Ha Long Bay – Living the Karst Life

I enjoy building sandcastles, digging moats with wet gritty hands, watching the sand ooze through my fingers as I build up sandy layers, patting it into fanciful spires. I get lost in the process, and often burnt, too. When I finish, I stand, wipe the grit off my hands and bum, to admire my handiwork, but only for a moment. I no longer fret at children running through it or the sea claiming back it’s own, because that’s the charm of a sandcastle. It’s fragility, non permanence, makes you admire it in it’s present state, the flow of accomplishing something and letting it go.

The beauty of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam are the limestone islands, like sandcastles, that are being created and destroyed by the emerald sea that strokes their shores day after day. Ha Long Bay meets not one, but two of UNESCO’s criteria to be listed as a World Heritage site, because of it’s “exceptional natural beauty” and as an outstanding example  “representing major stages of earth’s history”. This is due to it’s karst formations, I had to get out the dictionary for karst. A Karst is an underground drainage system created by bedrock, such as limestone, that is eroded by acidic water, distinctive features are sink holes and caves.

There is this fantasy about a place that you’ve never been to before. You have an image in your head from second hand sources and bits and pieces you have gathered and cobbled together, but it’s like trying to put together a puzzle with your eyes closed, plus you might be missing pieces or have some wrong ones thrown into the pile. When you open your eyes and actually experience a place your mind’s vision might by a hodge podge of misplaced, disjointed imagery compared to reality.

On one hand Ha Long Bay is supposed to be this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Centre, a place with “outstanding universal value”. The photographs are mystical and gorgeous, towering limestone pillars set in peaceful blue green waters, the graceful sails of junk boats like flying fish flitting amongst the islands. On the other hand I have read that the water in the bay is polluted with trash and debris, there is a lot of water traffic, and local guides can be unscrupulous to tourists.

What is the real Ha Long Bay like? How has nature and humans impacted it’s flow of creation and destruction?

Thinking about this, I wonder if there is a subjective “heritage” site within me, is there some criteria that gives me outstanding value and how am I being shaped by the wear and tear of everyday life. As the present swirls in and out of the crevices and hollows shaped by my past what unique, distinctive features of my core are left, and how will I change as time continues to flow through me into the future.

Outstanding, masterpiece, exceptional are words heard through out the selection criteria for a place to be recognized as a World Heritage site. What kind of masterpiece has my life become? The progress of my past is what has shaped me today. By accepting my past with all it’s twists and turns, I can learn to accept who I am now and to live a life that I can be proud of. I can see myself like the magnificent limestone pillars of Ha Long Bay, a beautiful, valuable person. Not regretting the choices that I have made, but building off of them, I am able to savor the strengths of the present me and look forward to who I will become.

I am eager to discover Ha Long Bay’s now, all it’s facets, the grand and the gritty. It probably won’t be what I have envisioned, but it will be a testimony to the importance of appreciating the process of creating.



3 thoughts on “Ha Long Bay – Living the Karst Life

  1. Brooke

    Yes, very deep thoughts! I would find it hard to summon the words in such a beautiful place. I’m happy you are taking the time to really grapple with some true inner feelings. Love it.


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