Escaping the madness of Hanoi, I headed out to Bai Tu Long Bay, N.E of the better known Halong Bay in the South China Sea.
Thousands of hauntingly beautiful limestone karsts, covered in vegetation rise spectacularly from the sea forming an archipelago which extends all the way to the Chinese border.
According to legend, in ancient times the Gods sent a family of dragons to help Vietnam ward off invaders. The dragons spat out jewels and jade which became the islands and islets of the bays and formed a great wall of defence. Later on, the dragons decided to stay, the mother sinking down in Ha (sunken) Long (dragon) Bay, and her children staying in Bai (big place) Tu (baby) Long (dragon) Bay.
Bai Tu Long is a lot less developed than Ha Long Bay, and doesn’t have the tourist infrastructure but is otherwise pretty similar.
I didn’t see any other tourist boats the whole day, just local fishermen.
We landed at one of the little islands, Quan Lan, home to a couple of small fishing villages, where we were welcomed to the home stay of Mr Sau, a retired fisherman and met his wife, Cam, their daughter in law, Tua, and delightful grandson, Binh.
Cam and Binh
Tua and Binh
That evening I had my first taste of homemade Vietnamese Spring Rolls. I’m not sure if it was just the setting but they were the best spring rolls I’ve ever tasted. They told me that there was a local market the next morning, so I woke early and found my way down there.
There wasn’t a lot of action going on, just a handful of market sellers and some children hanging around, and it seemed that my arrival was a welcome entertainment for them.
Vinh and Quang
A group of women started pointing at me and then stroking their arms up and down saying “Sữa Khổng Lồ!” and laughing.
They kept saying it to me as if repeating it would make it any easier for me to understand and others joined in the hilarity. I looked at my arms to see what they were pointing out but was none the wiser.
The arrival of a fishing boat provided a timely distraction. Everyone gathered round to see what had landed in the haul and get their hands on the best fish.
An old lady wearing a headscarf, with long thin boney arms seemed the most adept at getting the ones she wanted, no doubt after years of practice.
On the way back from the market, I saw that one lady had already spread her fish out on wire racks to dry in the sun.
Strange to remember that we were on a tiny limestone island in the middle of the South China Sea, and these people, some of whom never venture to the mainland, stay here all the time repeating these same activities day in, day out,
Back at the home stay, I told them the story and asked what ‘Sữa Khổng Lồ’ meant, and laughed as I learnt that the locals had been teasing me about my Viking white skin and tall stature, and had appropriately christened me the ‘milky giant’!