Halong Bay is one of Mother Earth’s most amazing natural wonders and one of Vietnam’s most prized treasures. Halong translates as ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’, legend claims the islands of Halong Bay were created by a great dragon from the mountains. It charged towards the coast, the flailing tail gouged out valleys and crevasses. When the dragon finally plunged into the sea, the area filled with water and leaving only the pinnacles visible.
A comfortable 3 hours drive from Hanoi, Halong Bay is on the shores of the Gulf of Tonkin in Northeastern Vietnam. The bay is dominated by more than 1600 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, geological and archeological significance, historical and cultural connections, fresh seafood and proximity to international gateways make Halong Bay one of Vietnam’s most popular places to visit.
Such is the significance of Halong Bay that in 1994, UNESCO recognized the Bay as being a site of World Natural Heritage site and stated that “Apart from Halong Bay there are no equivalent sites on the World Heritage List…”
While exploring the bay, tourists will feel lost in a legendary world of stone islands which shapes change depending on the light and the angle. There are many names given to islands according to their shapes and forms such as Hon Rong (Dragon Islet), Hon Dau Nguoi (Human Head Islet), Hon Canh Buom (Sail Islet), Hon Trong Mai (Cock and Hen Islet)… But the beauty of Halong Bay does not consist only in the forms of its mountains, islands and the colour of its water, but also in its infinitely rich system of grottoes and caves such as: Thien Cung (Heavenly Palace Grotto), Sung Sot (Surprise Grotto), Dau Go (Driftwood Grotto), Tam Cung (Three Palace Grotto), Trinh Nu (Virgin Grotto)…. Each is a grandiose and refined natural architectural creation.
Most visitors sensibly opt for tours that include sleeping on a boat in the bay. Some travelers dodge Halong City and head straight for Cat Ba Island, from where trips to less-visited, equally alluring LanHa Bay are easily set up. Cat Ba Island is also a good base for visiting the landscapes of Halong Bay itself.
As the number-one tourist attraction in the north, Halong Bay attracts visitors year-round. February to April is often drizzly and cool, and the ensuing fog can make visibility low, but it also adds an ethereal air. From May to September storms are frequent, tourist boats sometimes need to alter their itineraries, depending on the weather conditions. Some tour companies offer full or partial refunds if tours are cancelled; check when you book.