About Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay
Ever since it was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 1994, Ha Long Bay has become incredibly popular in tourist circles. Considered to be one of the prime attractions in the north-eastern parts of Vietnam, this mystical landscape offers a spectacular experience that can be enjoyed round the year. Tourism surged to 1.7 million by the year 2002, and over the decades, Ha Long Bay became an international symbol of natural beauty and incredible landscapes. The sheer beauty, diverse scenes, historical attractions and magical atmosphere is enough to make Ha Long Bay one of the hottest destinations on most travel lists. It offers visitors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore old-world Vietnamese lifestyle and presents a range of natural sights and scenarios that often lead to spiritual awakening and mental peace.
What is it?
Ha Long Bay represents a group of 2000 odd islands rising from the inviting waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. The world ‘Halong’ literally translates to ‘the place where the dragon descends into the sea’ and legends have it that the bay was actually created by a great dragon. This landscape of limestone islets has often been compared to Krabi in Thailand and Guilin in China, but Ha Long Bay is far better than both. The green emerald waters run along 120kms of coastline and the islands are full of picturesque grottoes, close to 3000 monumental limestone caves and beautiful beaches. The limestone islands are also home to numerous stalagmites and stalactites, humongous chambers, hidden passageways and an intriguing history. Many of the caves are only accessible by charter boat, and almost all islands have unique and interesting names, odd shapes and pockets of vegetation. The bay itself is home to more than 450 species of mollusks and 200 species of fish. The islands are full of wildlife and some of the most common animals found here include antelope, iguanas, monkeys and bantams. Hang Dau Go, or Grotto of Wooden Stakes, is the largest grotto in the bay. It consists of three cave chambers and is only accessible after you climb 90 odd steps to get to its entrance. The second chamber walls glisten and sparkle when light falls on them, but the third chamber is considered to be the most spectacular. It was used by Vietnamese war general Tran Hung Dao in the 13th century to stash his bamboo stakes that were used during the Kublai Khan’s invasion. Hang Sung Sot, or Surprising Cave, is another popular cave in the area. It also boasts of three beautiful chambers that require a lot of climbing to get to. Its second chamber has an unusually shaped rock that exudes pink colors and is believed to be a symbol of fertility.
Getting In and Around
The ideal way to visit Ha Long Bay is to fly to the Noi Bai International Airport, located at a distance of 40kms from the city of Hanoi. You need to transfer to Halong City from the airport, and you can do so using a taxi, bus or a minivan. Bookmundi recommends you to avoid the private bus as it tends to become overcrowded and is very slow. You can also get a helicopter to pick you up at the airport and drop you off at Halong City, and enjoy beautiful views of both cities in the process. Remember, the best way to explore Ha Long Bay is via boat, and most tourists prefer to opt for tours that include spending a night in the bay. Another option is to completely ignore Halong City and opt for a boat transfer to Cat Ba Island.
Ha Long History
According to legends, a celestial dragon and her children were sent by the Jade Emperor to prevent an invasion in the area. The dragons spat out pearls which created razor-sharp mountain chains and islands to prevent the enemy fleet. After emerging victorious, the dragons decided to stay on and enchant their creation by descending into the bay itself. In the year 1469, King Le Thanh Tong visited the bay. He was so inspired by the scenery that he decided to liken the islands to pieces on a chessboard in an inspired poem. 19th century explorers compared the islands to gray-haired fairies and Tuscan cathedrals and the bay’s beauty also found a place in movies such as Indochine and 007’s Tomorrow Never Dies.
Cat Ba Island
Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, presents some of the most dramatic sea views on the planet. It records evidence of the great might of the waters on solid rock and stone and presents beautiful rocky architectural designs. Apart from picturesque landscapes, the bay is also teeming with exotic wildlife and natural ecosystems, something that has quickly become Cat Ba Island’s biggest attraction. Tidal flats, coral terraces, willow swamps and mangrove forests spill out to picture-perfect beaches and silky sands. The island is also home to some of the most endangered animals on the planet such as the leopard cats, black giant squirrel and golden-headed langurs.
Bai Tu Long Bay
Bai Tu Long, located right next to Ha Long Bay, is less touristy than its popular cousin and quieter. However, the lack of tourists and modern development means that it feels even more picturesque. The bay trickles all the way to the Chinese border and spills out breathtaking islands all along the way that boast of a rich history and a romantic charm.
When to Visit
Ha Long Bay attracts visitors throughout the year, but the months of February to April are usually not recommended as the area is drizzly and cool and visibility can be low due to the ensuing fog. The months of May to September are not ideal either as tropical storms tend to frequent the bay during the time. It always makes sense to check with your travel agent while booking your tours.