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  • Writer's pictureFlora Le

A Lesson of Humility in Ha Long Bay

I celebrated my first 1000 kilometers and my first oil change at Ha Long Bay. Satisfied to have successfully completed the first part of my trip, I was now allowed to take a little rest. The six days on the road had been tiring, and my buttocks were crying out for a day off.

Plus, I was a mess. My jeans were brown with dirt. My coat was stained. My fingers and fingernails were black from oil from my chain sticking everywhere. I was due for a four-star hotel, a functional bathroom and laundry service.

So, I got a hotel in the tourist part of town. It was pretty fancy compared to the hotels I had been to so far. And when the receptionist offered me an all-inclusive boat tour in Ha Long Bay, I accepted without hesitation. Under the circumstances, an organized tour would do very well.

At 8am the next morning, I boarded the bus. When I arrived at the port, I found myself in the middle of hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists who were gathering on the pier to visit the islands. The buses were bumping into each other in the parking lot to get their customers off first. In this crowd, we could only identify ourselves by the color of the little flag our guide was waving.

That day, the crowd of tourists didn't bother me much. I settled comfortably in a corner of the boat. Camera in hand, I was ready for the tour.

Shit. My camera's memory card was still in my computer. I had forgotten to put it back this morning.

"Now I just have to enjoy it," I thought.

In the distance, dozens of tourist boats were pointing to the horizon. They were all heading in the same direction, towards the islands off the bay. It looked like a naval battle scene.

Ha Long Bay is an archipelago of nearly 2,000 small islands that form a multitude of rocky peaks on the horizon. The result is a grandiose and somewhat enigmatic landscape when the mist surrounds the bay. These islands are also mythical because of the many caves and caverns found there, formed over tens of thousands of years by rainfall and underground rivers.

In Vietnamese, Ha Long means "the descent of the dragon". Legend has it that a dragon came to this region to tame the sea currents. While struggling, it would have cut the mountain with its tail, leaving behind fragments of rock. What we see today would be the highest of these rocks which would not have been submerged after the rise of the waters.

I do not get tired of looking at the rocks. While the boat is sailing in these colossal islands, a vertigo invades me. Not the kind of vertigo of heights that we feel when we look down. The type of vertigo that comes over us when we look up.

On the small mountain roads in the north, I often had such vertigo. There is something mystical about being surrounded by a grandiose nature. It inspires meditation and contemplation.

Being in front of the immensity of nature reminds us that we are small. So small.

This vertigo of greatness is a momentary confrontation with the ego. In front of a grandiose landscape, suddenly, our reference points change. Our universe widens. We feel an imbalance because the center of our universe must recalculate itself according to this immensity.

An element of all spirituality is the awareness of our smallness in this enormous universe that we inhabit. In front of the tangible or the intangible, spirituality commands a deference to those things that are greater than oneself. To this natural order that exceeds the human scale. This is what we call humility.

Ha Long Bay had enchanted me. I wanted to discover more of what this nature had to teach me. On my way back to my hotel, I decided to go to the biggest island of this archipelago, Cat Ba Island, which has a village. I would spend a few days there.


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