HALONG BAY, ONE OF THE 7 NATURAL WONDERS OF THE WORLD
HaLong Bay is northern Vietnam’s biggest attraction, one of the world magnificent natural heritages of the Far East with 3000 limestone and dolomite islands rising from waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. The vegetation-covered islands, which are spread out over an area of 1500 sq km, are dotted with innumerable beaches and grottoes created by the wind and the waves. Visitors have compared the area’s magical landscape of carboniferous chalk islets to Guilin in China and Krabi in southern Thailand.
The meaning of “Ha Long”, in Vietnamese, Ha means “descend”, and “Long” means “dragon”, so the word HaLong means “where the dragon descends into the sea”.
HaLong Bay Descending dragon
Legend has it that the islands of HaLong Bay were created by a giant dragon who lived in the mountains. As he ran towards the coast, his flailing tail gouged out valleys and crevasses; as he plunged into the sea, the areas dug up by his tail became filled with water, leaving only bits of highland visible. The bay is even said to be inhabited by a mysterious marine creature of gargantuan proportions known as the Tarasque.
HaLong Bay affords some of Vietnam’s most spectacular scenery, including beautiful limestone formations, rock arches, gin-clear water, virtually scenery lagoons, sheer cliffs, peaceful coves, eerie caves, secluded strips of white, powdery sand, and thousands of limestone islets. Like sculpted cartoon characters, these islet are fancifully named: Frog Island, Face Island, Isle of Surprise, etc.
Wooden Stakes Cave
Among thousands of caves of all sizes and shapes, Hang Dau Go(the Grotto of Wooden Stakes Cave), known to the French as the Grotte des Merveilles (Cave of Marvels) is a huge one consisting of three chambers which you reach via 90 steps.
Among the stalactites of the first hall, scores of gnomes appear to be holding the meeting. The walls of the second chamber sparkle if bright light is shined on them. The cave derives its Vietnamese name from the third of the chambers, which is said to have been used during the 13th century to store the sharp bamboo stakes, which Tran Hung Dao planted in the bed of the Bach Dang River to impale the Kublai Khan’s invasion fleet.
Other well-known caves in HaLong Bay include the Grotto of Bo Nau and 2 km long Hanh Hanh Cave.
The main town in the region is HaLong city, which is in two havles, one on the mainland and one on the neighbouring island. HaLong city East(Hong Gai) on the mainland is 165km from Hanoi, 60km from Hai Phong and 40km from Cam Pha; and HaLong city West(Bai Chay) on the island is across the water a few kilometers west from Hong Gai. Travellers always catch a car or bus to Hai Phong, then board a ferry there to Hong Gai and spend at least one night here. There are plenty of reasonable hotels in HaLong, mostly in or near Bai Chay. Besides, HaLong hotel system consist of three properties, a lot of newly built hotels can offer good accommodations and services at reasonable prices.
Taking a tour of the Bay is the main activity when visiting HaLong city. If you want to see a lot, choose a fast boat. If you want a romantic experience but with the risk of getting hardly anywhere, look for one of the old junks. It is hardly to visit almost every island in the Bay, but only some splendid and famous ones.Therefore, an ideal trip to HaLong city and the Bay is a four-day trip.
HaLong’s only natural drawback is the weather. It is often damp, rainy and cold, particularly during the winter months. Visitors during the winter tend to spend most of their time in the bay itself, as HaLong’s water remains bath-warm year-round. If HaLong were, say, a thousand kilometers closer to the equator, this would be a paradise on Earth. As it is, it is still darn close. Cacth the area on a nice day, particularly during the spring and fall months, and you are in for one of the biggest treats of your Vietnam visit.