Ha Long Bay
Photos from Author's collection(No.3) and from Lonely Planet (No. 1 & 2)
Ha Long Bay
From Hanoi east to Haiphong,
North along the coast to Ha Long,
Mecca awaits as a tourist’s ideal;
Views to the horizon and more,
From left to right ‘round the shore,
A Salvador Dali image, surreal.
Grey islands of limestone,
Eroded and wind blown,
Thousands scattered, tops covered in trees;
With sheer craggy cliffs,
Projecting like monoliths,
A full panorama of 360 degrees.
All sea birds stay absent,
Yet, I don’t know what that meant,
’Twas common all over Vietnam;
Perhaps a chemical cause?
Or something else from those wars?
Still, this place seems peaceful and calm.
Complete harbour cruise ride,
With a local tour guide,
In a converted very old fishing boat;
Painted in symbolic hues,
Mainly bright reds, yellows and blues,
Most seem to be just barely afloat.
Tropical fish swim beneath,
Lunch on a clear coral reef,
In crystal waters of this paradise;
Yet those hotels a-plenty,
Back in town remain empty,
Not quite ‘au fait’ about free enterprise.
It’s now been fifty years,
A country far in arrears,
On development, little’s been spent;
And it’s so sad to see,
Seems the local industry,
Involves crushing islands for export cement.
Yet, fine restaurants abound,
Along the main street in this town,
Fresh seafood cooked while you wait;
Whatever your pleasure,
Excitement or leisure,
Friendly hostesses in bars until late.
Although neglected, due to war,
’Tis a place one can’t ignore,
‘Idyllic’, like a tourist’s cliché;
And on the South China Sea,
Such beauty there, you will see,
Being unique, to Ha Long Bay.
Ha Long Bay is located some 100 km east of Hanoi. ‘Ha Long’ means: ‘Where the Dragon Descends to the Sea’ and as Shane Briant so aptly describes it in Bite of the Lotus: “... for first-time visitors, the image of the bay through the strong heat-haze is like the landscape of some strange planet. Amongst the bright, clear, emerald waters of the South China Sea, three thousand odd limestone/dolomite islets [karsts] rise almost vertically from its depths.”
The sleepy township, with its mixture of small shops and seafood restaurants, arcs peacefully around the shoreline for about 3 kilometres and back a little distance up the slopes behind. An assortment of colourful old fishing boats and other craft, many with sail, lie around the harbour or can be spotted out amongst the islands going about their various tasks. One or two huge freighters are moored in the north of the bay, adjacent to a limestone crushing factory, each ready to receive export cement, being generated from the destruction of some of the islets.
“A dragon once came to Luc Ah Bay (the Azure Sea) and trod so heavily on the
earth that he gouged out deep valleys with his feet and tail. These quickly filled
with water when the dragon plunged back into the sea. The islets that are now
visible are the tips of the peaks formed by the dragon’s tramping around the area.”
- from an old Chinese myth in Bite of the Lotus by Shane Briant.