After almost a week in Hanoi we wanted to get to Hạ Long Bay, a place which the only thing I knew about was that there is a city with a bay, where you can travel only with a boat. We were just at the beginning of the trip and didn’t knew enough about Vietnam and how to travel there by ourselves, and since we knew and trusted only Belle from the hotel, we planned this trip with her help. She booked for us a three days and two nights on what later appeared as a big ship with fancy staff and a tight schedule. Post factum I relized that this is the least sleazy way to travel there; it’s either that, or a cazino boat.
We got up early and waited together with Belle at the hotel’s loby until the bus came, filled with Asian tourists, a few Germans and a couple from New Zeeland about our age. The way there was not very long and took about two hours, during it we went through fields, villages and forests. We made a stop at a big shoping center in the middle of nowhere where they sold marble statues in different sizes and colors and many jewlery with expensive gems, and it seemd that aside from us there were mostly oligarchs from different countries who came to Vietnam to furnish their houses. We sat aside, had coffee and looked at everyone together with a groups of seven Melis, who told us that they are traveling together every year.
Eventually we got to Ha Long and waited at a pier, where we could only see a city with white orderly houses and some green mountains in the distance. We waited there for the “Tender”, a small motor boat that would take us to the big ship. aside from us there were the Melis, the couple from New Zeeland, a few more tourists, the instructor and the ship staff, and the captain that looked just like Barack Obama. We went on the Tender as it arrived and put on blue floats that basically just made us sweat. The boat’s engine started loudly and we began to sail, through the small bay into the open sea with big black rocks hatching from the water, to an area where some boats with fat tourists and their cameras parked, and eventually to our boat, The Scorpion. The instructor skipped to the boat entrance and assisted us to get on it, one by one. He was a young guy with a wide mouth and he used to walk around with tailored pants but shirtless, and insisted on weraing a green hat that resembled a military helmet and since that moment Roni and I called him among ourselves “Calimero”. We received small glasses of iced tea and the keys to our cute and small room, with a wooden window facing the sea.
About 15 minutes later we met again at the Scorpion’s dining room, with white maps that the wind kept blowing and fancy knives and forks, where they served sea food soup, bread, shrimps, vegetables, rice and fish. Meanwhile the ship cruised towards a small island and after lunch we went to the beach. The sand was orange and its texture was rough like salt, the water were green and the skies blue with some clouds, and the black rocks rose at the distance. We got into the cool water where colorful small fish swam around, and looked for seashells at the shore. There were many locals there, playing soccer or swimming around.
It was time to get back. We had a free hour so we sat on the boat’s roof as we glided slowly by the rocks. Each of them was embellished in green, and as we passed by them we could hear crickets and birds. What drove me crazy the most about Hạ Long Bay was that people live in small houses floating on the water, made out of wood and plastic sheets, with a wooden porch for each one of them where the families run their lives. Underneath each house a fishing net is spread, and the people are moving from place to place via small kanu-shaped boats.
We arrived at a wooden surface with a small hut floating on the water with schools of fish swimming underneath the planks, and each couple took a yellow kayak from there. Only the Melis took some small bamboo boat because they didn’t wanted or knew how to row. Roni and I shared a kayak and at the beginning we struggled for a bit since we’ve never done it before, but after a while we got the idea and moved forward at a steady pace. We went through a rock tunnel with dripstone dripping water with a slight smell of earth and lots of bats screeching from above, and it led to some kind of a pool surrounded by rocks where Calimero the instructor was waiting. He asked us if we want to swim and showed us how to jump off the kayak, and we jumped after him. I was very hot from rowing and the water were chill close to the surface and warm in the depths. We floated on our back and watched the tall rocks with their trees and plants and the white-blue skies from above, and Roni told me to think about the previous years of schools and part-time jobs. That each hour of work led to this moment. I let the currents carry me. I tried to dive to see how deep the water were and got a scary and happy sensation at once, of insecuriness and lack of control because the water were too deep to find the bottom.
I rested in the water for a bit, leaned on the kayak, while more people arrived and some of them jumped into the water like we did. When it was time to go back we went up on the kayak again, with some effort, and rowed back to the wooden surface. A dog with her puppy were walking around and I tried to be friendly to them, but she was very protective towards her puppy and I didn’t want to scare them so I let it go. The Tender took us back to The Scorpio, where I sat on the roof with a mojito and wrote in my journal.
I felt like I cannot write this down, the fresh air and the boat’s soft movements, the wide panorama of the sunset above the bay. The sore muscles, the exhaustion. The black rocks against the orange skies, disappearing into the distance like in a painting. And how hard it is to let go, and forget everything you thought about yourself and just jump into the water.