Boasting an ethereal beauty, Ha Long Bay is unsurprisingly one of the most popular sites in Vietnam. Its name is recognized 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 in 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.
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 the 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 “Bai Tu Long” Bay.
There are more than 1600 islands and islets scattered 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 stalactites and stalagmites.
Tips for visiting Ha Long Bay
- 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 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.