It’s the dim haze of mystery that adds enchantment to pursuit. If you’re wondering what to take from this quote by 18th century French writer Antione de Rivarol, then a trip to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam should satisfy your curiosity. This UNESCO World Heritage site, with its emerald green waters and limestone citadels, captured my imagination with its authentic beauty on the second day of our trip to the south east Asian country.
We began the day with a two-hour drive from Hanoi to a port where row upon row of junk boats where moored, ready to take groups of tourists around the bay. It was here that a cruise boat, The Genius, welcomed us for an adventure.
That adventure began the moment we boarded the boat and headed out into the openness of the 1,553 km2 bay of Ha Long, which means “Descending Dragon”. We watched the green water with intrigue as the spray lightly tickled our skin and the towering citadels guided our path. With senses enlivened we moved inside and continued to enjoy the unfolding scenery over a set course lunch of spring rolls, prawns, beef with chilli, ginger, spring onion in a sweet sauce, sticky Vietnamese rice and exotic fruits. Then, with appetites sated, we headed back to the deck and enjoyed the scenery and the misty spray from the water as we ventured towards Thien Cung Caves.
We approached a boarding post where much smaller boats waited to take us closer to the caves. Once inside, our tour guide enlightened us about the legend of the caves: the Dragon King and his wife May lived here in magical Thien Cung, or “Heavenly Home” where they had 100 children, occasionally flying among the islands of the bay to protect fishermen and farmers and defending them from invaders. In 1993, in a big storm, fishermen came here to avoid the storm and accidentally explored a large cave about 25-metres above sea level. Stalactites inside resemble the shape of dragon, a phoenix, and Four Pillars, which made them think about an imperial palace.
Cobble stones led us through the 10,000 square metre cave and transported us into a magical fairy-like grotto. In the middle of cave was a turtle, one of the sacred creatures of Vietnam signifying luck. We touched the turtle’s head for luck and continued to follow the stones through the caves. They were a story teller’s dream and for a moment I could not resist pretending I was Dorothy following the Yellow Brick Road toward the wonderful Land of Oz.
Alas our cobble stone adventure came to an end and we headed back to the small boats. Soon we were reunited with the Genius which welcomed us back with dragon fruit, jackfruits and watermelon and a glass of wine to reflect on the experience. The day trip had taken us to completely unfamiliar places, with dragon-like mountains and ancient mythical kingdoms. But no destination is ever reached without a journey. In this sense, the hazy waters of Ha Long Bay were the perfect prologue to the fairytale-like caves, enchanting those who sail on them.
And every enchanting story needs an epilogue: the day trip to Ha Long Bay triggered the imagination with dramatic features resembling a fairly-tale world. And as I remember the caves in this blog I cannot help but also remember the words of another legend, ‘Ol Blue Eyes himself, who sang: Fairytales can come true, it can happen to you. If you’re young at heart.