Halong Bay is perhaps the most spectacular of Vietnam’s natural wonders. Located in the Gulf of Tonkin, 170km from Hanoi, it is an impressive collection of nearly 2,000 islands covering an area in excess of 1,500km forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars and cliff faces. The breathtaking scenery and unusual geology of the bay led UNESCO to designate Halong Bay a World Heritage site in 1994. Because of their precipitous nature, most of the islands are uninhabited and untouched by man. The ancient Vietnamese believed that Halong Bay was where a giant dragon “descended into the sea”, as the rocky outcrops resemble the humps and scales of a dragon’s back. Another legend says that the giant limestone rocks themselves are dragons, protecting Vietnam from hostile invaders. In fact, the bay was formed as a result of millions of years of erosion on the limestone rocks. Then when the last ice age finished, the seas rose as the glaciers melted, flooding the entire area transforming hills into the islands we see today. Many of the forested islands in the bay have hidden caves and grottoes which are easily explored by boat or kayak. Some of the island caves are filled with colorful stalagmites and stalactites.
Bai Tu Long Bay
The highlight of a trip to this area is a boat trip through Bai Tu Long Bay, with stops at the most interesting islands and caves.
Boat trips through Bai Tu Long Bay.
The Wooden Stakes (Dau Go Cave)
Seen from afar, the entrance to the grotto appears to be blue, and has a shape similar to that of a jellyfish. After 90 steps up the island, the entrance is reached. The ceiling of the grotto is about 25 m. Hundreds of stalactites falling down from the roof of the grotto look like a waterfall.
The grotto is on Driftwood Island.
Surprising Cave (Sung Sot Cave)
Ascending to the grotto, the way is covered by trees and foliage, and consists of great paved stone blocks. Inside, it is partitioned into two chambers; the first one being similar to a wide theatre hall. Many stalactites hang from the high ceiling, with numerous possible forms and shapes.
Surprise Grotto is on Bo Han Island, and is one of the finest and widest grottoes of Halong Bay.
The Celestial Palace (Thien Cung Cave)
Although dating back millions of years,the cave was only discovered in 1993 by a local fisherman. The cave is illuminated with colored lights and the spacious chambers are filled with impressive stalactites and stalagmites.
Located next to the Cave of Wooden Stakes, the Celestial Palace is probably the most frequently visited cave in Halong Bay.