old, Emma, asked for the joke to be explained, so we rallied round insisting it looked like a pointing finger. She wasn’t convinced.
Later that day, we paddled kayaks through a limestone tunnel into a huge lagoon and jumped into the deep, green water, so still we could leave the boats to float and they didn’t move an inch. All was well, until a fellow Brit claimed to have been stung by a jellyfish and chaos ensued.
Climbing back into a kayak from water is really not that easy, particularly when the morbid fear of being stung extinguishes all regard for the safety and comfort of your kayaking partner. All safely aboard, we paddled back to the boat. The sun was setting over the bay turning the water milky white and save for the gentle splash of paddles, there was barely a sound.
Back on board we showered and made our way to the dining room for the evening’s entertainment: making our own fresh spring rolls. The results of the ‘cooking class’ were mixed, with some rolls infinitely more edible than others but it served as a great way to get to know our fellow passengers. After dinner, we all headed on deck and swapped stories while sipping ice cold beers under the stars.
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