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Home >> Vietnam >> Northern Vietnam >> Halong Bay

Halong Bay

Overview

Halong Bay is a one of a kind tourist spot in Vietnam. Because of its natural beauty, it is one of the most frequently visited places in the entire country. The transparent blue waters and limestone peaks create a sight that embodies the essence of Vietnam. Translated into English, Halong Bay means “Descending Dragon Bay,” a name that originated from the tale of a dragon family who safeguarded the area from outside invaders. Situated in the Bay of Tonkin, this marvelous coastal area turned into a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the early nineties. It is an extraordinary landscape comprised of transparent waters with countless islands. You’ll find the peaks wrapped in carpet-thick forests of green. Sharing the same geological composition with Halong Bay is Cat Ba Island and Lan Ha Ba island in the south, along with Bai Tu Bay in the Northeast.

It’s difficult to imagine that this quiet island was ever entangled in conflict, but historically speaking, there were quite a few violent wars that were fought on this land. The 120km distance acted as a battlefield during Chinese invasions. More recently, it was mined by Americans during the Vietnam War.

Such conflict is not apparent today, as Halong Bay one of the most peaceful islands on earth. The only adversary the island faces are the erosion of elements that have taken place over the last thousand years or so. Most of the islands are comprised of limestone that have gradually developed over the last 20,000,000 years. Weather and sea erosions have produced some deep hollow caves and astounding rock formations. The geology diversification has led to plentiful biodiversity with charming and rare species being discovered in the area. Several fauna and flora species inhabit areas like the coral reefs, marine ecosystems, and tropical evergreen forests.

This palatial bay has a pair of dominant seasons: winter and summer. The winter is dry and cold. The bay spends a majority of the season covered in a blanket of mist in colder seasons, which produces an ethereal and spooky setting. Alternatively, the summer is moist and hot – the perfect setting for snorkeling, swimming, and kayaking adventures. A swim in the gleaming waters is a great way to get some relief from the sun!

Halong Bay - View from Titop Island
Halong Bay - View from Titop Island

See & Do

A favored activity in Halong Bay is to take a trip around the karst Islands on a cruise. Various budgets and schedules are accommodated for these kinds of boat rides, so you won’t have any shortage of options to choose from.

There are unique types of boats to pick from. Several are patterned after French steamers, much like the ones ridden during the French colonial era, which carried a sense of prestige. Other boats are developed as conventional junk ships hoisting sails hanging over the vessel, which are shaped like the wings of a dragon. There are several paths to take that surround the islands, with pitstops at all kinds of caves and islands for you to explore. You can ride in a kayak to get more intimate with the islands, or you can venture directly into a cave in one. Some boats offer culinary lessons while others have decks purposed for early morning tea sessions.

Cruising in Halong Bay
Cruising in Halong Bay

 

There are no shortages of islets and islands in Halong Bay, all of which protrude from the water (similar to a movie monster coming out from an ocean’s depths). An island often frequented by visitors is the conical Titop Island. These islands have sandy beaches to walk through, along with dense forests draping the peak. There are hundreds of islands you can visit here. Several are named after animals they resemble, including Elephant Island, Porcupine Island, and even Fighting Cock Island.

Several of these caves warrant exploration, one of which is Hang Sung Sot, which has grandiose cave embedded with detailed rock formations. Sun rays and vibrant lights emitting from the roof shine a light on the rock formations. Rock formations can also be found rooted within the cavern. In the cave’s core, tourists will notice a giant fertility symbol that is lit up by red lights.

Wooden Stake Cave, or Hang Du, is also worth exploring. This impressive cave is situated above a 90-step hike. When you go into the cave, it will feel like you are walking into a different world — the walls and roof tower around its surface formations. The name of the cave is derived from the struggle for power between the Mongolians and Vietnamese that once resided here. The Mongolian’s boats were sunk by wooden stakes used by the Vietnamese.

Heavenly Palace Cave – or Thien Cung Cave – is often visited because of the striking stalagmites and stalactites that catch the eye of anyone under them. When you enter the cave and pass through it, you will be exposed to a celestial place that feels like something out of a fantasy movie. The rock formations resemble a natural sculpture, the surface of which keeps alternating from jagged spikes to flat rolling planes.

Another place to visit is the Halong Pearl Farm in Halong. There, you can witness the talent and passion that goes into making pearls, notably conventional Vietnamese methods used in conjunction with Japanese technology to create elegant pearl jewelry.

Halong Bay Panorama View
Halong Bay Panorama View

Situated south of Halong Bay is La Ha Bay. Both bays share the same karst islands, crystal clear waters, and weather conditions, though the latter has more white, sandy beaches to walk on. Not very many people are aware that this bay exists, and as such, it is surrounded by fewer cruise ships and boats. You will notice dolphins and seals swimming along the still waters. The intriguing Bright Cave and the Dark Cave are must-see visits when you’re in La Ha Bay. The most optimal way of exploring the cave is from a kayak since the cave’s dark and low-lying mouth is too small for any other boat. Because the Dark Cave is enigmatic and lengthy, those venturing through it will need to yield a torch for light to pass through to the opposite end. Though smaller, the Light Cave is adorned with enough natural light, highlighting its sea-worn rocks.

Cat Ba Island is east of Lan Ha Bay, and is a divine paradise for outdoor lovers and explorers. This is a bigger island with a national park layered with green vegetation. You’ll see plenty of wildlife here, such as the near-extinct golden-headed langurs. The mixed terrain makes way for several adventure sports to be played here. The peaceful waters make it the ideal area for snorkeling in the bay, allowing you to search for ocean mammals within the waters. It is also great for a supervised kayaking tour. The rocky caves and uneven cliffs give you plenty of places to climb. You can also make your way through the thick forests and see all kinds of wildlife along the way. You’ll get an astounding view of the island from Cannon Fort, particularly during sunset or sunrise. The water is aligned with fishing boats and limestone formations contrasted against the breathtaking skies.

Bai Tu Long Bay is situated northeast of Halong Bay. They both have the same incredible view, though the former has a more peaceful ambiance. This place is not quite as developed as Halong Bay, and a such, has a more tranquil atmosphere. While not as frequently visited, there are a small amount of cruise boats that can give you a tour of this undisturbed bay. Quan Lan Island is an island within Bai Tu Long Bay and contains a modest three-street town as well as some sandy beaches to stroll through, making it a great refuge from populous crowds.  

Culture & Arts

The artistry of this place is the eye-catching, as are the mystical sights that surround it. You will be surrounded by vibrant colors and mesmerizing natural structures. The distinctive culture in this place should be taken in from Vung Vieng or a similar floating village in Bai Tu Bay. The small fleet of vivid homes rests on the base of the limestone peaks that mildly caress the glassy, ripping waters. With no more than 300 people living here, this quiet community is in sync with the calm atmosphere. Native fisherman with net-worn boats will take you around the area. Kids will wave and smile at you from their own boats passing you by, while women will be seen rowing their own boats with ease.

Cat Ba Island has a market worth attending. Here, you will see the natives getting together to catch up with one another, as well as to trade their products. The market has no shortage of seafood captured from the bays, some of which remain alive. You can try out samples of cultural foods in the market, including a wide variety of dried seafood.   

 

Fishing village in Halong Bay
Fishing village in Halong Bay

Festivals & Events

The Halong Carnival is an enormous festival that takes place in Halong Bay. There, natives from surrounding areas come together to participate in this vibrant and energetic cultural celebration. There is a different culture theme at the festival each year, which transpires from the end of April to the first week of May. Each carnival is an outburst of bright lights and color as a result of the sparkling attire, the dynamic décor, the entertaining light show, and the thrilling fireworks display that closes the show. At the carnival, artists of all types perform conventional Vietnamese dances and songs (as well as ones from neighboring countries).

Kayaking in Halong Bay
Kayaking in Halong Bay

Along Cat Ba, locals assemble to commemorate the anniversary of Ho Cho Minh. On April 1st, aquaculture is celebrated, as is Ho Chi Minh’s fishing communities. The ceremony begins with a competitive game of tug of war involving a pair of dragon boats ridden by competitive, enthusiastic natives. From there, a race among dragon boats around the course begins to determine who has the fastest boat of them all. There is plenty to celebrate each day – tourists and natives are able to interact with one another, as well as be a part of all sorts of activities.

Quan Lan Island plays host to the Quan Lan Festival, which is held annually on the sixth lunar month from the 10thto the 20th. Here, the victory over Mongolian invaders is celebrated, and a rewarding sea harvest is prayed for. The festival starts on the 10thwith the closure of the village – though tourists are welcome, locals cannot exit the island. The festival is highlighted by dragon boat races, with participants vying for the top prize. The contest starts on the 13thof the month as groups are separated into a pair of teams. The bright colors and decorations on the flags, uniforms, and dragon boats complement the lovely background scenery.

Food & Drink

Halong Bay is renowned for its tasty and locally-caught seafood from the clear waters. Meals are prepared each day using freshly caught fish, including elegant oysters, pudgy shrimp, and mouth-watering monkfish. Hefty lobsters are sold in most restaurants, their solid, red shells stuffed with succulent meat. The cooks serve lobster as their primary ingredient in all kind of prepared dishes.

Squid sausage is a specialty of Halong Bay. Local squid is skillfully fried into small proportions to make them nice and crisp. The squid is served with fresh salad and a small bowl of tangy, sweet peppered fish sauce.

Halong Bay has its own version of the rice wine often consumed in Vietnam called Hoanh Bo rice wine. This yellow-tinted spirit is made with a recipe passed from generation to generation. It is created with unique leaves and glutinous rice derived from the Hoanh Bo forest. The drink has a one of a kind sour-yet-sweet flavor, and light on the alcohol level so as to not drastically intoxicate you. Some say it even helps with digestion. The natives claim that the rice wine will not give you a morning hangover no matter if it is consumed. 

Sung Sot Cave - Halong Bay

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