8th November, Halong Bay, Vietnam
I could use every superlative in the book to describe Halong Bay and it still would not do the place justice. The landscape is truly breathtaking and seems to go on forever. With over three thousand islands jutting out of the deep emerald waters that make up the Gulf of Tonkin, there is no shortage of photo opportunites.
Legend has it that Halong Bay was created by a great dragon who lived up in the mountains. As it ran into the sea, its floundering tail carved out deep valleys from the ground. These crevasses were later filled with water, leaving the taller mounts to protrude above the surface. 'Ha Long' literally translates to 'where the dragon descends into sea'.
The dragon may indeed be a legend but over the years, another one has evolved. Local sailors have often reported sightings of a large mysterious marine creature known as the Tarasque. The more eccentric would believe it to be genuine - possibly a relative of 'Nessy' who apparently resides at Loch Ness in the UK. The more paranoid would speculate that it is connected to espionage and is in fact a spy submarine. The sceptics would argue that it is a ploy to rouse tourism. Whichever side of the fence you might wish to sit on, it is a mystery nevertheless. On this trip we did not spot Tarasque though, and it is not surprising as we are looking at 1500 square kilometres worth of playground here.
The day started off overcast and it had obviously been raining overnight. This helped lift the haze a little, which gave the landscape more depth of field. We could see the layering effect of the mountains with more clarity. Our newly found friends, Sue and Matt, who we'd met at dinner yesterday evening were also on the same boat as us. Matt had brought his SLR camera with him and together Ian and I tried out the different lenses, fiddling with various camera settings, looking through the viewfinder and wishing we had brought ours along with us too (unfortunately, not so practical for travellers). The potential for excellent photography here is great. We looked at our little point and shoot camera and did the best we could.
Fishing boats, fruit sellers and pearl sellers would occasionally make their way over to our boat (and all the other tourist boats on the horizon). If Mohammed will not move to the mountain, the mountain must move over to Mohammed. In reality, I'm not sure if there was anyone by the name of Mohammed on the boats but I'm glad the mountains stayed put!
Back at Halong Bay, we saw various people that we'd met on different legs of the trip. During the two day trip, we had arrived on one bus, had three boat transfers and four tour guides. It seemed disorganised in an organised kind of way and somehow, all the stands came together perfectly at the end. Everyone had enjoyed the trip and went back to Hanoi feeling happy. It was a nice way of ending our trip to Vietnam - we fly back to Bangkok tomorrow afternoon.