1/17/10: Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Today we woke up early to go look at rocks on a boat whose name ended in “Junk,” with the knowledge that there was a very good chance we would get scammed.
Today was one of the best days of our entire trip.
Our destination was Ha Long Bay, an area off the east coast of Vietnam that consists of 1,969 rock formations peaking out of the water. In online reviews of the excursion into the “bay of the descending dragon” it was clear that the odds of choosing an enjoyable budget-friendly cruise were about the same as the odds a Jamaican bobsled team would make the 1988 Olympics (a foreboding metaphor). Unfortunately our budget wouldn’t allow for anything more than a lower end option. If we wound up on a cockroach infested boat with no real beds and a captain out of Pirates of the Caribbean we’d just have to make the most of it.
The 11 of us risk-takers arrived at the harbor just before noon and were shuffled into a boat the size of my bathroom while our guide, Son, asked us what we thought of the Marguerite Junk. Fortunately it didn’t take long to realize Son enjoyed a mediocre joke from time to time. (His favorite: when the sun disappeared behind the rocks he would ask anyone in earshot, “Where did the sun go?” After a few seconds he get a big smile on his face and point to himself laughing, “I’m right here!”) We were simply being shuttled to the majestic Marguerite Junk, perhaps the best-looking boat in entire bay.
We were greeted by warm towels, a clean room (complete with hot shower, DVD player, A/C and decorative pillows) and then a lunch fit for a lesser-known king. I would have said a regular king, but the nine or so courses of this meal paled in comparison to the upcoming dinner.
After a bit of relaxing, we then explored Sung Sot cave (“Surprising cave” in English), a massive hollow discovered by the French in 1923 (I was paying attention Son!). Although we’re still not sure what was so surprising about it (other than the group of cool American 20-somethings ignoring all signs and climbing over whatever rocks and crevices they could get their hands on – wait, that’s not surprising at all), it was quite impressive.
Although I hate doing play-by-plays of our day, this post has entered that realm and there’s no turning back now. From the cave we went kayaking through the rocks. Because we looked so powerful, Zhou and I were given paddles with massive chunks missing and a boat with a hole in the front. Despite this disadvantage and the fact that I refused to paddle most of the time while I took pictures, Zhou kept us within shouting distance of the group the entire time.
Our muscles aching from the kayaking and picture-taking, we gorged on the aforementioned dinner that included the best crab cakes I have ever eaten. (Two notes: (1) I have never had crab cakes before but Zhou won’t allow them as a new food since supposedly “they’re just made of crab” and (2) I know that fact ruins the the earlier superlative, so I’ll go as far to say they were probably the best seafood I have ever tasted.)
The night was capped off by perhaps the most enjoyable activity of the day: squishing! For those of you unfamiliar with this made-up term, squishing is the act of fishing for squid. Under the starry sky, we sat on the bow of the boat with our three new friends from the day and dropped four strings attached to unnecessarily long bamboo poles into the water. Three of the strings had lures attached, but I was determined to use the hook of the unbaited fourth string to jab a squid in the stomach and pull it up to the boat. However, when we finally caught our first and only squid it wasn’t attached to my hook.
We all called it a night after we determined Pete would no longer ink himself whenever we touched him, but before we did I took a minute to look around at the ominous shadows of all the rocks around us. I doubt that even Robert Frost was talented enough to put the beauty of Ha Long Bay into words, so who am I to try? Suffice it to say that I doubt there’s anything quite like it in the world and even Mick Jagger would have to admit that this place rocks.
Picture of the Day: I thought peddling wares on land was tough, but there’s a small floating village of people who hawk to the large cruise boats selling food and drinks.