I wrote about Ha Long Bay in Vietnam for the Bangalore edition of DNA, on 27th January. Here is the piece, with some more of my photographs.
Dragons, but no dungeons
You’d have thought that we’d opted for a cruise on Ha Long Bay just so that we could crack pun-ny jokes at its expense. “Ha long do you think the cruise will be?” “Wanna come ha long for a ride?” “What if I want ha longer bay?” “Is there ha shorter version of the cruise?” These and many more terrible puns were cracked as we made our way to Ha Long City, which is a few hours’ drive from Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. All this mirth evaporated within about 20 minutes of getting on to the junk boat because when you’re surrounded by the beauty of Ha Long Bay, all you can do is gape.
Ha Long Bay translates to “the bay of descending dragons”. According to legend, when Vietnam was born, it was attacked by invaders and the gods sent down a legion of dragons to protect the country. These dragons spat out jewels and jade that created a necklace of islands that became a barrier against the invaders’ ships. After defeating the enemy, the dragons chose to stay on in this part of the country because it was so beautiful, and so was born Ha Long Bay. Many of the present-day junk boats that take tourists out to the bay have dragons carved on them because of this myth.
Dragons may not be entirely credible but it’s easy to believe someone being charmed by Ha Long Bay and wanting to live an eternity here. The waters are like polished glass. On cloudy days, the water and the sky is almost the same colour and so, it feels like the boat is floating through the sky. On days when the sun is out, the light catches the rippling waters and makes it sparkle like it’s a sea of crushed diamonds. Most of the 1600 islands and islets of Ha Long Bay are uninhabited by people, which means all around you is perfect, unbroken silence.
In winter, craggy islands – dotted with colourful flowers –seem to glide out of the mist as the boat goes further out and the mainland becomes invisible. Go in summer, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site is lush and green, covered with rare flowers and plants. Even familiar flora, like bougainvillea, look exotic here. Some of the islands have limestone caves with incredible stalactite and stalagmite formations. It’s like entering a weird wonderland.
And as if all this wasn’t enough, there’s fresh, delicious seafood. Vegetarians will have to starve but those who like prawns, lobsters, squid and fish will find the meal served on the junk boat unforgettable. It’s no surprise that the legendary dragons chose to make Ha Long Bay home.