A Vietnamese legend goes that a dragon that once lived in the mountains made its way toward the sea. As it went, its flailing tail crashed down on the land and created deep basins and valleys. Diving into the water, the sea spilled onto the mountains, covering all but their pinnacles. What remains to be seen, they say, is what the UN has designated to be a World Heritage Site – Halong Bay.
When translated, the name means “where the dragon descends into the sea.” Myth or no myth, the nearly 2,000 limestone islands and caves of Halong Bay are natural splendours. Words and photos have never sufficed to describe the grandeur sculpted by nature. Many travellers take boat trips throughout the bay, with some opting to stay overnight aboard cruise ships or humble boat houses.
A more intimate way of navigating this treasure in North-east Vietnam is by kayak. This way, you can also interact with the locals who live on the water, making a living out of fishing and selling refreshments to tourists. Vietnamese history shows that in order to protect the country, General Tran Hung Dao planted steel stakes on the waters of Halong Bay. These pierced and sank incoming Mongol ships. The stakes were supposedly stored in Do Go, “The Cave of Stakes.” Try the Sung Sot Cave, too. When translated, it means “surprise” – and that is what truly awaits you inside.
Many islands in the place take their names from their shapes: pelican, tiger, elephant are a few examples. After exploring these and the caves of Halong Bay, you can spend a day in Cat Ba island, which is the largest on the bay. Tourists can enjoy its wildlife and sandy beaches.