Made up of nearly 2,000 islets within 1,500 square kilometers, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is just a few hours drive from Hanoi. The islets, a product of 20 million years of formation (the limestone itself, 500 million years in the making) from the wet, tropical climate. In Vietnamese, Ha Long means descending dragon, perhaps from a recent flight from Hanoi; it's meaning, ascending dragon. While there are various local legends describing how the bay came to be, its history is legend enough, as people have lived here dating back to 16,000 BC.
It’s the quiet that stands out more than anything. The stillness of the water and lack of wind, or really any weather at all. Once the clouds part and the sun casts its light on the steep limestone cliffs covered in green, the realization that this is not a dream starts to sink in. Images of Ha Long Bay have floated through our minds for years, drifting through the scattered islands in a place we likely couldn’t point to on a map. Always half a world away, but now we’re here.
Atop the roof deck of our 14 room imperial junk boat, we stand staring, jaws dropped, at the sheer beauty of this place. Within an hour we’re anchored in the central part of the bay, preparing to kayak through a floating fishing village, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Rowing slowly, praying for a way to truly stop time and hold this moment forever, we flow through the gray and green karsts. Hawks float in the sky above as we pass pearl farms, a few small huts on the islets, and caves to the larger bay around us. Soon we’re diving off the boat and floating in the bay, eyes closed, the moment burying itself deep in our minds.
Daylight fades and the sun sets magnificently behind an assortment of cliffs as we push further into the bay. By midnight we’re enveloped by darkness, drinking beers and playing cards with new friends from all over the world.
It’s hard to describe the sensation of hopes or dreams being fulfilled. Very often, we build expectations that can never be met. But not here. Here, every promise is met. Each sudden cliff, a moment permanently engraved in our memory.