Vietnam’s pride Halong Bay is one of those destinations you don’t want to miss when travelling this Southeast Asian country. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage and a Natural Wonder of the World, the core Halong Bay gains and shares its fame with 2 sibling bays, Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay, together forming a vast sea area known commonly to international tourists as, simply, Halong Bay. Abundant scenic beauty, archaeological and geological significance, cultural and historical connections, fresh seafood and proximity to international gateways make Halong Bay one of Vietnam’s most popular places to visit.
The core Halong Bay (hereafter briefly written as Halong Bay) is located on the Western side of the Gulf of Tonkin in Northern Vietnam. The bay is approximately 170 km (105 miles) by road from the capital Hanoi and can be easily reached via a 3.5 or 4-hour drive by car or bus. Halong City is situated on the adjacent coast, to the north of the bay.
Halong Bay is surrounded by Bai Tu Long Bay to the east and Lan Ha Bay, home of Cat Ba Island, to the south, covering a total area of 1,553 km2. Dotting the area are 1,969 islets, most of which are limestone monoliths rising spectacularly from the ocean and topped with thick jungle vegetation.
History & Culture
Archaeological evidence suggests humans may have inhabited areas in and around Halong Bay for as long as 18,000 years. Some of these cultures were distinct enough to have been given their own names, such as the Soi Nhu Culture from the Mesolithic Age and the Halong Culture from the Neolithic Age.
Moving toward the present, Halong Bay witnessed one of the most meaningful military victories in Vietnam’s history in 1288. Some 300 years earlier, Vietnamese General Ngo Quyen famously used the creative tactic of planting sharpened stakes just under the waterline to damage enemy ships. Inheriting this tactic, General Tran Hung Dao led the Vietnamese fleet to successfully repel an invasion of Chinese enemies. Today, traces of this battle still remain in Dau Go Cave, one of the highlights of Halong Bay.
People & Culture
Halong City is divided into two parts: Bai Chay, with animated tourism services, and Hon Gai, with bustling city life and industry. The later, despite being far from the tourism centre, is definitely the place to visit to experience the real local life, traditional markets, museum and pagodas. On the sea, life also carries on in several floating villages where seamen and floating villagers spend their whole lives in touch with nature.
Geological and geomorphological values
Almost every traveller around the world knows that Halong Bay, Vietnam is a World Heritage Site, but many miss the fact that it has scored not one, but two titles from UNESCO, one for aesthetic value and another for geological and geomorphological values. The limestone in this bay has gone through 500 million years of geological processes under different conditions and environments to form the distinctive karst landscape found today.
Another exceptional geological feature you will see during a Halong Bay cruise is the numerous caves and grottos full of stalagmites and stalactites. In order to preserve the natural state and integrity of the large number of caves and grottos, only some are opened for visitors. The most commonly visited are Thien Cung (Heavenly Palace) Cave, Dau Go (Pelican) Grotto, Sung Sot (Surprise) Cave and Trinh Nu (Virgin) Grotto.
Equally impressive, the sea boasts a rich biodiversity of about 1,000 species of marine animals. Over 160 species of coral have been identified. Coral reefs generally make up 30%, in some areas as much as 80%, of the seabed. Most coral reefs are at a depth of 4-6 meters.
Undoubtedly, Halong Bay is one of the greatest attractions in Vietnam, where you can swim and kayak on the emerald-blue waters; hike and rock climb on endless islands; enjoy fresh local seafood and other delights and, of course, capture the magnificent landscape, whether it is sunrise or sunset. So visit, relish the experience and bring home the memories of Halong Bay, Vietnam.