Descending the steep, narrow plank, inch by inch, hand over hand along the long pole, I thought: “This better be one hell of a cave!” Exploring the other-worldly interior of Hang Trong Cave was to be one of many surreal experiences I was to have traveling along Ha Long Bay in northeast Vietnam.
In the 1992 movie Indochine, credited with putting Ha Long Bay on the map, Catherine Deneuve describes it as “the most remote outpost of Indochina.” Today, the bay still retains that end-of-the-Earth, Lord-of-the-Rings-on–water quality.
The very few guesthouses at that time have now flourished into almost 300 accommodations of every comfort level and the few Chinese junks plying their trade have metamorphosed into more than 400 tourist boats.
I visited as part of a Myths and Mountains Tour, which also included several days in Hanoi and Sapa in northwest Vietnam, an area home to several minority villages. But more on that later.
The almost 600 square miles comprised of thousands of karst (limestone) islands, caves and inlets create a solitary natural environment that belies description and inspires awe. I kept thinking, “How many times can I use the word surreal in one travel article?”