No one moved, no one talked. Silence wrapped around us all. The cove was showing us what Vietnam was like hundreds of years ago. The waves gently lapped at the rocky shore and birds called quietly, hidden in the jungle that surrounded our aquatic theater. Even the wildlife knew that making noise here was taboo. All eight of us were in a trance, a trance induced by the tranquil serenity of this place. We were kayaking Ha Long Bay, and being transported back in time!
ADVENTURES ABOUND IN HALONG BAY!
The day started with Christine and I making our rock climbing on the limestone cliffs of Lan Ha Bay, a portion of HaLong Bay, Vietnam. We were out with Asia Outdoors, an adventure company in Cat Ba, Vietnam that specializes in rock climbing, kayaking, and hiking excursions with the most incredible staff to spend the day with!
So far, Asia Outdoors had lived up to their promise of showing us some breathtaking views and a fantastically fun time! As the kayaking portion of the adventure started, we were excited to see if they could top an already amazing morning!
KAYAKING HALONG BAY WAS UNFORGETTABLE!
After a lunch of the highest quality local foods, Chris, the Manager of Asia Outdoors and our guide, loaded us in tandem kayaks and we set off for an afternoon of paddling. Now, Christine and I have kayaked together… a lot, actually, and yet today was not our shining moment of aquatic adventuring. As Christine set the pace in the front, I tried to match her in the back. And yet, In spite of our previous experience and my best efforts at the time, our kayak wouldn’t stop drifting at a 45 degree angle.
We couldn’t quite figure out how to get in rhythm that day! Every time I paddled, we slanted a little more to the left, and as I tried to correct, the back end swept drastically to the right! This sparked smart ass comments from the front, with increasingly irritated retorts from the back of the kayak. I missed the first 30 minutes of the trip trying to get in time with Christine’s strokes (and sarcasm).
WE NEVER EXPECTED SUCH AN EMOTIONAL REACTION
As I fought and struggled to keep our little ocean-going craft on a course, Christine quietly told me to look up. The silent urgency in her hushed tone caught my attention. As I gave up the good fight for the first time, I was in awe of the surreal community before me: personal homes filled the green water bay, encased in impossibly high limestone cliffs that were dripping with jungle!!
We were in another world. I thought, there should be dinosaurs in here! I abandoned my battle for something that resembled a straight course and we bumbled our way through limestone archways, passed homes built on concrete boats protected by anxious dogs and smiling owners.
We didn’t expect to see and be within a town of people simply working and living in such a different way. The area has resisted much of modernization, tucked away from large buildings, cars and computers. We learned how squid fishing created an economy for these aquatic villages.
Each of the homes was a working business, with baskets sunk under every inch of the water surrounding them to grow and sell thousands of little mussels. You would never have imagined entire neighborhoods floating back in these hidden bays, but each time we rounded a bend, there sat a new house with hundreds of dangling baskets.
By this point, every thought outside kayaking HaLong Bay was forgotten and it was only possible to be present in that very moment. What an experience.
We stopped in a lagoon completely locked in and enclosed except for one tiny archway looming in the distance. Some of the group got in the water for a brisk swim while Chris told us details about the surrounding cliffs that rose straight up, filled with even lines running through them at perfect angles. These were created as the earth’s plates shifted, pushing one layer of stone upward after another.
As everyone climbed back into the kayaks, Chris offered us a choice: head back to the boat or go see one last very secret special place? What could possibly be EVEN MORE special, I thought. It was a unanimous vote for the secret spot.
OUR FAVORITE PART OF THE DAY
We passed back under the looming arch and weaved through more passes and houses along the cliffs. We went through a shallow channel and around a bend and came to a beautiful little cove. I was surprised to stop there because, to be honest, it wasn’t overly special looking, seemed similar to other spots on the journey.
We stopped for a second and waited for an explanation. A huge grin started taking over Chris’ face. Then, out of nowhere, he let out a huge yell!!! The echo bounced again and again all over the tiny cove! As it died away, each member of the adventure team sent out their own scream to be thrown around.
We laughed and joked, echoing our excited voices around…and then something happened. Without any reason, without any guidance, we all fell silent. Completely silent. No sound, no paddling, no whispering. All of us, as though on cue, got lost in the prehistoric beauty that enveloped us. It was intoxicating. We lost all sense of location and time and just floated there, each person alone in their own mind. If it wouldn’t have been for Chris, I think I would still be floating there lost in the amazement of the cove!
THE SERENITY STAYED WITH US
The paddle back was quiet. Couples whispered between themselves in their kayaks. We got on the junk boat and headed back. Only when the engines fired up and we started to move did the spell wear off completely. We talked to the other couples and were not shocked in the least to hear their own version of that magical cove linked perfectly to ours.
We all agreed kayaking HaLong Bay was like a trip back in time. It was a part of nature that seemed to force you to see its beauty and hold your thoughts solely on that location. No one disputed the serenity, or the enchantment, of Lan Ha Bay!
WE NEVER ANTICIPATED LOVING HALONG BAY SO MUCH
We truly want to thank Chris and the whole crew of Asia Outdoors for letting us visit and work with their awesome crew. Asia Outdoors is an exemplary company and we hope to go visit, climb, laugh, kayak and have fun with them again soon!
For more adventure in Vietnam, go underground with a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels! Christine and I thought it was quite a rush!