Monday, February 1, 2010

Enter the Dragon

After an early morning wake-up call, a bowl of steaming Pho, and one insane bus trip, Mariana and I were following our guide down a cracked side-walk to the Ha Long Bay Harbor. Ha Long Bay is located three hours north of Hanoi along Vietnam's beautiful coastline and it is famous for its 1,969 karst features that jut out of the water in all directions. The small limestone islands are covered with vast numbers of trees and various other tropical fauna. An aerial view of the area reveals an overall shape that resembles a dragon, with each island representing a different scale along the dragon's back. "Ha Long" roughly translates to "Dragon", hence the name "Ha Long Bay".

We booked a two day cruise, which included an overnight stay on an "antique" junk boat fully equipped with traditional fan sails that were kept dormant in favor of a much faster gas powered engine. The harbor was massive and filled to the brim with boats of all shapes and sizes. Tourists frantically tried to maintain sight of their ninja-like guides as they swiftly navigated their way around the docks. Many of the travel agencies in Vietnam are connected in a "Cosa Nostra" type manner, so most people are very wary of losing their guides as they try to board a respectable boat. Our boat (the Cristina) was not the finest ship in the harbor, but it certainly was not the worst. I do not pretend to be a nautical expert, nor can I distinguish great vessels from good ones, but I do know that you should not set sail with a captain who is preoccupied with scooping water out of the body of his ship with a bright orange bucket, as many of the shoddier operators were doing. Thank God for our hotel and their respectable tourist operations.

The Cristina set sail within an hour and we headed out to the bay for a little trekking and kayaking through a few of the more scenic karst features. The evening ended with a fantastic dinner, a bottle of Vietnamese wine, and a conversation with new found friends from Sweden. Great day.

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