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From the Field
Inside the "Impossible" Journey
Online-only photos and more from our kayaking odyssey at the edge of Vietnam.

The goal was straightforward enough: to sea kayak 800 miles [1,287 kilometers] of the Vietnamese coast, from the limestone islands of Ha Long Bay to the beaches south of Da Nang.

Straightforward or not, the journey was something that had never before been attempted. And it couldn't be done, according to the government.

But writer Jon Bowermaster did it. The proof is in "The 'Impossible' Journey," in the March 2003 Adventure magazine—and in these exclusive photos and dispatches from the expedition.

image: map of Vietnam
Click maps to see Bowermaster's route.


Jon Bowermaster
Occupation: Writer-explorer
Age: 45
Base of operations: Stone Ridge, New York

An Adventure contributing editor, Bowermaster has dog-sledded the Antarctic, paddled the Aleutians, and run an untested Chinese river. His work has appeared in National Geographic, The Atlantic, and a new book, Birthplace of the Winds: Storming Alaska’s Islands of Fire and Ice (preview).

Peter Getzels
Occupation: TV producer, National Geographic EXPLORER
Age: 45
Base of operations: Washington, D.C.

A BBC producer until recently, Getzels is on his first staff assignment for EXPLORER.

Ngan Nguyen
Occupation: Asia project manager, Oxfam
Age: 30
Base of operations: Boston, Massachusetts

Born near Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, Nguyen fled Saigon with her family on the last day of the Vietnam War, in 1975. Since then she has studied at Tulane and Harvard University, worked with UNICEF, and visited Vietnam 20 times.

Polly Green
Occupation: Professional kayaker
Age: 30
Base of operations: Durango, Colorado

While Nguyen’s father was flying helicopters for the South Vietnamese Army, Green’s father was based in Da Nang, fighting with U.S. Army troops.

Rob Howard
Occupation: Photographer
Age: 37
Base of operations: New York, New York

The Canadian-born Howard’s work has appeared in Men’s Journal, National Geographic Adventure, Outside, and other major magazines.

image: Adventure Cover


Dispatch 1: Underway (1:01)
“We’re paddling south out of Ha Long city, starting our 800-mile [1,287-kilometer] exploration of the coast of Vietnam.”
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Dispatch 2: Ha Long Bay (1:13)
“We've paddled in and out of the bay's 3,000 limestone islands, passing through grottos between the islands.”
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Dispatch 3: Dragon-Boat Races (1:09)
“We’re…in a floating village of 400 boats…It is the 42nd anniversary of the visit of Ho Chi Minh to this town. …They’re having a huge celebration. …”
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Dispatch 4: Victory's Medicine Man (1:38)
"When we pulled our boats into the tidal mud, a man in a blue zip-up pullover greeted us out of the blue. …He was a traveling herbal medicine man."
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Dispatch 5: Perfume River (1:22)
"Yesterday we kayaked up the Perfume River into the heart of Hue. …The city is famous in Vietnamese poetry, literature, and music for its mysteriousness and romance."
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Dispatch 6: Lang Co Lagoon (1:44) "A parade of couples in small wooden boats came out in a line spreading their crabnets and settling in for the night. Small gas lamps rested on the seats of their boats. That's all the light they'd need under the stars."
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Dispatch 7: China Beach (1:10)
"After much bureaucratic hassling, which here means burrowing through multi-layers of police and military folk, we pushed into the South China Sea to paddle the length of Vietnam's historic China Beach."
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Dispatch 8: Expedition's End (1:43)
"I was drained, maybe more mentally exhausted than physically, thanks to a hard six weeks in a country of complicated logistics. …"
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Windows Media Player

Related Web Sites

*Ask the Expedition Adviser
Jon Bowermaster fielded reader's questions on planning an out-there adventure.

*Dispatches From the Birthplace of the Winds
See photos and hear dispatches from the expedition that inspired Bowermaster’s new book, Birthplace of the Winds.

*Video: Bowermaster on His Aleutian Odyssey
Find out what it took to take Alaska’s Islands of the Four Mountains by kayak.

More Adventure From nationalgeographic.com

*Adventure & Exploration Guide

*Adventure & Exploration News

*National Geographic Expeditions Travel

*TOPO! mapXchange

*Trails Illustrated Maps

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March 2003

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