Halong Bay is one of Mother Earths most amazing natural wonders and one of Vietnams most prized treasures. A comfortable 3 hours drive from Hanoi, Halong Bay is in Northeastern Vietnam on the shores of the Gulf of Tonkin. The bay is dominated by more than 1,600 limestone karsts and islets which rise out of the waters of the bay to heights of up to 100 meters (330 feet) and the numerous caves and grottos spread throughout the bay. Abundant scenic beauty, archeological and geological significance, cultural and historical connections, fresh seafood and proximity to international gateways make Halong Bay one of Vietnams most popular places to visit.
Such is the significance of Halong Bay that in 1994, UNESCO recognized the heart of Halong Bay as being a site of natural World Heritage and stated that "Apart from Halong Bay there are no equivalent sites on the World Heritage List..."
Islands and Karsts
The most outstanding feature of Halong Bay and undoubtedly its greatest attraction are the 1,696 islands, islets and rocky karst outcrops. 989 of these islets and rocky outcrops have been been given imaginative names by the locals over the years. These have been derived from their perceived shapes and include names such as Mans Head, Fighting Cocks, Wading Ox and Wallowing Buffalo.
Caves and Grottos
Another exceptional geological feature of Halong Bay is the number of limestone islands which have caves and grottoes within them. The total number of caves has never been determined and there are almost certainly more which are yet to be discovered. In order to preserve the natural state and integrity of the large number of caves and grottos in the World Heritage Area, only some are open to visitors. The most commonly visited are Thien Cung (Heavenly Palace) cave, Dau Go (Wood Tip) grotto, Sung Sot (Surprise) cave and Trinh Nu (Virgin) grotto.
Sea and Lakes
The lower chambers of some caves and grottos are below sea level. Due to the porous nature of limestone, these chambers are often partially filled to form tidal lakes and pools. Although most of these are shallow, the depths of some have never been determined. The geomorphology of Halong Bay indicates that it is almost certain that there are undiscovered and fully entombed lakes within many of the islands. Dau Be (Goats Head island) alone has 6 different tidal lakes.
The majority smaller islets and karsts are capped with a low shrubby crown The larger islands are home to dense tropical forests featuring abundant bird life.
There is perhaps a greater number of myths, legends and folklore surrounding Halong Bay than any other area in Vietnam. The current name of the bay (Descending Dragon) is itself a mystery. Some say it can be attributed to the French in the late 1890s, others say it comes from a famous Vietnamese folk tale.
Myths and folklore surround many of the caves and grottos. Tales of lifes love lost; of forbidden love forever together cast in stone; wedding celebrations of truly celestial splendor; of poverty and power, and more.
Attractions and Activities
Undoubtedly Halong Bays greatest attraction is its natural scenery. The towering limestone outcrops jutting skywards from the emerald-blue waters. The sheer numbers and size of the islands, islets and karsts within the bay serve to humble even the most jaded traveler.
Swimming, kayaking, hiking and of course photography are favorite pastimes for visitors to Halong Bay - one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Vietnam. Abundant fresh local seafood is another delight.
Floating fishing villages are the most popular human attraction. Entire village populations live, work and die on these floating islands in Halong Bay. The villagers are mainly fisherfolk and ply the waters around their villages selling their fresh produce to the passing tourist trade.