Saturday, December 30, 2006

Water world once again

We spent a night on a junk in Halong Bay, moored in a sheltered cove between small islands that stick out of the water like the spikes on a dragon’s back. Halong Bay’s legend calls it the bay of the descending dragon and it’s easy to see why. These sharp limestone karst islands are no bigger than Albany hill in the East Bay, smaller than Mt. Tamalpais. Some are no more than tall boulders, but they are all taller than they are wide and are scattered in groups around a huge bay that feels big enough to be an ocean. Being alone out there, sitting on the upper deck in the mist, was one of the most serene experiences either of us has ever had.

Tourists go out on motorized junks, some for day trips, but most overnight since it’s a 3 hour drive each way from Hanoi. Many of the boats take multiple tourists but we hired one for ourselves at very little more cost. Our guide accompanied us and our crew of 4 handled the boat and cooked our meals, which included fabulously fresh prawns and crab. It was a bit primitive in terms of accommodation, but there was hot water, toilets, and even Chinese movies on the TV that the crew watched before dinner.

The boats motor out for something over an hour and most stop at the prescribed tourist spots: the beach at this island, the cave at that island. We asked that we stay as much as possible out of the flotilla of other junks and visit the caves, etc. in reverse or mixed order, and for the most part it worked. Gene went sea kayaking for a bit while I sat on the deck and watched while the junks unfurled their red and gold sails for a photo op and small boats from the floating fishing village moored nearby came by to sell vegetables and cigarettes to the crew as the sky darkened. It was perfect.

Somehow I’ve made my peace with the water.

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