I’m reading a book entitled East of Siam, published in 1926 by American traveler named Harry A. Franck. On page 212, he travels from Hanoi to Halong Bay, known then as Along Bay and travels a Halong bay cruise on the Tuyen Quang, “a comfortable floating chalet” captained by a Corsican.
I love reading these old accounts of the bay. There’s always a gem or two of perspective, and much that resonates today. For example, Franck writes then that the bay is “justly famed,” but then corrects himself to note that it was an “unjustly little known fairy-land.” Until about 15 years ago, you could have said the same thing about the bay’s notoriety.
Like so many writers, Franck can’t help his pen. He writes lyrically about the karsts in a flight of prose that does do justice to this seascape. “An endless wilderness of rocks,” he calls them. “The far famed Inland Sea of Japan hardly seems worthy of a place on the same hemisphere.”
Franck toured Surprise Cave, as we do from the Emeraude today, though it was known to him as Grotte de la Surprise. He followed two sailors “with sizzling torches of waste or rags in an iron cage at the end of a pole…. The smoke prickling our eyes and suffocating us.” We don’t put our guests through that today, fortunately.
Franck is equally rapturous about the grotto, and reading this, one is thankful for the development of such rich prose. I frequently see my passengers trying to get down on paper what they see before them. Of course, they’re far more often capturing the bay with their lenses.
And just this morning, I watched a young woman manipulate her mobile phone on the sundeck.
“Texting?” I asked her?
“Tweeting,” she replied.
Well how about that then: The grandeur of Halong Bay reduced to 140 characters!
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