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Published: January 18th 2016
In mid July-August 2015 when I was arranging this tour to Ha Long Bay through Linh at HTS, she made a reservation for me in Huong Hai Sealife. I was checking Trip Advisor in the meantime and found Signature cruise has equally good name. I was a bit picky, I nagged if Linh could book me to Signature Cruise instead. Linh, said ...”trust me, Tab! Houng Hai is equally good”. And she was so was right. I think they are better than Signature in many aspects.
The bus came to pick me up from the Pearl hotel at 8:00 am. I was waiting in the lobby. It was a nice air-conditioned minivan. I was the first passenger. They picked up two more parties, and one lady. The lady was from U.K., traveling alone. I found her too bossy, too demanding. Once she asked the driver to turn off the AC, within the next five minutes asked again to turn it on. She started asking me all kind of personal questions, and I was not comfortable. I named her “Ms. Nosy” and I preferred to be left alone in my own world. It’s a four hour trip to Ha Long Bay
from Hanoi. I wanted to absorb the sights of Vietnam all around me as we were passing, taking photos here and there. This was my first trip to Vietnam, who knows whether I will come back again...so I wanted to see everything that I was crossing.
The van stopped half way to Ha Long Bay for a tea and bathroom break. Usually, all buses drop people off at the entrance of a shopping center and pick them up at the other end so that tourists are forced to go through the shops....a simple marketing tactic. I am never a fan of shopping. I was interested in finding a tea stall and to enjoy a cup of tea. After 30 minutes, we are back on the bus again. We arrived at the jetty of the Ha Long Bay near noon time. I didn’t count, but there were too many people for one boat to ferry us to the ship. We boarded in two boats for a short journey to the cruise ship. Once on the ship, we were assigned our individual rooms. I was impressed, very systematic. The wooden floor was shining, everything was very tastefully designed and well maintained.
My room was on the 2nd
level. More suspense was waiting for me when I entered my room. It was gorgeous; queen sized bed, attached balcony with a table and a chair, the bathroom was a sheer joy...Jacuzzi, separate shower....wow! Linh knows her stuff for sure! Buffet lunch was ready. The man in charge of the organization, Sean, was efficient. He explained our agenda for the next 24 hours; i.e. visiting caves after the lunch and kayaking in the afternoon. Man, I am game!
It’s a 40 people cruise. 33 people came in a group with a tour company. Guess where they came from! Canada! I introduced myself; some folks were excited to see me from Canada. They sat in a group in the center of the dining room. I was sitting at a single table in one side. They invited me to sit with them. I politely turned down the offer. When you travel so far away in a group, you become a family. I’m sure, they have many common topics to talk, discuss common issues! I didn’t want to disturb their privacy.
In the afternoon, the ship anchored near a cave. We took small boats to
the cave. Caves are always interesting. They all have their own characteristics. One elderly person from the Canadian group stumbled in a rock before entering the cave. He was a heavy set guy and apparently with a heart condition. Sean suggested him to wait outside to take rest with his wife and we entered the cave. We went to a view point, looked around. OMG, the Nature knows how to set a landscape. Geologists may say how the limestone hills and rock formations jutted out of the sea, but to me they are the wonder of this world. I have seen such things earlier in Phuket near the Phi-Phi island, but not with this kind of magnitude. It is mind boggling. If someone gives me a ‘room with a view’ at that vantage point, I think I can live there forever, watching the fade-in and fade-out of the days. When I see such beauties around, my heart pounds, my head spins, I feel restless and I feel choked in love with Nature. If there is truly anything to love in this world, it’s the Nature. I can give her everything of my life. If you love her truly, she would
return your love and she would never betray you! We came down from the cave to the beach. Some went in the water. I don’t know how to swim, so I am deprived of the fun. I strolled on the beach, went near the end of the beach. There are shells scattered everywhere on the sand. I was careful not to cut my feet. Ms. Nosy came and warned me not to wander around there. I just avoided her.
We returned the to cruise ship in the afternoon. We had the afternoon tea and we were ready for kayaking. I never did kayaking before. I told Sean, “ Listen my friend, I don’t know how to swim, I never did kayaking before, but I want to do it and I need your help”. “No problem my friend, you come with me”. Sean and I sailed in one kayak together. Sean taught me the strokes and how to steer the kayak. I was in the front and Sean on the back. What a wonderful experience. We pushed the kayak around the Bay, underneath the caves, touching other rocks and it’s amazing. We sailed for about 40 minutes or so....my arms
were sore but I loved every minute of it. When you watch those tall limestone hills from the kyak, you feel yourself so small in front of the Nature. We always learn how to get the best out of the Nature, but we kid ourselves when we try to conquer the Nature. It reminded me of what Sir Edmund Hillary once said, “I don't think we conquered Everest, I think the mountain relented." Sean asked me from behind, “You are pretty quiet, Tab...what’s the matter ”? I was deep in my thought. “No Sean, I’m fine...just enjoying”, I told. Sun was setting in the horizon. We sailed back to our cruise ship.
Back to the ship, we enjoyed our tea upon return. Not everyone went for kayaking, some chose to relax on the ship...it’s some time to go for the dinner. But the cooking class has started. Many joined the class. I am always interested in eating good food, but not in preparing the same. So, I decided to skip the class. I did some photography in the meantime and went to the deck right at the time when the spring rolls are ready to be tasted.
I am a good food taster, I always help myself! The spring rolls were delicious.
Dinner time was announced. Man, oh man, so many good choices of ala carte. Again I was sitting at my single table. Sean and his band of musicians performed live music while we dined. I finished my dinner and started towards the deck. I needed some quite time. Most of the tourists have retired by then. I stood by the rail...it was dark in Ha Long Bay. The cruise has anchored not too far from a large rock formation jutting out of the bay. A faint glow of light from the cruise ship created shadows on the water. I couldn’t see much beyond that. I could hear constant splashing of water on the ship’s bow. It was close to 10:00 pm and it was quiet. The last pair of tourists have left the deck. Few young crews were hanging around and were talking in a low voice. I grabbed a chair and sat down near the rail. I looked up in the sky. Thousands of stars are twinkling in the night sky. I could see the Orion with its dazzling belt. I could see
the Sirius, Vega. When I was a child, others used to tell me that people turn into stars when they die. I used to believe that as a child. But I don’t believe in myth anymore. Still, the thoughts of the old saying was now looming over me. I thought of my Dad and Mom, are they among those stars looking upon me? I could see their smiles with their blessing, I could feel they were wishing me a safe journey. I smiled at the thought, I smiled back at them. Stay well, wherever you are, Dad and Mom! Sometimes, people need to be alone to search many unanswered questions in their mind. Perhaps, this is such a time. But I was not in a mood of soul searching at that moment. I was in a pensive mood. I just wanted to absorb the night sky over the Ha Long Bay with thousands of stars, with all their silent beauty, with all their untold stories in my memory and store them for eternity. I don’t know how long I was in a trance; when I came out of my dream of fairy tale, it was almost 2:00 am. Everyone was
gone, I was alone on the deck. I got up and slowly made my way to my room downstairs. I have to wake up at 5:00 am to catch the sunrise. I know it will be only 3:00 hours of sleep...so be it. I can sleep every night, but sunrise on Ha Long Bay will not come to me every day.
I set a mental alarm. I woke up early at 4:30 am. I had a quick shave and shower, took my camera and climbed up the deck. The eastern sky of the Ha Long Bay was getting red...sun was trying to rise behind a rock formation. There were few other die-hard like me on the deck, already trying to capture the best shots of sunrise, some carrying fancy cameras with zoom lenses. I carry a very basic Sony camera that I slip inside me jeans pocket wherever I travel. I wish I could take photos like National Geography, but I can’t afford carrying bulky camera gears, as my main intention is to travel. Anyway, sun appeared over the eastern horizon behind a rock formation. The rock colours were changing from light reddish tint to a golden yellow glow.
The glow of the morning sun, gentle ripples in the waters of Ha Long Bay, green trees on the limestone hills showering in the morning sun made me feverish and restless as I always feel. As always, sinking in the fathomless love with the Nature, I felt a deep pain inside me, as if I cannot have enough of this sights and sounds of Nature in my blood. I wanted to absorb them in every cell of my body, in every molecular formation of the DNA from head to toe... I was dying in love for them. My eyes were burning from the lack of sleep, but I didn’t want to take my eyes off from them even for a split second. With the patches of cloud in the bluish morning sky turning crimson red from the spectrum of the rising sun, mystic limestone rocks quickly wrapping the golden shawls around them, water ripples breaking colours in thousand pieces, I couldn’t take any more. I just wanted to close my eyes and drift away while feeling the soft kiss of the morning glory of the Ha Long Bay, wishing never to wake up again! It was much later when my
sense came back...by then, everyone has gone for the morning breakfast.
Once the breakfast was over, we boarded the small boats to check out floating villages in Ha Long Bay. They are the fishing community. I have seen livelihood before in India in small boats where people go out for fishing for a few days; but not to this scale. It is the entire livelihoods who live in cottages floating on pontoons, isolated from the rest of the world. Cooking, cleaning, day-to-day living, everything is there. Even dogs are there, who started barking at us. Wow; I don’t think I could live like that. With no escape routes to the world that I know of, I would probably feel totally claustrophobic. However, people get used to where they live.
Once we were back from the boat trip, it was time to get ready and leave. The party was over. It’s about half hour ride back to the harbour. Once close to the harbour, we boarded the small boats to the shore. While on the boat, I was wondering what did I love most in this trip that I am going to remember forever? Well, I didn’t have to
think much...certainly, it was the starry night on the deck and the morning sunrise over the Ha Long Bay that I will always remember.
It was four hours trip back to Hanoi with the usual 30 minutes pit-stop.
Next is Hanoi.
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