Halong Bay of Vietnam offers 3000 green limestone islands rising from the crystalline emerald water in the Gulf of Tonkin. Ha Long Bay also has tens of stunning limestone caves above and under water, and the diverse Eco-system which makes the bay listed as the World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.
To the north, Halong Bay Islands run close to the Chinese border; to the south the islands run along Hai Phong City. The total is about 1553 km2. The special zone claimed specially protected by the UNESCO is about 300 km2. The biggest island is Cat Ba 354 km2 with the inhabitants living on agriculture and fisheries.
Halong Bay's Legend
Halong Bay (Vinh Ha Long) in Vietnamese means "the Bay of Descending Dragons". According the Vietnamese legend, the area was inhabited early by the Vietnamese who lived mainly on agriculture. There were a herd of dragons which brought about rain to water the paddy fields. Life was very peaceful and happy...
One day came the aggressors from the sea. They killed the people and looted their villages. Their cries reached heaven and the dragons were sent down by the King of Heaven to help them. The dragons descended in the bay and spat out pearls which turned into limestone islands stopping the invaders' advance, they wriggled their tails to destroy the invaders' boats. Soon the invaders were defeated and peace was brought back to the country. The dragons remained in the bay to protect it forever.
The bay has two main areas: to the north was where the child dragons landed, hence the name Bai Tu Long Bay (or the Bay of the child dragons bowing to the mother); to the south was where the mother dragon landed which got it the name Halong Bay. Besides, there's an area near Cat Ba Island called Lan Ha Bay (or “the Summer Orchid Bay") which got the name from the wild orchid flowers here in the summer.
Halong Bay's Geology
Researches proved that Halong Bay was created by the undulation processes which took place on the earth surface from around 300 million years off and on to 175 million years ago. The wave-like motions involved cracking, sinking and lifting some areas and the islands were created. There are water lines at top of some caves in the bay which proves that it was underwater sometime in the past. Sometimes, Halong Bay was a fresh-water region; there are still vestiges of ancient rivers which ran in the middle of the bay area; and at Me Cung Cave lots of fossilized shells of fresh water mollusk are still found.
Most mountain and islands of Halong Bay are of limestone with colors ranging from chalky white to black. There are stunning colorful caves on many islands. There are many secret lagoons and lakes of which some can be accessed at low tides only. At high tides the opening is under water.
At most points in Halong Bay, the water depth ranges from 4 meters to 8 meters. Near the open water (such as that at Cua Van) it’s about 45 meters deep.
Halong Bay's Civilizations
The earliest civilization recorded in Halong Bay was around 3500 - 2000 BC and it was called Cai Be Civilization. This one seems to have connections with other civilizations in Vietnam of the time such as Dong Son, Hoa Binh, Sa Huynh, Oc Eo to create the golden period in the prehistoric times of Vietnam.
Halong Bay's Tourist Highlights
Halong Fish Market: Ha Long fish market is in Hon Gai Town with different kinds of seafood caught in Halong Bay. There are also different kinds of electronic goods nearby. From Bai Chay Town you can hire a Xe Om or taxi to get to Halong Fish Market via Bai Chay suspension bridge.
Near Dau Go cave (on the same island) is Thien Cung Cave (Cave of Heavenly Palace) with unreal rock formations which make it have a heavenly look. Visit both Dau Go and Thien Cung would take 1.5 hour.
Ti Tov Beach was where Ho Chi Minh and Ti Tov - a Russian astronaut had a swim while Vietnam was at war. The beach was named after the Russian one. At top of Ti Tov Island, there an observation tower which offers stunning panoramic view of Halong Bay.
Sung Sot Cave (the Cave of Amazement) and amazing it is. The cave is large of over 200 m long and it was under water during the glacier time. The ceiling still has the punching marks of water that time. It's quite a walk to this cave, though the reward is definitely worth it!
Halong Bay Travel and Tours
Have Long Bay can be visited by boat for 3-8 hours upon request. Or the traveler can book a luxurious junk cruise on Halong Bay with overnight on board in the wild of the bay. There are options to book a private cabin on a shared junk or book a chartered junk cruise.
Kayaking is an option for the travelers who would like to visit the unseen lagoons, mountains and islands that are not accessible by big boat.
From Ha Noi you can take a 1-day, 2-day, 3-day or even more day tours to Halong Bay. The travelers who like to take kayaking tours or combine the tour with a trip on Cat Ba Island can extend the time.
There are many hotels in Halong City ranging from simple guest houses to luxurious 4 star hotel. Rooms and services range from simple to luxury.
Getting there and away
By air: Halong Bay is 1 hour flight by helicopter from Gia Lam Airport in Ha Noi.
By road: Halong Bay is 160km or 3.5 hours drive from Ha Noi. The road is fairly good, though traffic may be very busy. There are many local bus companies from commuting between Hanoi - Halong City. The buses don't have seat number and the driver may stop many times to pick up more passengers on the way until it's totally stuffed. Also all commuter bus drivers have to hurry to pick up as many people as possible on the way; they drive very recklessly.
Halong Bay can also be visited by road from Hai Phong. It's only 70km between the 2 cities and the drive takes 1 hour.
By boat: From Hai Phong you can take a speed boat for 1 hour to Cat Ba where you take a 5 hour boat cruise weaving through Halong Bay islands.
By foot: Bai Chay Town (the tourist area of Halong City) can easily be explore on foot. There are nice walk on the waterfront and it's safe to stroll here at night.
Taxi: Halong taxi (with meter) can be called for longer distances in the city, say from Bai Chay to Hon Gai (the area for the local residents)
Xe Om (motorbike taxi): There are many Xe Om with drivers on every corner of Halong City who are ready to take you anywhere in town.
Boat: to visit Halong Bay then having a boat cruise is a "must". There are different boat classes ranging from simple converted fishing boat to air-conditioned luxurious junks.
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