Located in the Gulf of Tonkin, the bay is recognized by UNESCO as the Natural World Heritage that contains some 1,600 islands and islets, forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars. Because of their precipitous nature, most of the islands are uninhabited and unaffected by a human presence. The bay’s outstanding scenic beauty is complemented by its great biological interest. It is an incredible place to explore and discover its many islands, coves and hidden grottoes.
Administratively, Ha Long Bay belongs to Ha Long City, Cam Pha Town and part of Van Don District. Ha Long Bay is a center of a larger zone which includes Bái Tử Long bay to the northeast, and Cát Bà islands to the southwest. These larger zones share similar geological, geographical, geomorphologic, climate and cultural characters. Ha Long Bay has an area of around 1,553 km², including 1,960 islets, most of which are limestone. The diversity of the environment, climate, geology, geography, and geomorphology in the area has created biodiversity, including tropical evergreen bio-system, oceanic and sea shore bio-system. Ha Long Bay is home to 14 endemic floral species and 60 endemic faunal species.
Nowadays, Ha Long Bay is one of the most popular travel destinations in Vietnam. The beauty of the site is the mingling of a number of factors: the mountain’s size and form, the color of the water and the clouds. Halong bay, because of its varied terrain, climate and soil, features a diversified and abundant environmental system.
“Ha Long” is literally translated as “Bay of Descending Dragons”. But the origin of this name is itself a mistery.
The local legend, which has been handed down, tells the following tale: “Long ago, in the first founding days, the Viet people were attacked by foreign aggressors. The Jade Emperor sent the Mother Dragon and her band of Child Dragons to help the Viet people fight the invaders. While the enemy vessels were launching massive attacks against the mainland, the dragons descended in flocks from the sky. They spat out innumerable pearls which changed into jade stone islands the moment they touched the water. These islands linked together to form firm citadels that checked the enemy’s advance and smashed their vessels to pieces. After the invaders were driven out, Mother Dragon and her Child Dragons did not return to Heaven but stayed on earth, right at the place where the battle occurred. The spot where the Mother Dragon landed was Ha Long, and where the Child Dragons came down was Bai Tu Long. The place where their tails violently wagged was called Long Vi, the present-day Tra Co Peninsula with its soft sandy beach stretching many kilometers.”
However, prior to the 19th century, this name was not recorded in any document or archive. When mentioning the present-day Quang Ninh Sea or Ha Long Bay, old historical books often referred to them by the names of An Bang, Luc Thuy or Van Don. Not until the late 19th century did the name of Halong Bay appear on a French Marine Map. “The Hai Phong News”, a French newspaper of the time, had an article, “Dragon appears on Ha Long Bay”, reporting the following story: In 1898 a sub-lieutenant named Lagredin, captaining the “Avalanse” reported seeing a huge sea snake on Ha Long Bay. This was also witnessed by many of the crew. Thus emerged the European image of the Asian dragon. Whether this appearance of a strange animal looking like a dragon resulted in the name of Ha Long Bay is not known. Whether or not you are a believer of legends you will be lulled into a sense of peace and contentment by the magical and surrealistic seascape of Halong Bay.
The tranquil emerald green waters and the captivating vistas of the seemingly countless jutting limestone mountainous islands will soothe the soul and stimulate the senses. Few places in the world offer a more breath-taking glimpse of the awesome creativity of Mother Nature. The Halong Bay World Heritage Site is universally recognized for the significance of its exceptional geology and distinctive biodiversity, and the rich culture of the local people adds to the charm and enchantment of cruising the bay. Halong Bay cruises have been a favorite pastime for the Vietnamese for centuries.
ISLANDS AND BEACHES
Tuan Chau Island:
Some 8 km away from the Bai Cháy Tourist Wharf, Tuan Châu Island has an area of 300 ha. The Island is surrounded by several white sand beaches. Tuan Chau became a famous tourist destination including resorts, amusement park, restaurants and water sport activities. On the islet, there is a very simple bamboo house built by the inhabitants of Quang Ninh province for Ho Chi Minh to rest after visiting Halong Bay.
Cat Ba Island:
Cat Ba is the largest island in Halong Bay . The island has a few fishing villages and a small town. On the east side of the island you will find Lan Ha Bay which has numerous beaches and excellent scenery. There are two white sand beaches (Cat Co 1 and Cat Co 2) located 1km from Cat Ba town. The two beaches are connected by a wooden walkway about 700 metres long. Cat Ba National Park occupies a large area of the island and is well worth a visit especially if you enjoy trekking (3days/2nights program).
Location: Ti Top Island is situated about 7-8km south-east of Bai Chay. Characteristics: The Islet displays a beach shaped like a crescent moon and sand that has been washed to a snowy white by the tide.
This Island is also one of the best view points in the entire Halong bay. November 22, 1962, this tiny island had the honour of receiving a visit from astronaut Ghermann Titov, a hero of the former Soviet Union, accompanied by President Ho Chi Minh. To perpetuate the remembrance of their visit, Uncle Ho named the place Ti Top Island.
Soi Sim Beach:
Location: Soi Sim is an soil island 400m away from Ti Top Island, and 7-8km from the Bai Chay Tourist Wharf. Characteristics: The Islet displays a quiet hillside beach topped by a nice view point with many ancient trees.
Three Peaches Beach:
Location: It is 22km from south of Bai Chay Tourist Wharf. Characteristics: This island consists of three small mountains with the height of 23m, seen from afar, resemble three peaches (Ba Trai Dao). The place features three small sand beaches embracing small islands. The island connects to a legend of about the romantic love between a youngest fairy, which was very pretty with a young and poor fisherman. Because of feeling in love with him, she stole three peaches from Heaven for him, which if he ate, would give him eternal life, allowing them to live together forever. The King of the Heavens discovered the robbery and turned the peaches into three stone islands. Chastised, the young fairy had to return.
CAVES AND GROTTOES
Sung Sot Grotto:
Location: Situated in the centre of the UNESCO-declared World Heritage area, Sung Sot or Surprise Grotto is on Bo Hon Island. Characteristics: It is one of the finest and widest grottoes of Halong Bay. The grotto covers some 10,000m2. Inside the grotto there have thousands of stalactites and stalagmites along the 500-meter paved passage. At the side of the entrance, the rock seems to form the shape of a horse with a long sword. Legend has it, that after having defeated the an aggressors, Thanh Dong (Saint Dong) helped the population to chase away evil spirits and demons. After this feat, Saint Dong flew to heaven, leaving a stone horse and sword to continue to keep the demons away.
Me Cung Grotto:
Location: Me Cung Grotto or Bewitching Grotto is located far from 2 kilometers south-west of Ti Top Beach. Characteristics: Me Cung Grotto has been recognized by archaeologists as one of the vestiges of the pre-Halong new Stone Age culture that existed between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago. It is formed on Lom Bo Island and seen from afar the entrance is like the roof of a house denting the islands side. After a narrow crack only allowing one person through at a time, many partitions appear. These chambers are somewhat small and narrow, but very refined and with many stalagmites and stalactites bearing beautiful forms. On getting out of the grotto, climb up several rugged stone stairs and look down, you see a large round lake surrounded by the mountain. Its water is blue all year round.
Location: Luon Grotto is situated on Bo Hon Island, close to Titop Island. Characteristics: At the water-level, an arched entrance leads to the grotto, just at the base of the island. Passing through the pretty entrance, you come across a tranquil round lake, surrounded by luxuriant trees and high stone walls. Here the cliffs stretch vertically out of the pure blue and smooth water.
Located opposite to Hang Trinh Nu (Virgin Grotto), Hang Trong (Male Grotto) has a giant stone statue of a boy who turns his face to Trinh Nu grotto. One still hears his vain scream in tune with the wind blowing into the cliff somewhere. Hang Trong is one of the caves within Halong Bay, named because the wind blowing through the stalactites and stalagmites resembles drumbeats.
The Three Caves:
Located close to the Cua Van fishing village, the three caves is an area where feature some of the most beautiful water tunnels in the Halong bay: the dark cave, the bat cave. This place has three superb water-tunnels can be explored by kayak at low tide.
Fairies Lake Cave:
Hồ Động Tiên (Fairy Lake) takes its name from a completely enclosed shallow lake within, where fairies are supposed to swim. Off to the side are large limestone chambers, the bedrooms of the fairies. Once lighted, the surrounding rocks are glistening with embedded unique calcite features.
There are 4 fishing floating villages in the World Heritage site: Ba Hang, Cua Van, Vong Vieng and Cap La with a total of 287 households and 1,283 people of which Cua Van is the largest.
Cua Van floating Fishing Village:
Cua Van is located at Hung Thang Commune, Halong City, 20km away from the tourist boat wharf; the fishing village lies in a calm bay surrounded by mountain. Cua Van is locaed at Hung Thang Commune, Halong City, 20km away from the tourist boat wharf; the fishing village lies in a calm bay surrounded by mountain. Cua Van Village has a population of 733 in 176 households.