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Where the Dragon Descends

Ha Long Bay

 

The legend goes that the people of Vietnam were born from the union of the dragon and the fairy.

 

Ha Long Bay

 

The dragon rose up from the sea and onto the Earth to unite with the fairy of the mountains. Together they created one hundred sons.

 

When the dragon returned to the sea, fifty sons followed to live thousands of feet deep in the oceans.

 

Ha Long Bay

 

Once Vietnam became threatened by Chinese invaders in the North, the Gods summoned these dragons to resurface.

 

They released jewels and jade from their mouths creating islands across the bay, forming a great wall of protection.

 

Ha Long Bay

 

As the mother dragon made her way onto the Earth, she fell so heavily that deep valleys formed and filled with water when she plunged back into the sea.

 

Ha Long Bay

 

The peaks left behind became the region known as Ha Long or “where the dragon descends to the sea.”

 

Ha Long Bay

 

For thousands of years ancient civilizations lived in these jungle covered limestone islands surrounding the bay.

 

It is in this labyrinth of channels that the Vietnamese stopped invasions from its coastal neighbors.

 

Ha Long Bay

 

Many years later it was through these same waters that hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees fled Communist rule en route to Saigon.

 

Ha Long Bay

 

Today communities live on and from the sea in floating villages.

 

Ha Long Bay

 

They farm fish below their buoyant dwellings selling black squid ink to China or offer candies, fruit, and knick-knacks to tourists.

 

Ha Long Bay

 

The rest of the world sees Ha Long Bay on a cruise booked from nearby Hanoi.

 

A UNESCO world heritage site and one of the new Wonders of the World it has become one of the biggest tourist attractions in all of Southeast Asia.

 

Ha Long Bay

 

Tourists cruise across the bay snapping photos, passively observing the surreal beauty and foreign way of life.

 

Ha Long Bay

 

A few days ago I was one of those tourists.

 

Ha Long Bay

 

In the months preceding my voyage to Asia I was lured by the dreamlike images of its emerald sea and massive karsts.

 

In fact it was my deep desire to explore the glowing channels of Ha Long Bay that caused me to begin this journey in Vietnam.

 

Ha Long Bay

 

But overlooking the island studded green sea

watching locals sell fish to passing boats

and kayaking through caves in hollow karsts

 

Ha Long Bay

 

I did not feel the exploratory bliss that often consumes me when traveling.

 

Instead I felt like I was standing in a forbidden room where I did not belong.

 

Ha Long Bay

 

As if its beauty was too intense for my eyes to afford.

 

As if the motor of the boat

the words of the passengers

and each click of a camera violated the sanctity of the bay.

 

Ha Long Bay

 

As if the dragon still dwelled below, reminding us, the invaders, of its powerful past.

 

Ha Long Bay

 

As an outsider in this stunning, strange place I wonder

despite its awards

if perhaps the beauty of the bay

belongs not to the world

 

Ha Long Bay

 

but only to the dragons

the people of Vietnam who followed their father to the sea.

 


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Comments

  1. amazing. stunning. breathtaking. so thankful that you’re sharing this with us.

  2. Camille, your best yet. Thank you for casting a spell and taking us with you on this voyage.

  3. Martha Willemain Says: October 12, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Camille, you are amazingly good at sharing magic.

  4. Phang na bay, off Phuket Island, in Thailand has these beautiful limestone out crops which can be explored by boat. A day sail trip is about $100 US and if there is wind, sails can be raised. Each time I have been there, the sea has been flat and there’s no wind.

    • This American Girl Says: October 13, 2013 at 8:14 am

      Sounds beautiful! Limestone cliffs are pretty amazing huh? Perhaps I’ll check it out when I get to Thailand.

  5. What an amazing place. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of or seen photographs of this part of Vietnam before. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  6. Tears in my eyes from the last sentence. What a perfect little moment. This is literature, my dear. I’d write a lot more about what I felt with those words, but it was such a physical and spiritual sensation at the same time that I wouldn’t know where to begin.

    I would really love to meet you if one day you decide to visit Portugal again!

    • This American Girl Says: October 18, 2013 at 8:57 am

      Thank you Ana I’m so flattered by your compliment. I love Portugal and definitely want to go back so hopefully we can get together one day :)

  7. How did you do Halong Bay? Tour company?