Friday, June 08, 2007
My Big Fat Trip To Vietnam - Part 3
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is one of those sites that a traveler must visit at least once in his/her life, just like Angkor Watt or Machu Pichu or the Pyramids, etc… No matter how many pictures one has seen, the real thing is always both more disappointing and yet more impressive than the postcards.
We came, we saw, we ate some seafood. I recognized the breathtakingly beautiful spots featured in Tran Anh Hung's film «Vertical Rays of the Sun». The highlight was a visit to the caves where our guide enlisted me as his assistant to translate his explanations into English for the non-Vietnamese speaking tourists. He was pointing to stalactites left and right: this is a lion and that's a buddha and other there is the throne of a judge, etc...
According to the creation myth of the Vietnamese people, a beautiful mountain fairy named Au Co met and married the Dragon Lord, Lac Long Quan. From that union, she bore an egg sac that hatched a hundred children known collectively as Bach Viet, ancestors to the Vietnamese people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Au_Co). [Since then, the Vietnamese have been calling themselves: «Con rong chau tien», i.e. children of dragons, grand children of celestial beings]. However, despite their love, Au Co yearned for the mountains while Lac Long Quan missed the sea. They separated, each taking 50 children. Au Co settled in Vietnam, where she raised the 50 young, intelligent, strong leaders, later known as the Hung Kings. And it is through this opening in the cave of Ha Long that she left for the mountains with her 50 children.
One cannot over stress the importance of dragons in Vietnam. The name Ha Long itself means «Descending Dragons» or «Landing Dragons» and legend has it that while Vietnam was engaged in yet another war with China and in the process of losing, the king of Vietnam invoked the Celestial King and asked for his help. The King of Heaven sent forth a female dragon (Au Co?) and her children. They landed in the Gulf of Tonkin, and their scales fell into the sea, transforming themselves into some 1,600 islands and islets, forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars, against which the Chinese ships crashed and sank.