On January 1st we are all down for the count. We spend the entire day at Republik because the thought of going outside to get food or water is too much. That’s what happens when you dance in the street until the morning. So, we spend the entire day lounging. We order pizza, then more pizza. We drink water. We strip the blankets off our beds and bring them to the movie room on the top floor. We watch movies and shows until the day turns to night. This is comfort. This is happiness. It’s a lucky thing, finding people you can be jolly with but with whom you can also share silence.
There is, admittedly, an elephant in the room, specifically the issue of departure. We all know that the plan was to spend New Year’s in Hanoi, after which the guys all needed to head south. Peter and Nicklas so that they could fly back to Denmark, Louis so that he could meet his partner in Ho Chi Minh City. Paul is buying a motorbike and heading North.
I am staying behind, and I have been ignoring it. But with the sun setting on January 1st, I find myself wondering what the next few days will bring. I find myself hoping somehow they won’t go. Just another few days. That’s all I’m asking. I don’t actually ask, of course.
I also know that even a few more days would not be enough. It never is. But I’ll continue hoping nonetheless.
We eventually discuss their plans. Louis, Peter and Nicklas decide to stay one more day. They haven’t seen Ha Long Bay yet, after all. Yes, another day.
The next day we pile into a bus and make the 4 hour drive to Ha Long Bay. We have lunch on a boat while we glide between the rocks. We meet an older Dutch traveler who is surprised to find that all of us have only known each other for a few weeks. We make the jokes we are now so used to making. The guys poke fun at me; I do it back. Louis sasses me; I call him a little shit.
Ha Long Bay is beautiful. It is also, however, a well-oiled tourist machine. I find myself imagining the majesty of discovering this place for the first time. I picture the magic of examining the rock faces without having countless other boats following in your wake.
We are herded into bamboo boats and kayaks and as we float into lagoons tucked between the rocks, I imagine the glory of seeing this light without hearing the clatter of inexperienced kayakers bumping into other boats.
What a gift it is to be able to travel the way we are now able to, but what a double edged sword it can be. We visit places to see their unspoiled beauty, only to spoil it with our very presence. We go in search of an authentic life, only to place ourselves besides hordes of people wielding selfie sticks.
It’s a strange feeling, really. I feel fortunate to see what has been named one of the Wonders of the World, and yet it also leaves me feeling a little more deflated than fulfilled. I am glad to be here, I am glad to see the beauty that is Ha Long Bay, but there is something about it that feels like trespassing. I am walking into one of nature’s halls of wonders and all I can see is how we are ruining it, once again, with excess. To put it simply, it doesn’t feel quite right.
We head back to the bus and drive the 4 hours back to Hanoi. It has been a long day and at this point all we hope is that the bus won’t spend the next hour dropping all its passengers off at the different hotels and hostels. Lucky for us, it doesn’t and we are able to get back to Republik quickly. We do what we have gotten so good at doing here: we order pizza.
As we eat, we get back to the topic of departure times. Peter and Nicklas have booked their bus out and are set to leave the next day at around 6pm. As we plan our parting of ways I notice myself going quiet. I am quiet because I don’t want them to go. I desperately, viscerally do not want this adventure as a foursome to end. I am quiet because I am very aware that if I speak, I will cry.
I absolutely refuse to cry right now, so instead I eat my pizza and hope my eyes don’t betray the way I feel. I eat my pizza and try to soak up our inside jokes, try to enjoy the fact that we have had a wild ride.
I eat my pizza and am comforted for now by one fact. Louis has decided to stay another day.