This year for my birthday, Ryan and I embarked on a day cruise in Ha Long Bay. This was something I’d very much been looking forward to doing and I was thrilled we were going to be able to take the time to do it while our Thai visas were being processed in Hanoi. To visit Ha Long Bay, you pretty much have to go with a guide. Our group was nice and small, with less than a dozen people from different parts of the world. We were driven about four hours from Hanoi in an air-conditioned van. Then we were loaded onto a spacious boat and fed a nice meal.
Unfortunately, the weather was slightly overcast the day we went so we didn’t get the full experience. Still the scenery was pretty majestic. We spent the next couple of hours cruising past towering lush limestone islands, most of which had some kind of a story relating to dragons. Our guide was informative and he spoke good English so were were able to follow along as he explained the significance of dragons in the Vietnamese culture. Along the way, he kept pointing out different land formations that were shaped like dragons. I often had to take his word for it as the dragons were not always easy for me to spot.
About mid-way through our adventure, our boat docked and let people off to explore some of the nearby caves via kayak or row boat. Ryan and I had misunderstood this part of the experience during our booking (which had to be arranged ahead of time). Thinking that we had the choice of kayaking for an additional cost or exploring some caves on foot, free of charge, we’d opted out of the kayaking. It turned out that this meant that we stayed on the dock with the boat, but at least there was a nice view for us to enjoy while we waited for the rest of our group to return.
We soon discovered that the cave explorations (on foot) were a separate stop altogether. We loaded back onto our boat but towards the end of the trip it docked again and everyone headed up to the caves. Once again, our guide kept pointing out different dragon-shaped rock formations. If these had been hard for me to spot before, my ability only worsened once we entered the caves. Apparently there were dragons everywhere–I just couldn’t see most of them. After many failed attempts at squinting and turning my head this way and that and still failing to see anything that even resembled a dragon, I had to keep myself from laughing. Now it’s a joke that Ryan and I share. “Can’t you see the dragon?” one of us will say, pointing to a random tree or puffy looking cloud. “It’s right there. Next to that other, much bigger dragon.”
While I might not have been very talented at spotting the dragons of Ha Long Bay, I still enjoyed the trip and was grateful we got to visit one last treasure before leaving Vietnam. For the previous nine months, we’d slowly been working our way from the south, clear up to the north. Dragons or no, we were fortunate to have seen plenty of mysterious and interesting things along our way. There was no question about that.