Thursday, October 2, 2008

Heaven on Earth

Dear Friends,

Since my last post on Hanoi, I was taken on a nostalgic roller coaster. My thoughts were instantly reflected to a picturesque sight of a tranquil piece of 'HEAVEN ON EARTH'. This was 15 September 2007. Destination - HALONG BAY.
Halong Bay is recognised as a world heritage for many years. It is a large area which covers over 1,900 limestone islets coupled with a 120 kilometres coastline. Legend has it that on three occasions in the channels of the islands, the Vietnamese stopped the Chinese from invading. In 1288, they stopped the Mongol ships from sailing up the nearby Bach Dang river by placing steel-tipped wooden stakes at high tide, sinking the Mongol Kublai Khan's fleet. The legend is that a slew of dragons spat out jewels and jade into the sea resulting in the jewels turning into islands and islets that surrounds the bay today.

Our pick up point was from the Melia Hanoi at 7.30am. It was a slightly overcast morning and we were waiting for the tour guide and transport to arrive from Buffalo Tours. It was delayed by almost 45 minutes. The journey to Halong Town took about four hours by a packed Ford Transit. We passed villages, plantations and a view of mainly greenery.
We arrived at Halong Town after a brief 'pee' stop cum session of contributing to the Vietnamese economy at a handicraft centre. The packed vehicle we travelled in quickly dispersed it's passengers to the various tour handlers waiting. I, then realised that the others were not part of our package but were merely travelling together just to the pier. A sigh of relieve as I have always liked holidays that were not too 'busy'.
At the pier, there were many wooden junks, sailboats and bamboo boats all floating around. I was equally excited and yet 'disappointed' as we had paid for an exclusive package but none of the junks resembled exclusivity. We were then ushered into a speed boat and taken on a wind challenging journey for about 15 minutes. Lo and behold - there she was standing; tall, pretty and exclusive. She was none other than, 'INDOCHINA SAILS' - our exclusive junk.

She was 40 metres long and 9 metres wide and was indeed a beauty to behold. We were ushered into the junk immediately by the staff who spoke good English. There were a total of 12 cabins and we were impressed with what we saw thus far. There was a dining area next to our cabin where meals were served. Walking upstairs we found an open deck with sun loungers and seats to chill out at. We were lucky as we were told that on board was just another Caucasian couple. He works in a town close to Hue and she was visiting him from South Africa. This was fantastic, just them and us. A tour to a nearby fishing village was arranged as soon as lunch was completed. We spend the evening swimming in the bay with others from the nearby junks.
Meals served were delicious, mainly Vietnamese. We had lunch upon arrival and dinner was served at about 7.30pm. What was amazing was, with the handful of crew on board - all multi tasked. While waiting for dinner; at the deck, the sun was setting behind the surrounding islands as we sit in the dwindling twilight. After dinner, two of the crew put up a performance with musical instruments and singing. The lights in the dining area were dimmed to reflect a stage and though it was not really entertaining, it was a nice touch.
We later adjourned to the deck for some chill out drinks beneath the dark illuminated starry skies. You could literally hear a pin drop in the surroundings. The entire area was just so serene and peaceful, this was really heaven on earth. Sentimental Vietnamese melodies hung in the air as the junk went to 'sleep'.
The next day, tours were arranged to visit some caves. The walk up the caves was tiring. Not much to ramble about, we quickly made our way back to the boat after the obligatory visit. The Indochina Sails, slowly made its' way back to Halong Town. From peace and quiet, the hustle and bustle could be felt as we approached the pier.

The idea of travelling another four hours back to Hanoi was not even intimidating. The time spent relaxing in Halong Bay was just too magical. This was indeed 'HEAVEN ON EARTH', a destination so mysterious that one can just pass through in time.
If you ask me, I don't really care because this is like being cast in a spell right out of a Harry Potter series. I think this is called the spell of Halong Bay.

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