With almost 2000 islets, the magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ha Long Bay – meaning “Descending Dragon” in Vietnamese – has a developmental history of over 500 million years. With its amazing biodiversity of tropical oceanic fauna, it is home to thousands of endemic flower and animal species, making this bay one of the most popular travel destinations in the world.
The name of the site, having quite a few legends to it, was first acknowledged by Western media in 1898 when a lieutenant claimed to have seen huge sea snake, resembling a dragon, in the area. Its local name however, is derived from a Vietnamese legend of times where the inhabitants fought the Chinese, and a family of dragons was sent to defend the land, spitting out jewels which turned into these small islands, linking together to form a barrier against foreign invaders.
The bay consists of a dense cluster of over 3,000 limestone monolithic islands each topped with thick jungle vegetation, rising spectacularly from the ocean. Several of the islands are hollow, with enormous caves.
Located on the northeastern part of Vietnam and stretching over a 120 km long coastline, the site is best approachable via car from Hanoi, costing around USD 200 for a round trip. The cheapest way from Hanoi is by bus via travel agencies or hotel services besides the public buses leaving every 30 minutes during the day.
Once there, one should rent a local tourist boat (aka a junk). There is also the option to rent a more expensive deluxe imperial junk, which offers food, an English speaking guide, 3 star hotel accommodations in the spectacular Cat Ba Island and plenty of activities like swimming, cave visits, mountain rides, and kayaking. This is all offered for the relatively humble amount of a USD 100, making for a perfect 2 night 3 day tour around these amazing scenery.