This was surely one of the most beautiful places we visited in Vietnam. Strange, wonderful limestone pillars rise out of the sea and change color as the clouds move overhead. The quiet is deep and lasting, even with the persistent sputter of fishing boats and the muffled din from the double decker tourist boats. The contrast here to the zaniness of Hanoi is stark. Yet even in the midst of this natural beauty, business reigns. Women, their row boats packed with carefully arranged piles of snacks and cigarettes, make their way toward the tourist boats, their eyes scouting passengers for a possible sale. Quiet and noise, natural beauty and unabashed commercialism, all gracefully intertwined. It’s the yin and yang of Vietnam in one gorgeous place. Scroll down for more pictures and perspectives from photographer Anthony Istrico and from Margaret Von Lienen and Ron Reyes.
Ron Reyes: I had a lot going on the night we got to Ha Long Bay, and I kind of stayed to myself. When I woke up the next morning and climbed to the top of the boat, I realized where we were, and how amazing the setting was. I started to feel grounded, at peace. We headed out in the bay in kayaks, and I was drawn to something in the distance: a temple that was wedged into one of the pillars. We paddled over to it and got out to explore. From the patio in front of the temple we could look out onto the bay. It was so grand, so large, so beautiful! There were hundreds of pillars, and they went on for miles.
Anthony Istrico: In this peaceful, remote place, commerce was still in full swing. You could boat out in the middle of the bay and find a pearl factory that sold jewelry and accepted credit cards. I tried to capture the beauty of the place, but sometimes things are just too beautiful, and no photo will do them justice. As I was taking it all in, I was realizing that it was all about to get pretty real. In a few days we would be visiting the sites where our friends' fathers had died. This was the calm before the storm.
Margaret Von Lienen: It was so quiet here, especially in the morning. I got up early on our last day, the day before my site visit. I wanted to try to catch the sunrise. I was on the top deck taking in the beauty and I wondered if my dad had ever flown over the bay and seen how beautiful it was. I looked up in the sky and saw a hawk flying above me, circling the boat. I watched it circle for a long time. I realize now I felt closer to my dad watching that hawk than I did at my site visit.