8/3/14 11:16 AMAzure like it - Hawaii News - Honolulu Star-AdvertiserPage 2 of 5http://www.staradvertiser.com/travelpremium/travelnewspremium/20140803__Azure_like_it.html?id=269663071
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IF YOU GO ...HALONG BAY
Vietnam National Administration of Tourism
: 800-233-2742;www.cathaypacific.com/us. Flies nonstop direct fromSan Francisco to Hong Kong, where passengers canconnect with Cathay Pacific's sister airline Dragonair for daily Hanoi and Da Nang flights:www.dragonair.com.flat-bottomed paddle boat steamer, is an idealvessel for adventurers embarking on this islandodyssey.The Emeraude was originated by threeentrepreneurial, swashbuckling brothers who leftBordeaux, France, in 1858 to go east. The Roquebrothers' Indochina exploits are "Terry and thePirates" stuff. As the French empire expanded, sodid its enterprises, from opium to timber. In 1890Chinese buccaneer Luu Ky kidnapped and torturedthe two Roques.By the early 20th century the Roqueslaunched four single-wheel paddlesteamers, each named after gems,delivering freight, mail andpassengers at Halong and Red River Delta. The Emeraude provided electriclights, fans, refrigeration and adarkroom for photographers lured byHalong's charms. In 1937, returningfrom Hai
phong, the Emeraude struckan underwater rock and sank. In 1999businessman Eric Merlin stumbledupon vintage postcards depicting thesteamer at a Parisian flea market.Inspired, he tracked down Roquedescendants and build an Emeraudereplica in Hai
phong (although today's paddle wheel is just for show). By 2003, Merlin launched thereconstructed Emeraude, reincarnated as a cruise liner.Our first hours at sea are spent sightseeing, voyaging amiably if not aimlessly amid this exquisitearchipelago. We wend through an amazing maze of whimsically shaped islets. The cerulean seascapeis so stunning and tranquil, it seems like we're sailing across a symphonic poem composed to celebratenature's raptures. The weather is picture-perfect as karsts slip by one by one.The tranquility belies the mythology and history of the region. Halong means "descending dragon";according to mythology, Vietnam's ancient gods dispatched jewel-spitting dragons to repel Chineseinvaders. The U.S. Navy mined the bay after the disputed Gulf of Tonkin incident 50 years ago thismonth spurred combat between the United States and Vietnam.Our port of call is Bo Hon, an island located roughly in Halong Bay's center, where Sung Sot Grotto is.To enter one must trek a tree-lined path up the karst, which requires hardy footgear and the vigor toclimb up and down hundreds of smoothed stony stairs. As guides lead the way through Surprise Cave,our leader notes various rock formations with a laser pointer, identifying a Buddha, monkey, bird andphallic symbol sculpted into Sung Sot's stalactites and stalagmites.Our tour group, sometimes slowed by a human traffic jam, walks along the cave's polished floor and upand down its many steps for 60 minutes. One of Halong's largest karsts, Bo Hon is a range of connected islets that also includes Dong Tien Lake, Luon Grotto and Virgin Grotto, but we didn'tglimpse them or Bon Ho's monkeys or deer — although we saw stalactites resembling them.Returning to the anchored Emeraude, some passengers swim, but I'm deterred by jellyfish warnings. Iembark on a kayak expedition with Colm Fitzgerald, a younger, intrepid Ventura County, Calif., rockclimber. We're dispatched from the paddle-wheeler's bow with little preparation and without a guide.Quickly we discover our kayak's seats aren't properly set up, causing me some back pain. Cautiouslywe head for a floating fishermen's village near a distant karst. But a chop in the water and discomfortcaused by the supportless seating lead us to change course and circumnavigate our portion of Halong,careful not to crash into the karst.Sea hawks soar overhead. Colm and I paddle together or take turns when one wants to shoot pictures.However, at an especially scenic site both shutterbugs simultaneously reach for our cameras, nearlycapsizing the canoe. Six-foot-three Colm's rapid response saves us from going overboard, sparing our
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