Located in the North-Eastern region of Vietnam, Ha long Bay is a bay in the Gulf of Tonkin. The bay is a mixture of about 1600 small islands and islets forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars. ‘Where the dragon descends into the sea’ is what Ha Long means. The bay found its place in history claiming that it was the great dragon from the mountains that created Ha Long Bay by gouging out valleys and crevasses with its flailing tail. The place was filled with water leaving only the pinnacles visible when the dragon finally plunged into sea. Often compared to Guilin in China or Krabi in Southern Thailand, Ha Long Bay was recorded a World Heritage Site in 1994.
Though most of the islands are uninhabited by humans because of their precipitous nature the place can never be ignored because of its great scenic beauty complemented by its equally great geological value. Ha Long’s biodiversity is also an important factor in drawing the attention of even international visitors. It is also a closed off conservation zone rich in both flora and fauna, especially the rarest species in the world. Ha Long Bay is also famous for its ocean karst topography and is often included in lists of natural wonders of the world. The bay has been recorded in many of the old historical books, on the French marine map and was even featured once in an article of the then times. Visitors never tire exploring the Ha Long Bay as its attractions are uncountable and its beyond-one’s-imagination scenic beauty takes us to a magical world of mystique and bliss.
Arriving at the Ha Long city is not that difficult. Once you reach Hanoi you can take a mini bus from there to Ha Long. Though a 4 to 5 hour drive, those responsible try to make your journey very comfortable and relaxing. Another option to reach our destination is by taking the cargo train from Hanoi to Gia Lam and then to Ha Long. However train delays and cancellations can happen at short notice. Renting a private car or taxi is another means of reaching Ha Long. Travelling by private car is considered the best choice by tourists as it is flexible, safe and available for reasonable rates. There are also several open buses, shuttle buses and many other bus services running between Hanoi and Ha Long and also connecting the bay to the important towns in the city.
In this legendary world of stone islands are hidden some of the most incredible wonders of the world. There is the Man’s Head Island which resembles a man standing and looking towards the mainland. The Dragon Island resembles a dragon hovering over the turquoise water. The La Vong Island looks like an old man fishing. Other famous islands of the bay known for resembling their names are The Sail, The Pair of Roosters and The Incense Burner. The islands are also home to a number of wonderful caves and grottoes like the Thien Cung( Heavenly Residence Grotto), Sung Sot( Surprise Grotto), Tam Cung( Three Palace Grotto) etc. Ha Long Bay is also closely linked to the history of Vietnam. Van Don is an ancient commercial port, the Poem Mountain has engravings of many poems about emperors and other historical figures. The Bach Dang River, on the other hand is famous for the two fierce naval battles fought against foreign aggressors.
Ha Long Bay is open to visitors all year round, but the best time to visit the place is from March to June. Moreover there are also several travel agencies that help in making your cruise easy. Famous writer Nguyen Trai praised the beauty of Ha Long Bay by calling it “rock wonder in the sky”. The bay is also home to seven endemic species. However with the increasing number of visitors to the bay, its mangroves and sea-grass beds have been cleared for building jetties and wharves for tourist boats. Game fishing near the coral reefs is also posing a great threat to many endangered fish species. Despite all the environmental damage, in 1962, the Vietnam Ministry of Culture designated the Ha Long Bay a ‘Renowned National Landscape Monument’.
For the kind information of travellers to Ha Long, there are two popular kinds of cruise itineraries: day cruise and overnight cruise. Day cruises are kept for the short period visitors. The package provides the tourist a short glimpse over the must-sees of Ha Long. Overnight cruises provide a detailed touring of the bay including kayaking and sunset watching with a cocktail party. One also gets to taste some of the unique delicacies of this wonderland. ‘Ngan’ which means one kind of duck is used by the locals in many dishes. Other delicacies include steamed Tu Hai( called snail spout in other places) a specialty of Van Don Island and the Gat Gu cake made from rice flour. It is similar to the steamed rolled rice pancake.
Ha Long Bay was one of the first cradles of human existence in Vietnam. With its thousands of limestone islands that are home to some of the magnificent beauties of nature, Ha Long Bay never fails to surprise its visitors. It needs no second thought to say that Ha Long Bay is indeed one of the most breathtaking natural landmark in Vietnam.