– photos by Halong Bay Tours and Franklin Liranzo
Halong Bay is a breathtaking natural wonder in North Vietnam and one of Vietnam’s premier destinations. It is dotted with around 2000 islets and islands covering an area of about 1550 square kilometers.
Halong Bay translates to Bay of Descending Dragons. For the Vietnamese people, dragons are an integral part of their culture and tradition. It is believed that a family of dragons were sent by the Gods to protect Vietnam from the invaders. The dragons spitted out jewels and jade which turned into the numerous islets and islands of Halong Bay that you see today.
Legend says that the bay was formed by a family of dragons but science has something else to say about its formation. Geologists have found that the towering limestones of Halong dates back 500 million years and were more than 1,000 meters in height. Millions of years of erosion have reduced it to their current size of about 50-100 meters. Erosion also helped create stunning valleys and several caves in the area. Halong Bay was added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
Halong Bay is about 175km away from Vietnam’s capital – Hanoi. You can reach Halong Bay from Hanoi in about 3-4 hours in a bus or car.
To experience Halong Bay, you should book a multi-day, an overnight or a day-long cruise depending on how much time you have. Needless to say, depending on how much you are willing to pay, your cruise can vary from a luxurious cruiser to a diesel-powered junk boat. Generally these tours include transportation from Hanoi to Halong City, lunch and dinner and various activities like kayaking, fishing and swimming.
Halong Bay is best visited between the months of March to May or September to November.
As your tour starts, you will be amazed by the otherworldly beauty of Halong Bay. After cruising through the islands for a while, you will come across some remarkable locations and Ti Top Island is one of them. You can relax on the island’s beautiful beach or go swimming. The island has a viewpoint from where you can admire the surreal view of Halong Bay. Keep in mind that Ti Top Island is one of the major stops for Halong Bay cruises and may get crowded at times.
Located near Vung Vieng fishing village, Halong Bay’s Pearl Farm will give you an insight into the various stages of pearl farming – from growing to harvesting and extracting. Most people find kayaking around the farm more interesting than learning the process of pearl farming.
This mountain ringed village is a perfect stop to learn and experience the traditions of local people. Cua Van is the largest fishing village in Halong Bay, which you can explore on a kayak or take the local bamboo boat for a more authentic vibe.
Sung Sot Cave – popularly known as Surprise Cave, is the largest cave in Halong Bay and divided into two chambers. The first chamber is decorated with multicolored lights and acts as the entrance to the larger Serene Castle, which is home to some impressive rock formations.
Cat Ba is the largest island in Halong Bay and its namesake town is dotted with numerous bars, hotels and restaurants. However, the rest of this rugged and verdant island is mostly untouched. With several sandy beaches and fishing villages, Cat Ba offers an excellent ‘back-to-nature’ experience. From Cat Ba, you can explore Lan Ha Bay – an extension of Halong Bay but with a more peaceful vibe.
Halong Bay is a popular destination, so if you want to get away from the crowds and enjoy some exclusive tours, choose islands like Van Don, Mat Rong (Dragon Eye Island) and Vinh Thuc. Visiting these islands will give you the chance to experience some of the most unique and authentic experiences of Halong Bay that you don’t have to share with other visitors.
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