Lady Luck was with me for my final few days in Vietnam. The rain held off, I met some great people and my dhow was accidentally four star.
My luxury two day dhow experience around Halong Bay was the closest I ever came to complete serenity in Vietnam.
From the vibrating streets of old Hanoi I was deposited on a dock jetty from where a flotilla of impressive replica dhows were about to leave. Only moments after our engines propelled us into clear water, I was in a computer game: Huge limestone karsts moved slowly and predictably along the margins on either side of my screen. The sky was monotone and without clouds, as if any other features would distract me from a course through my virtual world.
The beautiful wooden dhow moved through the water effortlessly, leaving a sharp wake behind it, like ripples in sheets of corrugated steel. Still smirking at the confusion back at port that had seen me accidentally ushered aboard the four star vessel (I even had my own en suite, a luxury I hadn’t allowed myself since landing in Bangkok) I let myself meditate with the motion of the passing limestone towers, while the table was laid for lunch below deck.
My expertly crafted ride competed valiantly with its natural surroundings but ultimately lost out to their lustre.
I quickly decided that Halong Bay was worth seeing from every angle. Looking up from a bobbing kayak was to stand between looming Manhattan skyscrapers. From inside the bay’s caves, bulbous stalagmites and stalactites parted to form windows with views of the sea that looked like a destination imprint on a movie’s green screen. From above, at the peaks of Cat Ba and Monkey islands, an eerie mist enshrouded everything that lay below and made me wonder; Was it all really there at all?
When I wasn’t paddling or hiking, I was wined and dined on the boat. The first night, after a decadent meal of fresh prawns and hot curry, I made a poor attempt (under semi-professional guidance) at traditional line fishing from the bow. I lingered after the lesson to gawp at the twinkling lights of other floating homes across the black waters, determined to make the most of nighttime on deck.
With no light pollution for miles, the stars competed nobly with the scatted dwellings of the bay. Their gold bolder and more alive than anything we could ever muster on Earth. From the comfort of a leather lounger, my mind – tipsy with delicious pinot – recognised the introduction to Star Wars. I was steadily gliding through the stars. Or was the night sky falling towards me? Most likely, it was the smooth sway of the dhow.
My comforting cloak of wine and darkness made me wonder if I should slow down. Should I be still more often and search out this silence?
I needn’t have worried. In a few days I would fly to Luang Prabang in Laos, a strong contender for calmest town in the world.