HALONG BAY (165 kilometers, three hours by minibus, east of Hanoi) is one of the most spectacular sights in Asia. Featured in the film “Indochina” , with French actress Catherine Denueve, it contains stunning vegetation-covered karst pinnacles, towers and formations set in calm emerald green water. The oriental junks—and the pseudo tourist-junks— and small fishing boats that ply the narrow channels between the island, makes the bay look like something straight out of a oriental landscape painting.
Located in the Gulf of Tonkin, 40 miles east of Haiphong, and spread out over roughly 1,500 square kilometers, Halong means "dragon descending to the sea." According to legend the islands were created by a giant dragon and its children as they escaped from mountain lair underneath the ocean to rescue the Vietnamese from Chinese invaders. Molly Selvin wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Legend has it that long ago a celestial dragon appeared to protect the Vietnamese from foreign invaders, spitting out great quantities of pearls to form the islands and the razor-edged mountains that stopped enemy fleets. In reality, the islands — from mammoth Dao Hang Trai honeycombed with grottoes to islets no bigger than boulders — are the work of wind and saltwater on porous limestone. The bay was home to some of Vietnam's earliest cultures, including Soi Nhu, Cai Beo and Ha Long peoples, and a key defense point. Several times over the centuries, Vietnamese warriors sank steel-tipped wooden stakes among the labyrinth of channels and caves, repelling would-be invaders from China and elsewhere. Tiny isolated fishing communities still nestle against some peaks; you'll see wooden homes painted bright turquoise and orange that appear to float on the water.” [Source: Molly Selvin, Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2008]
The Halong Bay area is closely linked to Vietnam’s history with such famous geographical names as: Van Don (site of an ancient commercial port); Poem Mountain (with engravings of many poems by emperors and other famous people of the past); and Bach Dang River (the location of two fierce naval battles fought against foreign aggressors). This is not all, Halong has been proven by scientists to be one of the first cradles of human existence in the area, with such archaeological sites as Dong Mang, Xich Tho, Soi Nhu and Thoi Gien,
The waters of Halong Bay are inhabited by nomad-like fishermen, who live in "floating villages" of 30 or vessels, and prosper or endure depending n how many fish, crabs, squid and prawns they catch. They spend their time fishing, repairing nets and hopping from boat to boat. Sometimes they go for weeks without ever setting foot on land. Their needs are met by traveling salesmen and women who paddle from boat to boat selling charcoal, fruit, vegetables, pots and pans, and other items.
In 1994, Halong Bay was recognized by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage Site for its natural beauty. In 2000, it was recognised by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage for the second time based on its geological value. The recognised site covers an area of 434 square kilometers, comprises 775 islands and forms a triangle: with Dau Go Island (Driftwood Grotto) to the west; Ba Ham Lake (Three Shelter Lake) to the south and Cong Tay Island to the east.
Traveling and Transportation in Vietnam: The easiest way to get most anywhere in Vietnam is through a tour organized in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City or another major tourist town. Usually you can work out something with the staff of your hotel. If you want to shop around there are plenty of tour agencies on the streets of the tourist areas or on the Internet. For long distances you are best taking a flight. Air Asia serves many places but the flights often originate in Kuala Lumpur. Vietnam Airlines, budget carrier VietJet Air and Jetstar Pacific Airlines, a unit of Vietnam Airlines, all operate domestic routes. The trains are okay but the destinations they service are limited. It is possible to take local buses and minibuses but traveling that way is hassle and time-consuming: you have to deal with language issues, scheduling, locating where the buses leave and often crowded, hot conditions on the buses.
Islands of Ha Long Bay
Halong Bay embraces several thousand strangely-shaped limestone islets and is reminiscent of Phanang Bay in Thailand and Guilin in China. It forms a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars. Because of their precipitous nature, most of the islands are uninhabited and unaffected by a human presence. The site's outstanding scenic beauty is complemented by its great biological interest.
The names of the islands—Cockfight Islet, Respected Lady, Islet of the Toad, Laughing Dog Wall, Dome Islet, Head of Buffalo Island, Buddha Praying Island, and Island of the Great Ape—give some hint of what they look like. In recent years the karst towers and stalactite caves in the bay have become a magnet for Western rock climbers in search of new thrills. The bay is also home to a mollusk that produces extremely rare orange pearls and, purportedly, a sea monster called the Tarasque.
Halong Bay has been called by the great national poet Nguyen Trai: "a marvel of the earth erected towards the high skies". While exploring the bay, tourists will feel lost in a legendary world of stone islands which shapes change depending on the angle and the light. According to UNESCO: “There are many names given to islands according to their shapes and forms such as Hon Dau Nguoi (Human Head Islet), Hon Rong (Dragon Islet), Hon Canh Buom (Sail Islet), Hon Trong Mai (Cock and Hen Islet)… But the beauty of Halong Bay does not consist only in the forms of its mountains, islands and the colour of its waters, but also in its infinitely rich system of grottoes and caves such as: Thien Cung (Heavenly Palace Grotto), Dau Go (Driftwood Grotto), Sung Sot (Surprise Grotto), Tam Cung (Three Palace Grotto), Trinh Nu (Virgin Grotto)…. Each is a grandiose and refined natural architectural creation.”
Geography and Weather of Ha Long Bay
Situated in the north-east region of Viet Nam, Halong Bay is a part of Bac Bo Gulf and comprises the sea area of Halong City, Cam Pha Town and a part of Van Don island district, Quang Ninh Province. It borders Cat Ba Island to the southwest, the mainland to the west with a 120 kilometers-long coastline.
Most of the islands and islets are uninhabitated and unaffected by humans. They form a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars and is an ideal model of a mature Karst landscape developed during a warm and wet tropical climate. The arches, sheer cliffs, towers, pinnacles and formations where created by wind and water erosion of rock created in an ancient seabed.
The drowned limestone karst landforms displays spectacular pillars with a variety of coastal erosional features such as arches and caves which form a majestic natural scenery. The repeated regression and transgression of the sea on the limestone karst over geological time has produced a mature landscape of clusters of conical peaks and isolated towers which were modified by sea invasion, adding an extra element to the process of lateral undercutting of the limstone towers and islands.
Halong Bay covers a total area of 1,553 square kilometers, including 1,969 islands of various sizes, 989 of which have been given names. The number climbs into the thousands if islets and rocks of various sizes are included. There are two kinds, limestone and schist, which are concentrated in two main zones: the south-east (belonging to Bai Tu Long Bay) and the south-west (belonging to Halong Bay). The average geological age of the islands is between 250 and 280 million years old. [Source: UNESCO]
A distinctive feature of Ha Long Bay is the abundance of lakes within the larger limestone islands. Extensive limestone caves represent another important feature of Ha Long Bay, with three main types able to be identified: old phreatic caves formed below the water table of the time; old karstic foot caves formed by lateral undercutting of cliffs at base level; and marine notch caves formed at sea level where rock structures are powerfully eroded and eventually reduced to a wave cut platform.
The weather is generally warm and humid. The presence of so much water has a cooling effect even on the hottest days. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Relative humidity is rather high, about 85% on the average annually. Early in winter, it varies from 77% to 82% and in the remaining months it reaches over 83% where damp, foggy air occurs. Between September and November, it goes down at 77% and the sky is often clear. Therefore, in the third quarter and early fourth quarter of the year, the sky is blue and clear, abundant sunshine, favorable for photosynthesis and development of plants. Surrounding seawater quality is relatively good. Water temperature varies largely, depending on the air temperature. During the year, it is lowest in February, around 15°C, and the highest in July, when the surface water temperature may rise up to 31°C. Seawater turbidity slightly changes, and does not have a large difference among the seasons, with an average of 30 mg/l. Water salinity ranges from 19‰ (in August) to 34‰ (in February). In dry season, salinity is high and stable, ranging from 30 – 34‰ and the average salinity 32.5‰. During this time, there is a weak salinity stratification in which the salinity at the bottom is up to 1‰ higher than the surface. The seawater pH fluctuates within a narrow interval from 7.9 to 8.3. Dissolved oxygen concentration changes from 5.12 to 7.27 mg/l. Heavy metal concentration is in the allowed range.” [Source: Viet Nam National Commission for UNESCO, Quang Ninh Province and Hai Phong City]
Geology of Ha Long Bay
Halong Bay is the most extensive and best known example of marine-invaded tower karst in the world. Ha Long Bay is one of the world’s most important areas of Fengcong (clusters of conical peaks) and Fenglin (isolated tower features) karst. Abundant lakes, occupying drowned dolines, are one of the distinctive features of the Fencong karst, with some appearing to be tidal. Possessing a tremendous diversity of caves and other landforms derived from the unusual geomorphological process of marine invaded tower karst the caves are of three main types: remnants of phreatic caves; old karstic foot caves and marine notch caves. Ha Long Bay displays the full range of karst formation processes on a very large scale and over a very long period of geological time, possessing the most complete and extensive example of its type in the world and providing a unique and extensive reservoir of data for the future understanding of geoclimatic history and the nature of karst processes in a complex environment.
The most remarkable geological events of Halong Bay’s history in the last 1,000 years include the advance of the sea, the raising of the bay area and the strong erosion that has formed coral and pure blue and heavily-salted water. This process of erosion by sea water has deeply engraved the stone, contributing to its fantastic beauty. Present-day Halong Bay is the result of this long process of geological evolution that has been influenced by so many factors. It is because of all these factors that the tourists now visiting Halong Bay are not only treated to one of the true wonders of the world, but also to a precious geological museum that has been naturally preserved in the open air for the last 300 million years.
The geomorphology of Ha Long Bay is known as a drowned karst landscape due to the exceptional combination of its limestone karst features which have been subject to repeated regression and transgression of the sea over geological time. The limestones of Ha Long Bay have been eroded into a mature landscape of fengcong (clusters of conical peaks) and fenglin (isolated tower features) karst features, modified by sea invasion at a later stage. The smaller islands are fenglin towers of 50 meters to 100 meters high with height. Many have vertical walls on all or most sides and these continue to evolve by rock falls and large slab failures.
Marine invasion of Ha Long Bay has added an extra element to the normal process of lateral undercutting of the limestone towers and islands. The most conspicuous feature being the main notch cut into the entire rocky coastline. Notches are a feature of limestone cliffs worldwide, but those of Ha Long Bay are exceptionally well developed and, at many sites, extend into arches and caves. This process of undercutting and subsequent erosion maintains the steep faces of the fenglin karst towers and thereby perpetuates the spectacular nature of the landscape.
Biological Diversity and Ecology of Ha Long Bay
Results of scientific research show that Halong Bay features ecosystems of a tropical ocean region such as ecosystem of coral reefs with 232 species of coral distributed mainly in the areas of Cong Do and Bo Hung. It is also home to 81 species of gastropoda, 130 species of bivalvia, 55 species of polycheta and 57 species of crab. The ecosystem of salt water-flooded forests chiefly concentrated in the zones of Tuan Chau, Cua Luc and Ba Che has the most diversified collection of species of salt water-flooded plant in North Vietnam. Also living in this ecosystem are a great many species of animals: migrating birds (200 species), polycheta (169 species), seaweed (91 species), reptile (10 species). Halong Bay also has ecosystem of tropical rain forests with various rare and precious creatures: deer, weasels, squirrels and in particular, white-tabby and red-haired monkeys. In addition, there is a system of small caves along the sea, which are the living and development places for many animals and plants: seaweed, water plant, algae, fish and shrimp. Deeper into the water, there are also many species of shrimp, fish, abalone and other sea-specialities. [Source: UNESCO]
Halong Bay is situated within an area of high tourism, marine transport, fisheries and the daily activities of people living and conducting their business. Socio-economic activities on Ha Long Bay are well regulated, carefully observed and effectively managed. Management and protection are further strengthened through regulations, master planning, and action plans at the provincial level. These include regulations on operation of tourist boats, mud dredging, land filling, fishermen and floating house management. Increasing visitor numbers and associated impacts continue to impact on the management of the area. The sensitivity, aesthetic quality and attention to public safety of infrastructure such as pathways, steps and boardwalks is of a high standard and with steadily increasing visitor numbers the quality of visitor management is also steadily improving. Development pressures associated with growing tourist numbers continue to be an issue for government authorities and an appropriate balance between conservation and development, while difficult to maintain, is important to ensure the protection of the natural values of the property.
Tourism in Halong Bay
Ha Long Bay is one of Vietnam’s top tourist attractions, drawing more than 5 million visitors a year to the area, about half of them foreigners. Many visitors stay overnight on wooden boats. These are mostly fake junks that look roughly like junks, but they have a couple small, unfunctional sails and operate with an engine.
More than 100 cruise boats are licensed to offer overnight service there. These wooden boats are equipped with sleeping cabins and eating quarters. A typical boat is 28.7 meters (94 feet) long and seven meters (23 feet) wide, equipped to carry 30 passengers, including 20 passengers for its 10 cabins. Passengers sleep and eat onboard the boats.
Tours of Halong Bay can arranged in both Hanoi and Halong Bay town, where there is plenty of accommodation. There is little to see in the town of Halong Bay. The islands are best seen via a boat trip of at least one day. Tours are easily organized through hotels and tour agencies in Hanoi.
The organized tours tend to be offered in one day, one night, two night, three night and five night packages from Hanoi. The journey from Hanoi takes three or four hours because of stops along the way, traffic and occasional minibus breakdowns. It takes about one to two hours to reach the islands in Ha Long Bay from the boat dock outside Halong City. The one day trips cost about $60; the one night ones about $100; the two nights about $140 and three night and five night packages more depending on what get. Meals are provided but not drinks. The operators of the boats make a lot of their money sticking passengers with large bar bills.
One day tours are spent mostly on the bus going from Hanoi to Halong Bay and back again with a quick boat trip in between to the islands of Halong Bay. The one night trip generally involves a minibus trip from Hanoi to Halong Bay dock, a boat trip to the islands, over night and dinner and partying on the boat then, the next day, a boat trip back to the dock and then the minibus trip back to Hanoi. The two night trips are the same as above except you get an extra day, often in a hotel on Cat Ba island with a trek and various activities on that island.
The main drawback with one- and two-night trips is that all the boats tend to go to one place and visit the same cave and islands there. The boat trip more or less goes to this place and anchors there. Visitors do a few activities there such as sea kayaking for 40 minutes and swimming, and hanging out on an anchored boat within shouting distance of a bunch of other boats and then go back the next day or continue on to Cat Ba Island. It can be fun partying with the people on the boat but the boat doesn’t really tour about the islands so much. It mainly just goes to this one spot. Three night and five night packages may involve more touring around and more time sea kayaking but more likely they will send you to Cat Ba Island to see the monkeys there or something like. To really tour around the islands, see a lot of different places and spend a lot of time sea kayaking and otherwise truly soaking in the atmosphere of the place you probably have to spend a lot more money to go with a fancy eco-tourism group.
If you are in Ha Long city you can possibly to get together with other travelers and hire a boat and get them to do what you want but this is time consuming and you could end up with a lousy boat and crew. The huge array of slow 'junk' tour boats for package tourists. Real junks (with working sails and no engine) are too slow and at the mercy of the wind to adequately tour the islands.
HALONG CITY is the cultural, economic and political center of Quang Ninh Province. Formerly known as Hon Gai Town, it borders Cam Pha to the east, the Yen Hung District to the west, the Hoanh Bo District to the north and Halong Bay to the south with the coastline of 20 kilometers. The city is divided into two parts: East Halong and West Halong. The eastern part is an industrial zone where most of the province's official buildings are also concentrated. The western part, also called Bai Chay, is the animated tourism zone.
Halong City covers 208.7 square kilometers and is home to about 185,228 people (year 2001). Administrative division: Wards: Ha Khanh, Ha Lam, Ha Trung, Ha Phong, Ha Tu, Hong Hai, Cao Thang, Cao Xanh, Yet Kieu, Tran Hung Dao, Bach Dang, Hon Gai, Bai Chay, Hong Ha, Ha Khau, Gieng Day, Hung Thang, Tuan Chau; Communes: Viet Hung, Dai Yen. The largest ethnic groups in the province are the Mainly the Viet (or Kinh). The bus station is on Halong Road, Bai Chay. Tel: (84 - 33) 3847 410.
Sights In and Around Halong City: An Sinh Temple and Tran Tombs of the Tran Dynasty are situated in the An Sinh Commune, Dong Trieu District, Quang Ninh Province. Built in the period of Tran Dynasty and restored many times under the following Le and Nguyen Dynasties, they are scattered on an area of 20 kilometers in radius, dedicated to the eight emperors of the Tran Dynasty. Apart from the building of ceremonial shrines at every tomb, the An Sinh Temple was also built with many large shrines for the celebration of anniversary ceremonies. The whole zone became a sacred area held in solemn reverence throughout the Tran, Le and Nguyen Dynasties.
Over time, the area has severely deteriorated, but today, it is gradually being restored. An Sinh Temple Area belongs to Nghia Hung Hamlet which is used to dedicate eight kings of Tran and the tombs of Tran Thai Tong, Tran Thanh Tong and Gian Dinh De. Tran Anh Tong Tomb is located in Loc Camp, Tran Minh Tong Tomb is in Khe Gach, Tran Hien Tong Tomb is in Ao Beo, Tran Du Tong Tomb is in Dong Tron, Tran Nghe Tong Tomb is in Khe Nghe areas. Besides the temples at each tomb, many big temples were built in the An Sinh Temple Area by the court for respect-paying audience. It was defended carefully by mandarins. This area became a solemn holy land through Tran, Le, Nguyen Dynasties.
Bai Tho Mountain lies at the heart of Halong City. From afar, the 106-meter-limestone mountain looks like a huge castle with three imposing towers. Its past name Truyen Dang means Light Projecting. This mountain has inspired many poets. In 1468, during his inspection tour to the eastern region, King Le Thanh Tong stopped here. Inspired by the stunning beauty of Halong, the King wrote a poem and had it carved into the southern side of the mountain, hence its name Bai Tho (Poem). In 1729, Lord Trinh Cuong composed a poem in response to that of King Le Thanh Tong and also had it carved near the former. The mountain features other poems by Nguyen Can and some other poets. On top Bai Tho Mountain, there are magnificent views of Halong Bay.
Cua Van Fishing Village is situated at Hung Thang Commune, 20 kilometers away from the tourist boat wharf. Lying on a calm bay backed by mountains, it is home to 733 people in 176 households. They mainly earn their livelihood by fishing. Tourists sometimes come by to check out the floating houses. The well-off families even have tiled roof houses with radios, television sets, tables and chairs. The village school has four classrooms and one small room for teachers. They are the first floating classrooms in Ha Long. At present, Cua Van has 7 classes, mainly for grade 1 and grade 2. The youngest pupil is 8, while the oldest one is 17. It is interesting to see the children going to school in small boats driven by tiny oars.
Typical Road and Boat Trip in Halong Bay
Molly Selvin wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The 105-mile van trip takes almost half a day — Vietnam's highway system is still a work in progress and buses and trucks share the road with darting motor scooters, bicycles and plodding water buffalo. Some users on TripAdvisor.com and other travel websites have complained about the slow ride, but I found the drive through this fast-changing agricultural and industrial region fascinating. We drove through villages where farmers had spread out rice to dry by the side of the road and young men were lashing just-killed hogs to the backs of their scooters. Along the way, we also passed brick kilns, factories and coal mines.” [Source: Molly Selvin, Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2008]
““Ha Long City's harbor, a gateway shipping port supplying this fast-developing region, is on the dreary side. In fact, I was having second thoughts about this trip as we dragged our suitcases along a rutted path past rusting, crumbling buildings to the ship, a deluxe junk. But once we were headed into the bay, the breeze and the view from the motorized Dragon Pearl's top deck, along with our "welcome" glasses of iced tea, lifted my spirits. So did our cabin. Our room — like the 17 others on the junk — was small but contained plenty of amenities, including a king-sized bed, a minute bathroom complete with terry bathrobes and rubber flip-flops, and air conditioning, necessary to cut through the withering heat and humidity. [Source: Molly Selvin, Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2008]
“The first afternoon, our ship and several others dropped anchor at a deserted beach on the tiny island of Soi Sim, where we swam and lounged away the rest of the day. The water was calm and warm, but apart from the setting, this was the least memorable outing of our cruise. Escalating tourism in the region, perhaps because of its World Heritage designation, has generated litter and pollution. So, here, miles from anywhere, plastic drink bottles and candy wrappers floated in the water and washed up on the sand.
“A couple of hours later, we were back on board. With a school of silvery jumping fish as our escort, our ship headed northeast toward the Hang Luon grotto, where the Dragon Pearl dropped anchor for the night in the company of several other junks. Before dinner, we hung out on the chaise longues arrayed on the ship's deck, watching as the peaks surrounding us turned a dusky blue and lights on the neighboring junks twinkled on. The scene reminded me of a cross between Hawaii's Na Pali Cliffs and Washington's Puget Sound.
“We were lucky to have gotten Tran Van Bien, a 27-year-old with disarming charm and deep knowledge of the area's geology and culture, as our guide. He was never far away and always eager for the chance to improve his English. The booming tourism industry has become a magnet for university-educated, ambitious young Vietnamese like Bien, who has earned enough to move his parents off their rice paddy and into Hanoi. He hopes one day to visit his relatives in Orange County, an all-but-impossible dream even with his middle-class earnings. Like other young Vietnamese we met, Bien hastened to tell us that he held no hard feelings because of the Vietnam War. That fight was between the two governments, he said, not their people.
“We were also lucky in our fellow cruisers, an amiable bunch that included a French refugee worker and his Croatian girlfriend, a Canadian family newly posted to Singapore, and a young American teaching in Hong Kong, plus our German friends, Reinhardt and Inglelore. Our two evenings out on the top deck, trading stories and watching night fall, were among the few times I relished being outdoors in Vietnam's blistering heat.”
Major Islands in Halong Bay
Islands in Halong Bay include Bo Hon Island, a beautiful island popular with tourists not only because of its splendid scenery but also because it is one of the largest in the area. There are many grottoes located here, such as the Surprise, Luon, Virgin and Male grottoes. There is also a concentration of hills with vertical cliffs like citadel wall. The French called this island Les Surprises. There are various species of plants such as benjamin fig trees, cycads and orchids... and animals such monkeys, deer and goats. Bo Hon Island is also famous for its many caves. Each of them has a legend related to it.
Am Islet (on the route to Quan Lan – Ngoc Vung Islands) in Bai Tu Long Bay is also known as Kettle Islet. Jutting out of the seawaters, it is named after the teapot of the Jade Emperor, who accidentally dropped it into Halong so its handle was broken.
Ba Trai Dao Islet (22 kilometers from south of Bai Chay Tourist Wharf) island consists of three hills with the height of 23 meters, seen from afar, resemble three peaches (Ba Trai Dao). The island is connected to a legend of about the romantic love between a young fairy, who was very pretty, and a young, poor fisherman. Because of feeling in love with him, she stole three peaches from Heaven for him, which if he ate. This gave him eternal life, allowing them to live together forever. The King of the Heavens discovered the robbery and turned the peaches into three stone islands. Chastised, the young fairy had to return. Today, Ba Trai Dao is a famous tourist attraction with three nice beaches.
It takes 10 hours by cruise boat from Bai Chay Tourist Wharf to reach Ba Trai Dao. Ba Trai Dao Beach is popular with tourists. It features three small sand beaches embracing small islands. These islands, seen from afar, resemble three peaches. Tourists can only uses these beaches when the tide is low.
Ba Mun Island is a schist island that stretches out parallel to Quan Lan Island. Also known as Cao Lo Island, it is 15 kilometers from the shore, 1,800 hectares in area with more than 20 kilometers long. It consists of a narrow stretch of earth and stone that runs east to west. The highest peak, Quit Mountain, is 397 meters high. The fauna and flora here are very plentiful.
Ba Mun Island is the only island in Halong Bay that is home to a primitive forest. There are countless species of plants and trees, some with giant trunks. This forest is also home to many rare animals such as wild goats, deer and monkeys. It is said that many years ago tigers, panthers and elephants resided on the island. In order to help preserve the forest, in 1997, the government established Bai Tu Long National Park on the island.
Caves in Halong Bay
Caves in Halong Bay include Pelican cave, named after the pelicans that used to live here; Dau Go cave, a former pirate hideout with three main chambers filled with thousands of stalactites and stalagmites; and Trunh Nu (Virgin Girl) Grotto, named after a girl who lived here after being kidnaped by a mandarin and refusing to sleep with him.
Ba Ham Cave Lake is situated on the south side of Halong Bay on Dau Be Island (Calf Head Island) in Lan Ha Bay. The island is part of the range of islands at the farthest end of Halong Bay, bordering the immense zone Long Chau Sea. Ba Ham Lake is situated in the middle of a narrow, rectangular area, with the all four sides enclosed by vertical cliffs.
The lake is part of a system comprising three wide and round pits, linked together by a narrow and meandering tunnel. Stalactites hang from the ceiling in a myriad of strange, colored forms. The silence is disturbed only by the sounds of the boats oars. On the island are many species of plants such as orchids, benjamin figs, banyans and cycads, which blossom throughout the year. It is also the home of yellow-haired monkeys, birds, flying squirrels and bats.
Although 25 kilometers from the shore it has long been considered an ideal tourism zone, the entrance is an open semi-circular hole in the flat stone wall on the north-west side of the island, 4 to five meters above the sea. Starting from the entrance, tourists enter the first tunnel, which boasts a forest of stalactites and stalagmites in different shapes and various colours. They fall down the water surface like the roots of banyan or ficus trees. The deeper one pushes into the tunnel, the darker it becomes. The river is deep yet so clear that one can see shoals of fish swimming. Some 100 meters from the entrance one finds a shaft of light coming from the roof of the tunnel, which reveals different kinds of orchids clinging to the cliff, cycads growing here and there, truc duoi ga (a kind of reed with cocks tail-liked yellow leaves) flourishing in clumps. In the southeast cliff of the second tunnel there is an old carambola tree, which bears fruits all year round. Tourists can find groups of monkeys, flying squirrels, or silver-headed parrots gathering in its branches. Lying one cliff away from the second one, the third tunnel is home to various species of bats and butterflies.
Vung Duc Temple and Grottoes (45 kilometers to the north-east of Halong City) is located by the Bai Tu Long Bay in the Cam Pha Town at the foot of Ban Co Mountain, This unique tourist site is composed of five imposing caves: Thien Dang - Long Van - Ngo Ngang - Kim Quy - Doi that can be accessed by a car cable system. In Thien Dang Cave, at an ideal elevation, tourists can get a view of the Bai Tu Long Bay. In Vung Duc, you can call on some islands and beauty spots such as Bai Tu Long National Park, The Vang Island, Cong Tay and The Vang Island eco-tourist zones.
Yen Trung Tourist Site (on road 18A connecting Hanoi with Halong) features a wide and beautiful lake surrounded by pine hills. In the middle of the lakes are islets covered with green trees. Tourists can boat around the lake or call on the islets or fish for pleasure. Yen Trung is a hamlet inhabited by Muong located on a high hill and composed of three house-on-stilt fashioned after Muong style. Tourists may explore the life of the Muong community through the objects on display such as ovens, pots for cooking wine, mills, rice grinders, hunting tools, beds, blankets and pillow. In the future this tourist site will have hamlets of the Tay, Nung and Thai people. , and more kinds of services will come into operation. Yen Trung Tourist Site is on road 18A connecting Hanoi with Halong, about five kilometers from Yen Tu, 10 kilometers from Uong Bi. At a signpost take a right fork onto a paved road. Further on for 500 meters from the entrance the lake.
One her cave trip Molly Selvin wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Our ship steamed to Sung Sot Cave, one of the area's largest and most impressive limestone caverns, spanning 12,000 square yards inside. The entrance required a short hike up several flights of stone steps to a spot high above the bay. More steps led into receding chambers, past humongous stalactites and stalagmites that resembled giant sandcastles. Here, you can see water at work, dripping from the ceiling and pooling on the floor in ponds so still and mirror-like that it left me disoriented. [Source: Molly Selvin, Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2008]
Kayaking in Halong Bay
Kayaking is a popular activity in Halong Bay. The length of the kayaking trip depends on the tour. On mine it was only 40 minutes. When I signed up for the trip I insisted I wanted to do a lot of sea kayaking and the tour groups representatives said sure, yeah, right, but that’s not what happened. The islands of Halong Bay go on forever and would be great to explore extensively by kayak but most kayaking is done in rather small limited area. To really get into to no doubt you have to do a more expensive and relatively long tour.
On her experience, Molly Selvin wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The highlight of the trip was a kayaking tour on the second day. I had been dubious about this — I had never squeezed into a kayak before, and we were far out in the bay, close to the open waters of the gulf. I feared capsizing, not being able to keep up with the group and getting drenched if the threatening skies opened up. It was nothing like that. Bien led the five kayaks in and around cliffs and through grottoes, pointing out birds, plants and the cliffs where monkeys nest (although we didn't see any). The skies held, and when we beached the boats at noon on an uninhabited island, the sun came out in time for a swim. [Source: Molly Selvin, Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2008]
“As for lunch, think "Fantasy Island," that kitschy late-'70s TV series. Our table already was set on the sand when we pulled up — with white tablecloths and napkins — and although the white-suited Mr. Roarke was nowhere in sight, the ship's kitchen crew was busy barbecuing fish and peeling dragon fruit, a dramatic red cactus fruit with mildly sweet white flesh, for another magnificent meal. In fact, all our meals were extraordinary. Lunch and dinner aboard the ship were multiple-course, white-tablecloth affairs that usually included soup, locally caught prawns and fish, chicken, stir-fried vegetables and terrific tofu dishes. Breakfast was a buffet of fresh fruit and baked goods served outdoors on the ship's middle deck. That afternoon, we paddled some more, at one point passing a lone fisherman casting his net. His wooden rowboat rocked gently. A teapot perched on the stern. One large fish, Bien told us, would net him about $10, a good day's wages.”
Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba Island (near Haiphong and Ha Long Bay, two hours from Hanoi to Haiphong by car or train and then on a high-speed vessel for another hour) is a popular tourist spot with forests mountain scenery, water sports and beaches. Covering 100 square kilometers, it the biggest island out of the 366 islands on the Lan Ha Bay.
Visitors can hire a motorbike to ride to any place visitors want to visit. First of all, visitors should rent a room in a hotel, because the hotels on this island are often overcrowded due to the ever-increasing number of visitors to Cat Ba Island, although more hotels and hostels are being built. It is very pleasant to stay in a hotel, whose back leans against the mountain and its face looks towards the sea, and enjoy the fresh air and beautiful scenery around.
Visiting the large beaches of Cat Co and Cat Dua, which are separated by a small range of mountain, visitors can swim in the blue and warm water. Visitors can hire a motor boat to sail to the small islets, where there are calm and clean beaches, such as the Cat Trai Gai, Duong Gianh and Hien Hao. The mountain adjacent to Cat Co Beach has a tunnel and caves such as Hang Luon, Khe Sau, Trung Trang, Gia Luan and Kim Cuong. In the evening visitors can enjoy the sunset over Lan Ha Bay.
Cat Ba National Park (20 miles east of Haiphong) encompasses about half of Cat Ba island and the 300 or so islet that surround it. Reached by boat from Haiphong, it is a wonderful place with beaches with clean white sand and clear water, mangroves, freshwater swamps forests, waterfalls, limestone rock formations, caves, and offshore coral reefs. The national park’s forest are home to rare Francious monkey, wild boar, hornbills, deer and other animals. The corals reefs contains 200 different kinds of fish and 400 species of mollusk.
Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago was nominated in 2017 to be added to the Halong Bay UNESCO World Heritage site in 2017.According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Ha Long Bay Cat Ba Archipelago is an exceptional example of mature karst in sub-tropical wet conditions. Its outstanding value contains marine invaded karst topography with numberless majestic limestone towers, and particular characteristics of arches and caves caused by coastal erosion, creating an amazing natural landscape.” [Source: Viet Nam National Commission for UNESCO, Quang Ninh Province and Hai Phong City]
Cat Ba Archipelago “is also the most prominent illustration on marine invaded karst towers and bears the global importance on tower karst (fengling) and peak – cluster depression (fengcong). Typical peak-cluster depression in Ha Long Bay is shown as expanding valleys inundated by the sea (known as “Tùng”) or sunk cluster depression (known as “Áng”). One of other typical fengcong characteristics is big closed marine lakes, sunk lakes, and some of those just appearing upon tide rising. Cave is another remarkable geological feature, including 3 main types: old phreatic caves, karst foot caves and notch caves. This site illustrates fully processes of karst formation on a large scale and demonstrates a long period of geological evolution.
“Similarly, Cat Ba Archipelago landscape values are characterized as marine invaded karst limestone terrain along with hundreds of picturesque limestone towers wrapped by prestine tropical rain forest on blue water which creates a spectacular natural beauty. Cat Ba Archipelago is an outstanding example of marine invaded karst towers and one of vital fengling and fengcong karst sites, in which particular characteristics of karst fengcong can be found in the lake of Ang Vem, sunk lake of Ang Tham, and some lakes only appearing when the tide rises such as Ang Toi and Ang Sang Lake. Another noticeable geological feature is the existence of 20 caves including old phreatic caves, foot caves and notch caves. This site also illustrates adequately a process of karst formation at a large scale and demonstrates a long period for geological and geomorphological evolution.
“Ha Long Bay - Cat Ba Archipelago property is the best example for high concentration of typical tropical and sub-tropical ecosystem surpassing the other places in Asia in that it includes the most particular and the largest limestone island ecosystem, including an enormous primeval tropical rain forest on limestone island, mangrove forest, coral reef, tidal flat and marine lake. Due to its isolation from the mainland, over 18000 years of its history, many endemic and rare species having universal values are still under conservation and evolution in Cat Ba Archipelago. Among them, 76 species are recorded in the IUCN Red List, particularly Cat Ba langur or white-headed langur is listed as 1 of 25 most critically endangered primate species,
“Cat Ba Archipelago represents 6 typical ecosystems including (i) tropical rain forest, (ii) mangrove forest, (iii) tidal flat, (iv) marine lake, (v) coral reef, and (vi) soft bottom. To date, 3,860 species, both inland and at sea, have been found here, in which there are 2,154 terrestrial species accounting for 55.6% of total species, 1,695 marine species (44,2 %), 11 fresh water fish (only 0,2 %). Among 3,860 species, there have been 130 species included in the Red Lists of Vietnam and IUCN (namely, 76 species in rare category by IUCN). Especially, Cat Ba langur or white-headed langur becomes 1 of 25 most critically endangered primate species, requiring an urgent protection and global - level conservation (Statistics of Cat Ba Archipelago World Natural Heritage, 01/2013). In terms of bio-diversity, according to the statistics made by the Institute of Marine Enrironment and Natural Resources (IMER) in 2009, 2,949 species of fauna and flora are identified in Ha Long Bay including 1,259 terrestrial species, 1,553 water basin species, 66 species of reptile and amphibian living both in land and under water, and 71 birds. There exists nearly 102 species of plants and animals critically endangered at various levels in the sea and islands within Ha Long bay and nearby. Among them, many species are endemic and rare only appeared in Ha Long Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago such as Cycadaceae tropophylla, Livistona halongensis, Jasminum alongense, etc.
Boat Accidents on Halong Bay
Halong Bay has had at least three fatal boat sinkings in the previous decade. Storms or windy conditions were blamed for sinkings in 2009, 2006 and 2002 that killed at least a dozen people in all.
In September 2009, a packed tourist boat carrying 25 passengers capsized in Halong Bay during heavy rain, killing three foreign tourists and two Vietnamese. Simone Whey of The Guardian wrote: “Two British tourists, believed to be in their 20s, drowned after a packed boat carrying 25 passengers and seven crew capsized in choppy seas in Halong Bay, a popular Vietnamese holiday spot, the Foreign Office said. A French man and two Vietnamese were also killed. The boat sank in the evening as it was returning to port, when heavy rains and strong winds tore through Halong Bay. Other passengers were treated in hospital for shock and hypothermia after the incident, according to reports. Pham Dinh Hoa, a disaster official, said the bodies of a Vietnamese crew member and a local guide were recovered over the weekend, bringing the toll to five. [Source: Simone Whey, The Guardian, September 28, 2009 ~*~]
“Hoa said the vessel was carrying 24 passengers and a six-member crew when it sank. Sunny Bui, manager of Cruise Halong, one of the tour operators that run boat trips to Halong Bay, said an accident of this scale was almost unheard of in the area. "It never happened like this before. There was no warning. [Tour operators] usually hear of typhoons and strong winds in the weather forecast, but this was a whirlwind that only lasted for 15 or 20 minutes, and nobody knew about it." ~*~
In May 2011, Thanh Nien News reported: “A boat with nearly 30 tourists on board sank after another boat crashed into it in Ha Long Bay, but no casualties were reported. The accident happened at around 3 p.m. when the boat, belonging to the Hai Long Company, was anchored some 300 meters from the Ti Top Island. Witnesses said a boat carrying water then crashed into it and the boat with tourists soon began to sink. The victims were saved by people on other tourist boats anchored nearby. [Source: Thanh Nien News, May 9, 2011]
“According to Tuoi Tre, 28 French tourists, a tour guide and 12 Vietnamese crew members were on board when the accident took place. It quoted Dang Huy Hau, vice chairman of Quang Ninh Province’s People’s Committee, as saying that local agencies will salvage the boat to identify the cause.
Tourist Boat Sinks in Halong Bay, Killing 12 People from Nine Countries in 2011
An overnight boat packed with sleeping tourists sank in Vietnam's scenic Ha Long Bay, killing 12 people from nine countries—including the U.S., Britain, Australia, Japan, Russia, France, Sweden and Switzerland— and their Vietnamese guide. It Vietnam’s deadliest tour boat accident since opening up to foreign visitors in the mid 1980s.
The China Daily reported: “Nine foreign tourists and six locals were rescued from the chilly water by other tour boats anchored nearby. They were rushed to a hospital as teams scoured the area for more survivors. Those rescued reported seeing a plank of the wooden live-aboard ship ripping away, followed by gushing water inundating the boat and quickly pulling it down around 5 am near Titov Island, said Vu Van Thin, chief administrator of Quang Ninh province. "Crew members tried to stop the water from coming in and alerted the tourists who were sleeping, but the water came in and the boat sank quickly," he said. "All of the 12 people who died were in the cabins." [Source: China Daily, February 18, 2011 +++]
“There were 27 people on the boat, including six crew members, Thin said. It was anchored alongside dozens of other cruise boats, and weather conditions were calm at the time of the incident. Twelve bodies have been found, including those of tourists from the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, said Ngo Van Hung, director of Ha Long Bay's management board. The body of a Vietnamese tour guide was also recovered, and all of the dead have been sent to Bai Chay Hospital for identification. Japan's Kyodo news agency reported that one Japanese was among the dead. +++
Dinh Tran Trung Hau of Associated Press wrote: “There were 27 people, including six crew members, aboard the boat and all have been accounted for, Thin said. The vessel, which is owned by Truong Hai Co., was anchored alongside dozens of other cruise boats and weather conditions were calm at the time of the sinking. The dead have been sent to Bai Chay Hospital for identification, where survivors received treatment for minor injuries, said Ngo Van Hung, director of Ha Long Bay's management board. The official Vietnam News Agency published the victims' names and ages, most of them aged 20 to 25, seven were women. They include a Briton, two Americans, one Japanese, one French, two Swedes, two Russians, one Swiss and one person of Vietnamese origin living in Australia, according to the government. Divers worked to free the bodies still inside. Several feet of the masts were still visible, and Thin said crews were working to bring in a crane to pull the boat out. [Source: Dinh Tran Trung Hau, AP, February 17, 2011]
Survivors of the Tourist Boat That Sunk in Halong Bay: Dinh Tran Trung Hau of Associated Press wrote: “Italian traveler Stefano Corda felt an ominous tilt as dinner was served, but his tour boat crew assured him everything was fine. A few hours later, Corda and his friend jumped for their lives into Vietnam's famed Ha Long Bay as water raced inside the wooden vessel, sucking it down. All were sleeping on the overnight ship, named Bien Mo or Dream of the Ocean, which was anchored in about 30 feet (10 meters) of water near a small island. Nine foreigners and six Vietnamese survived only by flinging themselves overboard and swimming to other tour boats anchored nearby. [Source: Dinh Tran Trung Hau, AP, February 17, 2011 +]
"We woke up at 5, and the boat took one minute to sink," Corda, 35, of Palermo, Italy, told Associated Press Television News. "We went to the exit and the boat was almost vertical. I grabbed my friend, we went out, and it was so fast." Corda's friend, Stefano Sacconi, 33, of Rome, was in the bathroom just before the disaster struck. He thought he felt the boat buckling on its right side and soon realized they needed to get out. And fast. "We started to hear tables and glasses falling from the top of the restaurant," he said. "After that, my friend went out. He called me, 'Come up! Come up! Something's wrong here! The boat is going down!'" They jumped and swam to another nearby ship. +\
“Other survivors reported seeing a wooden plank ripping away from the ship around 5 a.m., followed by gushing water inundating the boat and quickly pulling it under near Titov island, about an hour from mainland's shore, said Vu Van Thin, chief administrator of Quang Ninh province. The boat was still anchored from the night when it sank. One American was Samantha Kay Taylor, a recent graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder, who was overseas teaching in China and traveling. Her boyfriend, George Fosmire, 23, a University of Colorado at Boulder student, was traveling with her, and after the accident, went to the morgue to help identify the bodies of his girlfriend and their good friend, said Fosmire's father, William Fosmire of Golden, Colo., in an Associated Press interview. +\
“Vietnam's foreign ministry confirmed the survivors as two Danes, one German, two Italians, one American, one Australian, one French and one Swiss. "This is a very rare and very unfortunate accident," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga. She said tour companies should improve safety measures in Ha Long Bay. +\
Captain of Tourist Boat That Sunk in Halong Bay Had a Bad Record: Dinh Tran Trung Hau of Associated Press wrote: “Police are investigating what caused the accident, and a Vietnamese official called for checks on safety of the more than 100 tour boats that ply the bay. The boat captain and crew were summoned for questioning, said Le Thanh Binh, a spokesman of Quang Ninh police. The Transport newspaper, published by the government, reported that the boat was put into operation in November 2008 and licensed to provide overnight services. It passed its last safety check four months ago and was 28.7 meters (94 feet) long and 7 meters (23 feet) wide. It was equipped to carry 30 passengers, including 20 passengers for its 10 cabins, it said. [Source: Dinh Tran Trung Hau, AP, February 17, 2011]
In February 2012, AFP reported that the tour boat that sank in Halong Bay, killing 12 tourists, is owned by a company linked to another deadly accident two years before, police say. Vu Tuan Hung, of the Quang Ninh water police, confirmed media reports that the boat owner, Truong Hai Co, was involved in another deadly accident in September 2009 when it operated under a different name. In the previous incident a boat of the company's sank during heavy rain, killing three foreign tourists and a local guide, Thanh Nien newspaper reported this weekend. [Source: AFP, February 20, 2011]
At the time Thanh Nien said the boat, which was new, had breached several regulations, prompting authorities to pledge stricter enforcement of seaworthiness standards and registration rules. Hung said officials planned to announce on Monday the results of their probe into the latest sinking to foreign ambassadors and families of the victims. The crew have been questioned but no one has been arrested. Initial information from the sailors suggested that the boat, Dream Voyage, sank because of a break in the lower hull, police said. It took on water so fast that sleeping passengers had almost no time to escape the torrent that filled their cabins.
In May 2011, Thanh Nien News reported: “The accident was later identified as having been caused by human error — the valve that allows water to come into the boat to cool the engine wasn’t closed properly before the crew went to bed. The tragedy prompted local authorities to launch inspections into boats operating in the bay. The operations of the company that organized the tour and the one that owned the boat were both suspended.[Source: Thanh Nien News, May 9, 2011]
Vietnam Bans Coal Shipping in Halong Bay Heritage Area
In October 2006, AFP reported: “Vietnam has banned coal shipping in Halong Bay to reduce industrial pollution in the World Heritage-listed island seascape, industry officials said. "We have decided to stop all coal shipping activities in Halong Bay to protect the environment, from November 1," said Pham Trung Hung, head of the Vietnam National Coal and Mineral Industries Group (Vinacomin). The group has also agreed with Quang Ninh provincial authorities to move all coal ports to Bai Tu Long Bay, 50 kilometers northeast of Halong Bay, he said. UNESCO has in the past raised concerns about threats facing the area 160 kilometers (100 miles) east of Hanoi in the Gulf of Tonkin. These include the rapid expansion of floating fishing villages, tourism infrastructure development and industrialization. [Source: Agence France Presse October 31, 2006]
"We are delighted about (the decision)," said Chu Shiu-Kee, Vietnam chief of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. "Coal loading and unloading in the World Heritage buffer zone has been an issue we have been requesting the provincial government to do something about. "It's not just making the water dirty with coal dust. The shipping concentrated in those areas has also caused other kinds of pollution."
In August 2000, Reuters reported: “At least six people were killed, two of them Indian tourists, and several reported missing, including a Thai tourist, after tropical storm Kaemi lashed Vietnam's coast, police and officials said. Police said the two Indian tourists drowned after a whirlwind capsized two tour boats in Halong Bay. An officer told Reuters two Vietnamese women and a female Thai tourist were still missing, but 16 other people had been rescued from the boats. [Source: Reuters, August 23, 2000]
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
Last updated August 2020