It was my fourth visit to Ha Long Bay, but the first time my mother and I could together float on the sea, from sunset to sunrise on a large wooden junk.
Follow the leader: Holidaymakers explore limestone rock formations in Ha Long Bay. Kayaking is just one of many activities tour operators offer in the area.
Our three days and two nights on a the wooden junk named Valentine, of Indochina Sails may just be our most memorable trip together since I was 10 years old and accompanied my mother to visit the sea for the first time. Now I was a 20-something girl, old enough to stretch by my mother’s side on two deck chairs and enjoy the darkness surrounding the numerous white limestone towers, not to mention the melodious ballads flying up from the wooden deck into the sky. It was our first night on board, a moment so tranquil that it made a western couple stand up and waltz. At the time, our junk was still moving slowly ahead, passing through the cool sea-breeze and many gigantic limestone towers, which impressed us with their bizarre shapes in the darkness.
We were excited the moment we took a tender to step onto the gigantic wooden junk, which resembled an ancient French-style palace floating on the sea. Passing through the glittering dining room, with its windows facing the sea, we reached our cabin. My mother and I immediately saw beyond the wooden doors: two parallel white sheeted beds, a jar of white Madonna lilies, two large windows covering almost half of the brown wooden wall, and a splendid view of the sea outside.
Our first day was spent relaxing on the deck and in our cabin, although there were various activities tourists could enjoy partaking in on land, such as visiting Bat Cave, Cua Van fishing village or Soi Sim Beach. Most of us were not interested in stepping off the junk, since it served as an idyllic day-trippers’ paradise. Lying on the beds at night, we could see both the high limestone towers and bright stars glittering in the dark sky.
We went to bed early that night. Perhaps it was the effect of consuming a few glasses of good red wine on deck, or the cool breeze coming in from the large window mixed in with the intoxicating air from the cream lilies, that served as soothing lullabies.
The second day began filled with energy as we woke up early to participate in a Tai Chi session on the sun deck. We then transferred to the day-trip boat and cruised to the bay’s most untouched areas. A buffet-style breakfast was served on the boat, which was not only impressive in its various delicious Western dishes, but also served very good Vietnamese pho (noodle soup).
By the time we completed our breakfast we had reached Ngoc Vung Island. It was sunny and none of us could refuse to take a light bicycle trip through untouched forests to enjoy the natural scenery here. After half an hour, we found ourselves in front of the endless white sand-beach with not a single human shadow in sight. From afar, the sea could appear as an emerald. I changed into a bathing suit while my mother chose to relax under the cool shadows of the pine forest.
The highlight of the trip turned out to be kayaking in the afternoon, when our boat reached Cong Do area. All of us were very eager, although my mother seemed hesitant. She had never squeezed into a kayak before and she didn’t know how to swim.
Our yellow kayaks followed each other, moving in the low surf, with the warm waters of the sea lapping, and the cool breeze wrapping around us. The high rock formations seemed much higher when looked up and could make our way through all the narrow slots between the towers to discover a strange area where big boats couldn’t reach.
Our second day came to a good end with a delicious dinner, a grilled seafood feast, after which we went off to see people catching squids offshore. Passengers who caught squids could be found at our table for a second dinner, laughing away as they shared their funny stories.
The next morning our ship steamed forward to Sung Sot Cave, one of the bay’s most impressive limestone caverns. The entrance required a hike up stone steps to a spot high above the bay. More steps led into receding chambers, past humongous stalactites and stalagmites that resembled giant sandcastles.
Our cruise ended in the afternoon with us waving to the staff as we returned to land.
Many hesitate to vacation in a sailboat, but it is worth trying, for once you go, you will want to go again and again. It is advisable to go in a group, as you can share together all the wonderful moments of sitting standstill in the cool sea-breeze, listening to love ballads, sipping Vallformosa red wine, while the limestone towers all around move softly as the boat keeps drifting ahead.
Ha Long is like a story whose ending I thought I had reached but in reality I discovered that it has many alternative endings that need to be discovered, again and again.