When I went to Halong Bay, I was told that swimming isn’t allowed. “The water is sacred”. I was awfully confused, as I stood on the deck of the boat looking out at giant grey mountains that make this place so famous. It reminded me of Coron, in The Philippines. But unlike Coron, a still virgin virtually unknown place, the abuse of Halong Bay is apparent.
The view from the hotel room could have been mesmerizing: thousands of limestone mountains changed by the sun rays. But, a theme park in construction obstructed the view. It darkened it – a contrast between what nature’s hand seamlessly creates, and the human lust to destroy for profit.
Over the last couple of years, Halong Bay has been swept by a current of ‘development’. Hotels, restaurants, a man made beach and even a freaking theme park. A theme park. Because a riding a roller coaster is exactly what you want to go do in Vietnam as a tourist. Commonly, Halong Bay was the kind of place you visited for the day or a night as there was nothing much else to do except look at the limestone formations. Now, they want to change it and make Halong Bay a year-round tourist destination.
As the boat sped through the current and we got closer to the mountains, I couldn’t help but feeling tricked out of swimming in the water. Apparently, my friend’s brother who had been here seven years ago had been allowed to swim. But, the closeness to the mountains revealed to me why we couldn’t jump off: too many boats in the water. I could see happy tourists from the other decks taking pictures, all of us oblivious to the harm our sightseeing and picture taking is causing the mountains and reef.
Of course the water wasn’t holy. Perhaps in a better age it had been considered sacred. But now, it’s a tourist spot with a port, and many boats, and man-made beaches.
This begs for the question: How can a country develop but still keep its natural resources intact? How to find a balance between ‘development’ and caring for the environment?
During my travels, this has been the biggest question. I don’t want to go back to Halong Bay in 10 years and see it completely changed. I don’t want to keep on leaving places behind that will be destroyed by human hand. If there is something I learned from traveling is how important it is to respect nature and to protect it: there’s still too many beautiful places to see.
If only Halong Bay’s water was revered as sacred, then perhaps it wouldn’t be filled with boats now. Perhaps, I wouldn’t have been able to see it myself either. And if most famous natural spots were sacred, many could never visit them and take pictures. But, here is a crazy idea, if we destroyed all temples in the world and made all the beautiful landmarks like Halong Bay temples, then perhaps we might have a better chance at saving our planet. The planet, that all in all, is our temple.