The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Halong Bay was first recognised in 1994 for its exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance. In 2000, Halong Bay had the honour of being recognised for the second time for its geomorphic and physiographic features.
Many travelers are unaware that Halong Bay also has immense value to the world because of its rare concentration of biodiversity, culture and history. And it’s this unique value that makes Halong Bay a magical destination where travellers can get up close and personal with the beating heart of Vietnam.
Breathtaking views and landscapes
While Halong Bay is not a large area, it packs 1969 islands and islets into its 1,553 km2. Limestone towers, islands and islets boast caves, caverns and grottoes, many hidden and still waiting to be discovered. Some islands are completely hollow. Framing the islands are gorgeous beaches, the emerald sea lapping gently on the soft, white sand.
Cruising the islands is the only way to truly experience Halong Bay. On a Paradise Cruise vessel, you can take in the picture-perfect serenity of the area from balconies, sun deck and the front of the boat in complete luxury. Watch the sun rise and set over the Bay, all pink and orange and plump, and breathe the fresh air - tangy with salt - deep into your lungs, recharging your soul.
And don’t be put off by forecasts of rain. Even inclement weather and mist can’t dampen the beauty of Halong Bay; instead, rain creates a soft, mysterious ambiance, reminiscent of an ancient time long past...
Priceless value of Halong geology and geomorphology
While UNESCO recognition is relatively recent, Ha Long has been billions of years in the making. For eons, the deep water of the bay was filled with fine mud and sediment that that rarely shifted, even with rising and falling sea levels.
It was in the Carboniferous period - during the late Paleozoic Era and some 300 million years ago - that the area lifted due to tectonic activity. The shallower and warmer water in the bay formed the limestone - up to one kilometre thick - that makes Halong so unique.
During the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, the area shifted again and, over millions of years, became mountainous highlands, exposing the limestone and forming karsts. The limestone karsts eroded over time, forming millions of small caverns and canyons. Flooding caused the bay to sink, turning caves and tunnels into deep valleys amid rising columns of rock as the limestone dissolved.
It is interesting to note that the Halong Bay we see today is only around 7,000 years old.
Historical and culture value of Halong
Aside from the geology and landscape, what is also of interest to tourists who visit Halong is the rich tradition of ancient Viet culture found in the area, with the Soi Nhu culture being the oldest culture, followed by Cai Beo, then Ha Long.
Soi Nhu people: the first culture discovered
The Soi Nhu culture was first detected by Swedish archaeologist, geologist and paleontologist Johan Gunner Andersson in 1938. On various digs in the area, he found evidence of ancient Vietnamese people in Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long area.
In 1967, Vietnamese archaeologists uncovered stone tools and ceramic fragments as well as human and animal fossils in Soi Nhu cave. Piecing together the archaeological evidence, it became clear that the Soi Nhu people subsisted on shellfish, supplemented by local fruits and vegetables.
Subsequent geological studies revealed that Soi Nhu culture existed between 6,000 to 18,000 years ago, and were scattered across the Gulf of Tonkin in Halong, Bai Tu Long and Lan Ha.
Cai Beo people: advancing the culture
Around the same time as Johann Andersson uncovered the existence of the Soi Nhu people in 1938, French archaeologist Madeline Colani discovered the Cai Beo culture. These peoples lived in the Lan Ha Bay and Halong Bay area some 4,000 to 7,000 years ago, and were a continuation of the Soi Nhu culture.
Excavations in the area have yielded a rich supply of over 500 artifacts used by the Cai Beo: pestles and mortars, grinding tables, axes, nets, statues and unfired pottery, as well as human and animal bones. Bronze implements and decorated pottery have also been uncovered that indicate the Cai Beo culture was quite advanced.
Ha Long Culture
In the late Neolithic Age to the Early Metal Age - around 3,000 to 4,500 years ago - the Gulf of Tonkin was home to the Ha Long culture. Also known as the sea culture, the Ha Long people occupied Ha Long, Bai Tu Long and Lan Ha.
The Ha Long people were essentially fisherman, and many artifacts associated with their way of life - including nets, implements and boats - have been discovered on the islands and in the caves of the Bay.
Not so well known is the biological diversity of Halong Bay: the area supports complex ecosystems and is home to dozens of rare plants, animals and aquamarine species.
The geography of Halong, with its unique landscape of ocean, mountains and forests has formed a number of ecosystems: tropical rainforest, marine and coastal. Coastal mangroves, coral reefs and seagrass habitats are typical features of these kinds of ecosystems.
Along the coast, large estuaries - the habitat of numerous species of marine creatures - provide an abundant and rich food supply, as well as shelter for breeding. Marine biologists have recorded the existence of 185 species of phytoplankton, 500 species of fish, 232 species of coral and 57 species of crab in the waters of the Bay, many of which are recorded in the IUCN Red List as rare.
And the thousands of islands and islets that comprise Halong Bay provide additional coastline and sheltered bays that support diverse marine life.
Concentrated around the eastern and southern shores at a depth of around 4 to 6 metres are bright and colourful coral reefs. The vibrant coral takes the shape of disks, trees and forests, and supports more than 100 species of fish, seaweed, crustaceans and microscopic marine creatures.
On land, particularly near Tuan Chau, Cua Luc, and Ba Che, mangroves are plentiful. Mangroves, which grow in coastal saline or brackish water in the intertidal zone, create and sustain a fascinating and complex ecosystem of fish, crustaceans and shellfish, and are also the territory of a variety of birds and other animal life.
The climate and geography of Halong also supports an abundance of forests and tropical rainforests, with many species of trees, plants and animals present. It is estimated that there are more than 1,000 species of plants in forests and on islands, and over 1,150 species of animals. Explore any one of these forests and rainforests, and eagle-eyed tourists will be able to spot deer, mink, squirrels and monkeys, as well as bird life.
The Legend of Halong Bay
How Halong Bay came to be is deeply ingrained in Vietnam mythology. Legend has it that the Gods wanted to protect Vietnam against warfare so they sent dragons to shield the country from invaders. These dragons showered precious gems onto the area - including jade and emeralds - which were transformed into the islands and islets of Halong Bay. These islands and islets offered natural protection against trespassers and attackers, and provided the perfect setting for protective ambushes by the Vietnamese warriors.
And often, like magic and on cue, mountains of rock would rise defensively from the ocean, and sink the ships of invaders.
Once Vietnam was secure as a nation, the dragons toured the world in peace. When the tour was over, the mother dragon descended to Halong Bay - Ha Long literally means descending dragons - and settled there, while her dragon children found sanctuary on Bai Tu Long and Bach Long Vi Islands.
References to “Ha Long” did not appear in Vietnamese literature until the early 19th century, though. Rather, the area was referred to as the seas of Giao Chau, Luc Chau, Luc Thuy, Van Don, Hai Dong or An Bang. And it was only towards the later part of the 19th century that Halong Bay appeared on French navigation maps of the Tonkin Gulf.
Basic information of Halong Bay
Geographic location, administration
Halong Bay - which occupies an area of 1,553 km2 - is located in the Gulf of Tonkin, 170 km east of Hanoi. It belongs to Ha Long City in the Quang Ninh province. In the north-west lies Ha Long City, north-east lies Bai Tu Long Bay, and in the south-west lies Cat Ba Island and Lan Ha Bay.
The climate of Ha Long is mild. Temperatures range from 19° to 25° Celsius, with rainfall peaking to around 250 mm in August of each year. Halong Bay receives around seven hours of sun daily. You can more about weather in Halong Bay by seasons so you can choose the best time for you to cruise.
Today, Halong Bay is home to more than 1,500 people who are mainly concentrated in floating fishing villages on around 40 islands. They live on boats or houses built on plastic barrels, and earn their living by fishing and aquaculture, or by trade and tourism.
Fascinating islands: Tuan Chau, Titop, Soi Sim, Bo Hon, Rang Dua, Reu
Beautiful beaches: Tuan Chau, Bai Chay, Titop, Ba Trai Dao, Soi Sim, Ngoc Vung
The most spectacular caves: Sung Sot, Luon, Tien Ong, Thien Cung, Dau Go, Trinh Nu
Things to do: cruising, cave visiting, get up with local life, fishing village excursion, enjoy food and drink, island visiting, kayaking, spa and wellness treatment, cooking demonstration, Vietnamese tea ceremony, Vietnamese wine tasting, BBQ on boat, Tai Chi sessions, swimming, dining, reading, sunbathing, sightseeing, see the sunrise and sunset, squid fishing, take photos, movie nights.
Getting to Ha Long Bay
Fly to Hanoi then arrive in Halong Bay by land or air, and make your way to Tuan Chau Island - the gateway to Halong Bay. Day cruises depart from the outer harbour area of the marina, while overnight cruises depart from the inner harbour area.