Boasting an ethereal beauty, Ha Long Bay is unsurprisingly one of the most popular sites in Vietnam. Its name is recognised globally, and millions of people came here to behold this natural wonder. Nevertheless, not many visitors know about the mystery beneath that name. In Han-Viet (Old Vietnamese), Ha Long literally means “descending dragon” and it originates from a legend on this ancient land.

Covering an area of over 43,000 hectares, Ha Long Bay in northeast Vietnam is known for its spectacular seascape formed by thousands of limestone islands and islets. These towering pillars rise from the seabed like a defensive wall and locals believe that they are the vestige of a legendary battle. The legend says that during the old time when the country was newly formed, the Jade Emperor sent the Mother Dragon and her children descending on earth to protect the ancient Vietnamese from the mighty invaders.

Halong (7)
Ha Long Bay – Where the Mother Dragon descended

When the enemy’s fleet moved into the Gulf of Tonkin, the dragons suddenly appeared. Some attacked with divine fire, while others dropped giant emeralds on the battlefield, creating an invincible barrier that left enemy’s battleships sinking. After thousands of years, the wall of emeralds turned into islands and islets, and the site where the Mother Dragon descended was named “Ha Long”. Other dragons landed on a bay further east, which was later called as “Bai Tu Long” Bay.

Halong (6)
The wall of limestone pillars
Halong (1)
Hòn Trống Mái – One of the most popular attractions in Ha Long Bay. These islets are even featured on the 200,000 VND note

There are more than 1600 islands and islets scattering over Ha Long Bay, most of which are unspoiled by human activities. They came in a variety of sizes and shapes, some even feature magnificent kart caves, such as Động Thiên Cung (Heavenly Palace Cave) and Hang Sửng Sốt (Awesome Cave). These caves are formed as a result of the repeated regression and transgression of the sea on the limestone, creating hollows, arches, as well as countless of stalactites and stalagmites.

Inside a Cave
A typical kart cave
Heavenly Palace Cave
Heavenly Palace Cave
Stalactites
Stalactites in Heavenly Palace Cave

Practical Information:

  • Ha Long Bay is large and it might take a few days if you want to explore the area thoroughly. Very often, people take the 2 days-1-night junk boat tour which includes 1 night on the ship, full-course meals, as well as transportation from Hanoi. But even then, you can only see a part of the bay.
  • If you have no interest in spending the night on a boat, you can opt for a 4-hours or 8-hours day tour, which will bring you to several popular attractions of Ha Long Bay, including the Heavenly Palace Cave, the Awesome Cave, as well as some unique-looking islets. All boats depart from the Tuan Chau Harbour.
  • All visitors must purchase entry tickets for the Ha Long Bay (40,000 VND, about 2$) and there are also separate admission tickets for attractions in the bay, such as caves and fishing villages ( from 30,000 to 50,000VND).
  • There is a wide range of tour operators in Ha Long Bay, from luxury ship tours that cost 500$ per night to common junk boat tours that Vietnamese tourists often chose, which cost merely 600,000 VND (approximately 30$). Although extreme does exist, all boats are fairly comfortable and they have to meet certain safety requirements.
Harbour
Busy harbour

9 comments

    1. Thank you, Nano! I was surprised as well. I visited Ha Long some twenty years ago, but I don’t remember that I saw such beautiful things. Maybe I was too young, and the caves was too dark and scary 🙂

    1. It would be more beautiful when the sky were clear! Or at sunrise 🙂 Although there are more tourists, the bay is less chaotic than in the past. I can still remember that my boat was constantly chased by hawkers, who want to sell seafood, and stuff from China 🙂 It was very annoying!

  1. Vietnam’s north is a part of the country I have yet to visit. Depending on how many days I have when I do go one day, I hope I’ll be able to see Ha Long Bay myself, apart from an obligatory trip to Hanoi. From the stories and articles I’ve read and heard, the country’s capital sounds like a very interesting place to explore. Back to Ha Long Bay, when you were there how busy was it? I know it has become one of the most popular places in Vietnam now.

    1. I must admit that it was less crowded (and less chaotic) than I expected 🙂 Yes, there was a lot of people, especially at the ticket booth. But we were able to get our admission tickets and book the ship in less than 20 minutes. Probably because we chose the morning tour. The busiest time would be at noon, when the tour buses from Hanoi arrive.

      Each ship has a maximum capacity (40 seats I think), and it departs whenever it’s filled. So you don’t have to worry about being tucked on an overloaded ship. Most of the ships (if not, all ships) have an open deck, where you can climb up and make photos of the bay.

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