Ha Long Bay © Lawrence Murray
The natural wonder of Halong Bay has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Renowned for its spectacular scenery and limestone grottos and caves, the bay is peppered with over 1,600 inlets and tiny islands emerging almost mystically out of the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Wind and wave erosion have scored the site to form dramatic rock shapes, many of which contain caves.
Many of the islands have been named for their astonishing resemblance to their namesakes, such as Dragon, Incense Burner, Pair of Roosters and Man's Head Islands. The weird protuberances have been at the source of several local legends, particularly about a dragon whose thrashing tail created the bay and its islands. The name Vinh Ha Long means 'where the dragon descended into the sea'.
The most impressive cave is the Hang Dau Go (Grotto of the Wooden Stakes), an extensive grotto with rock formations presenting various eerie images in the mysterious light. It was named from the Battle of 1288 when General Tran Hung Dao prepared hundreds of stakes to be planted in the riverbed of the largest chamber to counter a boat attack. Nearby the beautiful Hang Thien Cung cave is famous for its sparkling stalagmites and stalactites. When booking a cruise in advance, travellers should consider reserving a night or two, to experience Halong Bay at its most picturesque; sunrise, sunset and star-scattered night.
Transport: Local bus or tour from Hanoi. Boats can be arranged from Hanoi or in Halong City. Overnight tours are the easiest way to see the bay and are arranged from traveller's cafes in Hanoi; otherwise it’s a four-hour bus journey from Hanoi.
Admission: The cheapest day tours in Halong Bay cost around 30 USD.