A bay beyond belief

A bay beyond belief

We recently had the opportunity to travel to Halong Bay,  a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Vietnam. To say the least, it was a remarkable experience. It was on the last day of our Ho Chi Minh City visit that we took a two-hour flight to Hanoi. We stayed at the old quarters of Hanoi City.

The streets were full of independent shops and eateries. The city slept late with the night market open till 1 am and traffic was restricted to only two-wheelers and cars. Hanoi was our transit point to Halong Bay, which is 130 kms away. The scenic drive took three hours due to the strict implementation of speed limits.

Next morning, after a sumptuous breakfast, our guide Sunny took us to Halong Bay. The bay has thousands of limestone isles in innumerable sizes and shapes. Our guide told us that about 1,500 sq km of the emerald sea here is dotted with amazing limestone islands. The mountains that came in through the water when we drove to our destination were but a small example of the wonder that awaited us.

Millions of years ago, the whole area was a deep sea. Geological events led to the rising of the bay. The bay is not just dazzling in appearance but also a pre-historic museum. We had taken a one-night cruise on the Indo-China Sails which had around 10 bedrooms.

Except the upper deck which was open, all parts of it were air-conditioned. The sail is similar to our Indian houseboats and one can also take a day’s cruise or opt for four nights of sailing through the captivating isles. Besides being a truly remarkable scenic experience by itself, the cruise includes a visit to one of the islands in the bay that gives a picturesque view of Halong. There were 400 steps to the top viewpoint.

Another highlight was the largest limestone cave in Asia — Sung Sôt or Surprise Grotto. Aptly described by some of the early travellers as — ‘Paradise on Earth’, Sung Sot cave covers around 10,000 m2 with a height of 30m. It has thousands of stalactites and stalagmites.

The stones are in all shapes and sizes. We could spot the contour of a tortoise, an elephant, leaves and flowers. Small artificial lighting added to the splendour of the place. After lunch, we went to the fishermen’s village on a boat. The fishermen have been living in the middle of the bay for several generations. They make their income through fishing and selling pearls collected from the bay. It reminded me of the movie ‘Water World’.

When the ships dock at night — the people from the village come to sell products like pearls, cigarettes, perfumes, bags, chains, bangles and key chains. Bargaining is the call of the day.

Post dinner, one could go fishing for squids, which are present in large numbers in the bay. We would start our day with a coffee or tea service followed by Tai Chi practice on the open deck. After breakfast, the boat started its return journey and reached the shore by 11.30 pm, where our guide and driver were waiting for us.

 Halong Bay is truly carved out of poetry — timeless and enchanting. In Greek mythology, King Odysseus is said to have

escaped the songs of the sirens in his bay. But had he seen the beauty and splendour of the Halong Bay, he would have probably been imprisoned forever. For here, everything is just — superlative.

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