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Photos: Where the Dragon Meets the Sea

Legend has it that Ha Long Bay is the work of a beast, the remnant of a great dragon's escape into the sea. As he descended from the mountains into the water, the dragon's lashing tail gouged the rocks, forming valleys and crevices that would later fill with water to form the formidable bay. Today, the bay is just as ethereal - morning fog drifts between the rocky pinnacles, blurring the distinction between sea foam water and moss-covered tower; birdsong echoes through the causeways, guiding wooden junkboats from one twinkly cove to the next.

My friend Jodi and I boarded our own wooden junkboat for an overnight tour of the bay. The January weather brought a few chills and a desire to wrap ourselves in one of the scarfs we had luckily purchased in the Mai Chou Valley, but the views were spectacularly worth it. We spent two days climbing steep and rocky mountains, exploring grottos by kayak, and wandering through spectacular caves.the true magic of the bay, however, came alive in simple observation. As our weathered junkboat bobbed its way through the archipelago, it was difficult to want to do anything other than watch the bay's beauty float by.

We spent a night on Cat Ba island, and climbed to the highest point on the island. Exhaustion and elation abounded:

We took a smaller boat through a tour of one of the bay's many floating villages, where fishermen and families work, study, and livein building built on large tethered bamboo rafts.

The highlight for Jodi was a visit to Monkey Island (the jury's still out on whether this is a real name or one that just aptly describes the experience we ended up having). She bought two full packages of hostess snack cakes in order to feed the bold and curious creatures from the palm of her hand.

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