So we reach the entrance to the celebrated bay of Halong, and I might as well put down my pen, for it is very difficult to describe one of the finest sights in the world, and so different from all others.
Let the reader try to imagine hundreds of islets, many of which have the shape of gigantic pillars, surrounded by a crown or cap of greenery. The sea is calm, its surface scarcely wrinkled by the furrows which our sloop
makes, and in colour it is of a deep mysterious blue, which seems, as it were, to conceal immeasurable depths.
It would seem, indeed, as if the waters, formerly much higher, had receded after having eaten into the cliffs, for in many places there are large recesses and the summit overhangs, while in others the rock, instead of having any vegetation, runs to a point like a long blade bristling with needles.
In all directions, there are small creeks and natural caverns, which only a small boat can penetrate through a natural archway. The two prevailing elements of grandeur, which add to the majesty of the scene, are solitude and calm.
As the sloop advances the route seems to close in behind us, and we may well wonder how we entered this new, unknown and mysterious kingdom. We are in a land of dreams, where the imagination allows itself free course, and it is easy to conjure up pirates and corsairs coming into the recesses of some creek, the access to which is known to them alone, in order to count their spoils.
One fancies them dominated by a woman — young, very beautiful, and rather pensive. A deep passion, a struggle between the two rivals, treason, followed by the punishment of the traitor, and then the happiness of the woman disappearing into the terrible archipelago.
These are the fancies which course through my brain, and, mixed up with
all this, tremendous encounters, flights through grottos with a double issue half full of water, and other daydreams, until my companions hail to me that we have reached our destination.
Vietnam 100 years ago: Halong impressions of Prince Henri d’Orléans
Text: Prince Henri d’Orléans (1867-1901)
Around Tonkin and Siam
Publication date: 1894
Publisher: London, Chapman & Hall
Photo: old photo from internet
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