Halong Bay (literally: “Descending Dragon Bay”; Vietnamese: Vịnh Hạ Long) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a popular travel destination, located in Quang Ninh province, Vietnam. Administratively, the bay belongs to Halong City, Cam Pha town, and part of Van Don district. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes.
Halong Bay is a bit of an oddity really, the beauty of the mysterious, mist shrouded islands that dot the bay standing in stark contrast to the rather seedy little town where you will find yourself billeted. Halong Bay is magnificent – a collection of 3000 or so mountainous islands that rise out of perfectly still emerald coloured water of the Tonkin Gulf. Halong, so the story goes, was created by a large dragon that lived in one of the nearby mountains – the bay was carved out of the rocks by his flailing tail as it ran down from his mountain top hideaway to the coolness of the sea, leaving just the craggy peaks of the original landscape.
Halong means, literally. ‘Where the dragon descends into the sea’ and up to the present day there have been reports of a large, mysterious marine creature known as the Tarasque in the waters… sadly Tarasque seems to be as camera shy as its Scottish cousin, Nessy! One thing to be aware of is that Halong is much like a giant water logged national park – tourists on the cruise boats out to islands like Cat Ba etc will inevitably be approached by local entrepreneurs selling shells, coral and broken bit of stalagmite/tites from the island grottoes – whatever you do do not make these purchases as, not only is it illegal, it encourages the destruction of this magnificent natural wonder.
Cat Ba island is one of the few ‘inhabited’ islands in the bay, being home to several minuscule fishing villages. The rest of the island is a national park dedicated to the preservation of several ecosystems – waterfalls, magrove froests, hills and lakes all make the trip out to Cat Ba worthwhile. There is also an 18km hike for those wanting to stretch out their sea-legs with a bit of yomping and caves too (tho take a torch if you’re wanting to head into these!). For paleontologists and archeologists a further point of interest will be Cai Beo Cave where stone age tools and bones (around 4500 BC) have been found.
Back on mainland there isn’t much to be said really – it is an aspirational ‘sin city’ by all accounts – nothing terrible to report, just a bit drab and uninspiring when compared to life on the ocean ripple in the bay itself… There is a selection of restaurants and bars along the sea front, and a moderatly large looking funfair. halong bay day tours