Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay: Surreal Doesn’t Begin To Do It Justice

by Fyllis Hockman 

Descending the steep, narrow plank, inch by inch, hand over hand along the long pole, I thought: “This better be one hell of a cave!” Exploring the other-worldly interior of Hang Trong Cave was to be one of many surreal experiences I was to have traveling along Ha Long Bay in northeast Vietnam.

In the 1992 movie Indochine, credited with putting Ha Long Bay on the map, Catherine Deneuve describes it as “the most remote outpost of Indochina.” Today, the bay still retains that end-of-the-Earth, Lord-of-the-Rings-on–water quality.   

The almost 600 square miles comprised of thousands of karst islands, caves and inlets, which we visited as part of a trip with Myths and Mountains tour company, create a solitary natural environment that belies description and inspires awe. I kept thinking how many times can I use the word surreal in one travel article? 

The boat we called home, replicating an old Chinese Junk, was basic, but we dined well and huddled about the crew as they studied tidal charts to determine our daily itinerary. Inflatable canoes, powered by guides, were our vehicle of choice for purposes of exploration. Cave opening too small to navigate? No problem –- just let some air out of the canoe. Very versatile.

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Legend of the Betelnut Princess

by Kristin Mock

This is not the betelnut princess I imagined. This woman is sitting outside her one-room apartment tying waxy betel leaves around smooth, ivory-colored nuts while her daughter does math problems out of a textbook and sips a cup of mango juice. She has been tying betel leaves for hours, flinging them onto a waxy mountain of wrapped-up nuts piled high in a cloudy glass case, snatching one every once in a while and placing it between her lips. It is this, the stained lips, the tell-tale pink with a hint of scarlet, the color I’d come to learn as the betelnut smile, that holds my curiosity most as she hands me a paper bag.

We are on the tiny tropical island of Xiao Liuqiu, a wet and humid place off the southwest coast of Taiwan. After driving home on the two-person motor scooter we’d rented that morning, Matt, a Canadian adventure writer who lived in Taiwan for seven years, and I sit on a wooden swing outside of my purple bungalow overlooking the sparkling lights on the shores of the South China Sea, and I learn the legend of the betelnut.

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Win A Travel Photography Scholarship to Bhutan

a special opportunity from the editors of

ATTENTION TRAVELING SHUTTERBUGS: Grab your cameras and get ready turn your passion into a career. Get professional in-the-field mentoring as part of an amazing new Travel Photography Scholarship opportunity in The Kingdom of Bhutan.

photo by d ha rm e sh via flickr (common license)

We're excited to let you know that travel insurance partner,, is giving one exceptional individual the chance to travel with National Geographic on-assignment photographer Jason Edwards in the Land of the Thunderdragon.

We want it to be YOU!

Better yet, the scholarship winner will also receive AU$2000 worth of Pentax photographic equipment.

Your best photos will be published on the National Geographic Channel's website where they will be viewed by thousands of travellers worldwide, offering you a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get your foot in the door of one of the most revered exploration organisations in the world.

Ready, set, apply! Entry deadline is October 17, 2010.

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