The wall of limestone pillars

Ha Long: Bay of the Descending Dragon

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 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.

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.

Ha Long Bay – Where the Mother Dragon descended
Hòn Trống Mái – One of the most popular attractions in Halong Bay. These islets are even featured on the 200,000 VND note
Busy harbor
The wall of limestone pillars

The Caves

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 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.

13 thoughts on “Ha Long: Bay of the Descending Dragon”

  1. Nano @ Travels With Nano – Tokyo, Japan – Hi, I'm Nano! Welcome to my site! Travels With Nano is filled with everything I am passionate about: uncovering the world one sight, bite and cultural experience at a time. I'm here to share savvy travel tips and inspire (not influence!) your future travel adventures. Needless to say, I am thrilled to have you here reading!
    Nano @ Travel With Nano B. says:

    Gorgeous views and the caves look insane! xx

    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 🙂

  2. I love listening to olden day legends as this Len. Thanks for sharing the story of the mother dragon 🙂

    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!

  3. Bama – Jakarta, Indonesia – Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.
    Bama says:

    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.

Leave a Reply Cancel reply