Three hours north of Hanoi, northeast from renowned Ha Long Bay, lies Bai Tu Long Bay.
Stretching for over a hundred kilometers up to the Chinese border, this piece of paradise gives visions of what Ha Long could and would have been if time had perhaps been kinder, humanity less ignorant.
Sailing through famous Ha Long Bay, the towering peaks that are recognized throughout the world awe and allure even the most austere traveler. Peering past the stunning veneer, however, lies polluted waters, almost devoid of life, filled with garbage, a testament to human ignorance and lack of mindfulness.
Now, an increasing number of tourists are sailing past Ha Long Bay, enroute to the lesser known, less travelled, and less polluted Bai Tu Long Bay. Here, a modest number of ships sail the seas, seeking untouched beauty and less chartered waters.
The cliffs here seem to stretch for miles, and in fact, they do. Rising above the emerald waters the forest green foliage drapes over the limestone, while the cliff faces peek through over sheer drops into the water. If the sun shines, it is a paradise, a perfect postcard. If the mist rolls in, it is a fantasy world, where one feels they could wander through the mists to anywhere beyond their dreams. No matter what world one may visit, the present is perfect, a scenic testament to the true perfection and pure beauty of nature.
At closer inspection, this place is not perfect. Container ships, oil rigs can be seen in the distance, a symbol of the commerce that fuels the material world but so often bullies the natural one. Small beaches in the direct downcurrent of northern powers are still littered with waste, with no cleanup efforts in site. Such is the world we live in.
The beauty still surrounds, giving deeper substance to the shallow veneer. The local fishing boats putter or paddle by, living from the land like they have for centuries, though admittedly embracing the economic advantage of trade and tourism. They once worshiped the water spirits in solitude, and are now part of a increasingly connected world. Still their existence consists of whatever they choose it to be – fishing, pearl farming, or rowing tourists beneath the cliffs.
On the emerald water, this place seems almost perfect. To the ignorant, it could be considered timeless perfection, a paradise not yet lost. To the cynic, it could be a place of fear, a paradise waiting to slip away. Yet to all who gaze upon it, who stare up at the cliffs as the ships sail by, to the sea where the layers of limestone seem to stretch forever, it is stunningly, heartbreakingly beautiful. A gift to be shared, adored, to be sure…but above all, a treasure, to protect.