Descending Dragon – The Magical World Of Ha Long Bay
September 22, 2015
Legend has it that when Vietnam was newly formed they were forced to fight an army of invaders. The Gods sent a family of dragons to protect the Vietnamese. The mother dragon and her children incinerated their enemy’s with a fire of emeralds and jade. These jewels transformed to islands as they hit the water of the bay, creating a great wall to wreck the invaders ships. After the battle the mother dragon and her children stayed on in the human world, in their honor the bay was named Ha Long or descending dragon
Though in fact the bay was probably named after the many sea snakes that French Lieutenant Lagoredin witnessed on his visit in 1898 it is easy to see why the area inspired such stories.
Ha Long Bay is part of a series of bays and inlets filled with over 1600 limestone islands, on the coast of Northern Vietnam. Though the area is receiving increasing tourist attention, most of the small population still live in four traditional floating fishing villages.
However saying that Ha Long is a bay full of islands doesn’t begin to describe the mystic beauty of the area. My first glimpses of the bay proper was from the bow of a less than fancy wooden ferry heading for Cat Ba Island but the images that burnt into my brain that day continue to inspire fantasy sagas inside my head.
Through water almost prenatally still and mirror like, our ferry droned, pulling us through the mists, one minute all was grey, slightly cool and echoey and then out of nowhere a limestone karst soared above us rising one hundred meters straight out of the still water, topped with lush deep green foliage. Just like that we were among the islands, karst rising from the silver water outlined in shades of blue through the mist. Each island was unique like a snowflake, topped with lush green vegetation for all the world like the emerald and jade of the mystical dragon’s breath. In fact it was easy to imagine the dragons, coiling around these islands, blinking glowing eyes at us from the mists as our boats wake disturbed their slumber. Even as my mind filled with pictures of sleeping dragons, inside hollow karsts Ha Long was not yet done with me.
As if to reinforce the magic of the place the mist suddenly lifted, we chugged around a looming karst and suddenly the water was a deep jewel like green blue, the sunlight bouncing off the ripples of our boat. The once blue shadowed karsts surrounded us, soaring pale limestone, the majestic remains of ancient mountains, somehow regal, passing close enough to almost reach out and touch, reflected back in a gemstone patchwork into the distance. Oh it was easy to see why Ha Long inspired stories of ancient dragons.
I could talk to you about the geology of the karsts, of the erosion that slowly formed this mystical landscape over hundreds of years. I could talk of the beaches and restaurants. The junk tours and kayak excursions or the truly stunning caves to explore. But none of those things amazing as they are, are the reason you should visit Ha Long Bay, you should visit Ha Long if you were ever blown away by a Lord of The Rings movie, or a Harry Potter book, if you ever played make believe as a child. You should visit Ha Long to absorb and imagine, to soak up the atmosphere, who knows maybe you will find your own little piece of inspiration.