Bewitchingly beautiful and exotic, Vietnam’s Halong Bay lying in the Gulf of Tonkin offers a breathtaking variety of natural attractions, historical sites, scenic beaches and nearly 2000 islets and limestone karsts (landscapes recognizable by caves, sinkholes and drainage systems existing under the ground).
Caves and Grottoes
One of the more popular UNESCO World Heritage sites, Halong Bay is visited by travelers from all over the world each year who come to view enchanting grottoes sculpted by waves and winds, explore illuminated caves and hike in Cat Ba National Park. From Europe you can easily fly to Vietnam from Heathrow Airport or Gatwick Airport; both of UK’s largest airports. If you’re driving to Gatwick Airport make sure you explore official Gatwick Parking options for a great deal.
Bay of the Descending Dragon
The name “Halong” literally means “Bay of the Descending Dragon” and originates from a legend that attributes the creation of Halong Bay to a great dragon that inhabited the mountains and dug out the crevasses, caves and valleys forming the bay with its enormous tail.
When the dragon finally died and fell into the sea, his body was so heavy that water rapidly immersed the area and left only island pinnacles visible.
Archaeological evidence indicates that prehistoric humans lived in Halong Bay approximately 20,000 years ago. Currently, 1600 people reside in several separate fishing villages spread over this luscious northern Vietnam area. Inhabiting unique floating houses, the people of Ha Long Bay sustain themselves by fishing and harvesting various marine animals (primarily molluscs) that live in the waters surrounding their villages.
When to Visit
The UNESCO World Heritage site’s climate is the most appealing in March, April, May and June, with warm, tropical winds, dazzling sunsets and calm weather conditions dominating the bay during these months. Winter brings cooler temperatures, drizzle and heavy fog to Ha Long Bay while June, July and August is filled with stormy, rainy days and occasionally severe weather events.
Cat Ba and Bo Hon Islands
The most visited Ha Long Bay island is called Cat Ba, famous for its pristine national parks, impressive cave systems and for being home to the Golden-headed langur, an endangered primate that can be found sleeping in caves and foraging during the day. In addition, Cat Ba Island offers swimming, colourful coral reef diving and grottoes.
Bo Hon Island attracts travelers who want to see the Virgin Cave, or “Hang Trinh Nu”, where a fascinating shrine has existed inside the cave for hundreds of years.
According to legend, this shrine is actually the body of a young woman who committed suicide when she was forced into an arranged marriage with a Chinese man. After taking her own life, her body turned into the stone shrine that is still seen today. Halong Bay is referred to as one of the seven wonders of the world and for good reason. Visitors have access to one of the most resplendent systems of caves that were established during the Pleistocene era between three and 11 thousand years ago. Most of these caves are beautifully illuminated by iridescent lights which intensifies the grandness of ancient stalactites descending from cave ceilings. In addition to the natural beauty of Halong Bay, you can also enjoy the cuisine and culture colouring this lush area of north Vietnam. Gat Gu (steamed rice pancake), sweet-tasting Tien yen chicken and chopped squid grilled to perfection!