Balonglong at Bai Tu Long

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It took us nearly 2 days and 5 visits to different tour agencies before we decided on going with Handspan’s Treasure Junk on our 2 day 1 night trip to Halong Bay. Selling points? The Treasure Junk was only a week old and its itinerary included Bai Tu Long bay, an area further off Halong Bay that is no less beautiful but much less crowded. And indeed, the only time we came across other tourists was when we docked for the night and at the pearl farm the next day. For most of the journey, it seemed as if we were the only boat cruising in the area, sans the occasional fishing boats and the quaint kelongs that had the fortune to call such a beautiful area home.

Against the dramatic backdrop of the 2000 odd limestone karsts that dotted the bay, the Treasure Junk sailed silently and steadily. (Note: I would advise against getting the room at the front of the boat. Although bigger, it’s located right where the anchor is so every time the boat docked or un-docked it felt like we were stuck under a dental drill. ) The food provided was decent but honestly nothing much to shout about. The service was excellent though; the crew attentive and accommodating. Another unique point about Handspan is its focus on eco-tourism, and I particularly liked how at the end of our kayaking trip, our guide actually took the effort to engage everyone in clearing the trash from the beach.
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One of my favourite moments on the trip involved me switching off all the lamps on the top deck and just lying by the light of the moon. The outline of the karsts were suddenly illuminated by the moon’s glow and I realized we were anchored comfortably in this natural harbour, protected by these formidable looking formations. (Of course, right after I wrote this our boat actually scrapped across the side of one of the rocks, but all’s good. Them Handspan Treasure Junks be hardy.) Sometimes we tend to take nature for granted; it’s easy to think that all these karsts were just planted haphazardly here by some celestial being or that they simply existed from the start of time. But nothing ever comes about just like that. It has taken, what, 250 million years for these rocks to be where they are today and that in itself is miraculous. Nothing in this world could have more patience and persistence than nature; we see this in the formation of stalactites and stalagmites, in the protrusion of roots through concrete, in the survival of cacti in the middle of a salt desert. Yet our temporal intrusion, what would proportionately be but a millisecond in the grand scheme of things, can sometimes leave ramifications that serve to test the patience of these natural wonders. We take for granted that they will last forever or we only see them as significant in that instant or in our lifetimes, and it is the accumulative effect of such behavior that has led to the gradual destruction of these natural wonders.

One of these days, we might be left with nothing but cities.

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