Ha Long’, literally meaning “the descending dragon”, is situated in the Quang Ninh province of Vietnam and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in varied shapes and sizes. The limestone in this bay has gone through 500 million years of formation in different conditions and environments. The evolution of the karst in this bay has taken 20 million years under the impact of the tropical wet climate. The geo-diversity of the environment in this region has created biodiversity, including a tropical evergreen biosystem, oceanic and sea shore biosystem. Ha Long Bay is home to 14 endemic floral species and 60 endemic faunal species. It is one of the main tourist attractions in Vietnam.
The region’s average temperature ranges from 15 °C- 25 °C. The best time to visit Ha Long Bay is between September and November, and March and May.
WHAT TO SEE
Places to visit
It is said that the perfect way to discover and enjoy this world natural wonder is to hop onto a boat cruising to the far-most corners where there are hidden lagoons, unexplored beaches and exotic grottoes that can be found nowhere else in the world.
Halong Bay has a variety of beautiful islands and caves such as Trinh Nu Cave, Me Cung Cave, Sung Sot Cave, Thien Cung Cave, etc. Dau Go Cave is regarded as the most marvellous of all these caves. ‘Dau Go’ literally translates to ‘wooden stakes’. Dau Go has a surreal and exquisite beauty. This cave has a width of 5,000 m2. The cave door is 17 meters wide and 12 meters high. The cave is located at a height of 27m above the sea level. It was formed approximately two million years ago in Pleistocene Age, contemporaneous to the formation of the Thien Cung Cave. The Cave has a complex of ancient architecture. It exudes the ancient and unspoiled beauty with many stone pillars and stalagmites. Owing to its wide entrance, the cave has very high humidity, thus, the resulting flora and fauna are quite diverse, The flora includes, amongst others, mosses, ferns and timber trees. As a result of the dense vegetation, the cave entrance, resembling a jellyfish, is bathed in a blue colour. The dome of Dau Go Cave has 25 meters high giant stalactites hanging down like a gushing waterfall. This distinct feature makes Dau Go stand aside when compared to other caves in Halong.
The Thien Cung Cave (Heaven Cave), located to the north of Dau Go Cave, has numerous stalactites and stalagmites of peculiar shapes. Owing to its narrow cave door and exceptionally dense flora, the entrance of Thien Cung cave remained hidden for a very long time. In 1993 when fishermen sought shelter from a raging storm, they accidentally discovered this yet unexplored cave. Because stalactites inside resembled the shapes of dragons, Phoenix, and also four pillars, it lent an imperial palatial aura in the people’s minds. Thus, the cave was named as Thien Cung Cave (Heaven Cave).
While visiting Halong Bay, one cannot give the Hanh Caves a miss. The length of this cave is 1.3 KM and it runs parallel to the Hanh Mountains. Inside the cave, there is a temple called Tam Co temple (Three Girls temple). It is said that there were three girls who came to this cave. Because the cave was so beautiful, they forgot about time, lost their way and finally died inside. They turned into the god of the sea, and the local people built this temple in order to comfort their souls.
Where to shop
Though there are limited options for shopping in Halong Bay, what can be found can actually be quite interesting. The night market at Bai Chay Town is set up with many small open-air stalls with good collections of Vietnamese products includes the famous traditional Vietnamese silk dress (ao dai), lacquerware, chopsticks, trinkets, ceramic tea sets, Vietnamese conical hats (nón lá) and dolls.
Another fun way of shopping is from small floating shops. Local people row boats filled with goods such as beer, vodka, cigarettes, potato chips, cookies and other snacks. Their small boats are usually laden with goods in a very organised way and even if you're not buying anything these vessels are fascinating to see and photograph.
What to eat
Halong Bay is a wonderland for seafood aficionados. The selectable options are many. Chu Muc (squid sausage), Sam (horseshoe crab), Ngan (hard clam), Banh Gat Gu (rice flour cake) prawn, lobster, and oyster are some of the lip-smacking specialities of Halong Bay.
Hanoi, the nearest airport city, is approximately 165 kilometres from Halong Bay, so a road trip between these two places take around 3.5–4 hours. There are different ways to travel from Hanoi to Halong Bay, most popular ones are by coach, by cruise’s bus, or by private car.
Perhaps the easiest and the cheapest way to travel from Hanoi to Halong Bay is to book a cruise tour that includes two-way transfer.
In 2014, a new form of transport to Halong Bay was introduced - Vietnam Seaplane Tour. With this package, travellers will be able to fly between Hanoi and Ha Long Bay by Hai Au seaplanes in approximately 45 minutes.