After almost a week in Hanoi, we wanted to get to Hạ Long Bay. The only thing I knew about this place was that you can travel there only with a boat.
We had no clue how to get and travel there, so we asked Belle, the receptionist of our hotel. She booked for us a three days trip on what later appeared as a big ship with fancy staff and a tight schedule.
Now I know that it’s either that or a casino ship.
A bus picked us up from the hotel early in the morning, and filled with tourists from various countries as it picked them up from hotels nearby. Most of them seemed about our age, in their twenties.
It took about two hours to get there.
We’ve made a stop at a shopping center in the middle of nowhere. They sold marble statues and pieces of jewelry with expensive gems, next to a cafeteria. The crowd was either people like us, on their way somewhere, of oligarchs from different countries that were furnishing their houses.
We got to Hạ Long and waited at a pier, where we could see the city – white orderly houses, green mountains in the distance.
The Tender picked us up – a small motorboat that took us to the big ship. The Tender’s engine ignited with a rough Vrrooom and it began sailing shakily through the open bay into the open sea.
Huge black rocks emerged from the depths, like rocky islands, each with its own ecosystem of plants and birds. We arrived to an open area where big boats parked and sailed between them, until stopping by our ship, The Scorpion.
A travel guide assisted us to jump from the Tender into the Scorpion, one by one.
He was a young man who was wearing tailored pants, but shirtless, and a green hat that resembled a military helmet.
On the ship we received small glasses of iced tea and the keys to our cute room, with a window facing the sea.
After about 15 minutes we all met at the Scorpion’s dining room, with white maps that were ruffled from the wind. They served seafood soup, shrimps, vegetables, bread, rice, and fish.
Aside from us were mostly couples – from New Zeeland, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, and also a group of seven Melis.
The ship cruised towards a small island, and after lunch we got down there and went to the beach. The sand was orange and its texture was rough like salt, the water was green, blue skies, black rocks on the horizon. Small colorful fish swam around in the cold water. Local teenagers played soccer on the sand or swam together.
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.
The next stop was a kayaking center.
We got off the Scorpion into a wooden platform built on the water surface, yellow kayaks tied to it. Schools of fish were swimming under the planks.
We got the paddles from a hut built on the platform, and each couple got a kayak. Roni and I shared one and at first, we struggled since we’ve never done it before. After a while, we got the idea and moved forward at a steady pace.
We went through a rock tunnel, dripstones above our heads dripping icy water, bats screeching, a slight smell of earth.
On the other side of the tunnel was a pool surrounded by cliffs. The tour guide was already waiting there with his own kayak, and when he saw us he asked if we want to swim. He then jumped from the kayak into the water, and we followed.
I was hot and sweaty from the rowing and the water was chill close to the water, and warm in the depths. We floated on our backs and watched the tall rocks with their trees and plants, and the white skies from above.
Roni told me to think about the previous years, of school and part-time jobs.
Each hour of work led to this moment, in the water, here in Vietnam.
I closed my eyes and let the currents carry me.
As I tried to dive to check how deep the water was, I got a scary and exciting sensation, of insecureness and lack of control. The water was too deep to find the bottom.
The others arrived, some of them also jumped into the water.
It wasn’t easy getting back on the kayak but it was time to get back, so we jumped back to it (with effort) and rowed back to the platform.
A dog was walking on the wooden surface with her puppy. I tried to approach, but she was very protective and I didn’t want to scare them.
The Tender took us back to The Scorpio, where I sat on the roof 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.