Limestone towers reach toward an eerie morning sky. Black water is all around, and mist hangs low in the infinite silence. Our tent is pitched on a makeshift platform between two kayaks floating in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, on the edge of the South China Sea. This place seems to epitomize the strangeness of existence.
According to Vietnamese legend, the gods sent a family of dragons to Ha Long Bay to help defend it against foreign invaders from the north. The dragons spit jewels and jade into the water, and these became the many islands that dot the seascape, forming a fortress against the invaders. The dragons fell in love with the area for its calm waters, and many locals say they still inhabit the bay.
Ha Long Bay is what brought us to Vietnam from Canada, to explore the bay by inflatable kayak. Our objective was to use kayaks to reach the beautiful limestone cliffs of the bay and then deep-water solo (climb the cliffs without ropes), jumping from reasonable heights using the water to break our fall. Our team was made up of four individuals: Janet Bride, my better half, a very experienced traveler and a seasoned pro when it comes to haggling for the lowest price; Matt Maddaloni, a professional climber who knows the ins and outs of expeditions from past trips to Baffin Island and the Himalayas; Annie Roy, a veteran traveler and climber who is fluent in French; and me, Paul Bride, photographer and traveler.
We brought close to 500 pounds of gear from home, including freeze-dried food, climbing equipment, tents, and inflatable kayaks. After haggling for the best price, we made the 165-kilometer trip from Hanoi to Ha Long city with all of it.