It's technically raining but really it feels like the air is still and wet, holding its own moisture. We're on a speed boat slicing through the water between limestones pillars dotting the bay. It's uncharacteristically misty and grey in Halong Bay today and the backdrop of sky is flat and opaque--a dramatic stage for the 1,600 islands. They hover close to one another, almost touching but not quite. They make narrow passages and labyrinths in the waters, working together but somehow each island seems incredibly alone, ghosts stuck in time.
In another life these islands were the resting places of dragons. They spewed fire and jade to form the limestone pillars. I imagine great beasts sinking into the water and against the opaque sky, I see the curved tale of dragons wading in the bay.
A boat selling bananas cuts through the fog. We signal and they cut the engine and float towards us. The vendor balances on the ledge of her boat, pulling us in closer. The front of her small boat is filled with colored plastic bowls, heavy with an absurd number of bananas. She indicates the price with her hands and tosses over our snack. They are small, firm, and taste almost honeyed. The fruit seems perfect and we go through several each.
Halong Bay feels like a place filled with secrets, small stories held in water-fillled caves and unmapped passageways. I imagine pirates in hiding, impossible loves, tribes in exile. The spaces between the islands stand like portals to a present-day myth. And here we are, passing through.