Ha Long Bay (literally: "Descending Dragon Bay"; Vietnamese: Vịnh Hạ Long) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a popular travel destination, located in Quảng Ninh province, Vietnam. Administratively, the bay belongs to Ha Long City, Cẩm Phả town, and part of Van Don district. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes. Ha Long Bay is a center of a larger zone which includes Bái Tử Long bay to the northeast, and Cát Bà islands to the southwest. These larger zones share similar geological, geographical, geomorphological, climate, and cultural characters.
Ha Long Bay has an area of around 1,553 km2, including 1,960 islets, most of which are limestone. The core of the bay has an area of 334 km2 with a high density of 775 islets. The limestone in this bay has gone through 500 million years of formation in different conditions and environments. The evolution of the karst in this bay has taken 20 million years under the impact of the tropical wet climate. The geo-diversity of the environment in the area has created biodiversity, including a tropical evergreen biosystem, oceanic and sea shore biosystem. Ha Long Bay is home to 14 endemic floral species and 60 endemic faunal species.
Historical research surveys have shown the presence of prehistorical human beings in this area tens of thousands years ago. The successive ancient cultures are the Soi Nhụ culture around 18,000-7,000 BC, the Cái Bèo culture 7,000-5,000 BC and the Hạ Long culture 3,500-5,000 years ago. Ha Long Bay also marked important events in the history of Vietnam with many artifacts found in Bài Thơ Mout, Đầu Gỗ Cave, Bãi Cháy.
Bai Chay beach is the nearest to Hanoi, so it draws a huge crowd of people on the weekends and in summer. It too doesn’t live up to the beauty of the southern beaches, but does serve up some good seafood harvested from nearby Halong Bay. It certainly isn’t a place to come in winter as temperatures can drop to the 15 degree C mark.
500 years ago, Nguyen Trai praised the beauty of Ha Long Bay in his verse Lộ nhập Vân Đồn, in which he called it "rock wonder in the sky". In 1962, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Vietnam listed Ha Long Bay in the National Relics and Landscapes publication. In 1994, the core zone of Ha Long Bay was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site according to criteria vii, and listed for a second time according to criteria viii.
The climate of the bay is tropical, wet, sea islands, with two seasons: hot and moist summer, and, dry and cold winter. The average temperature is from 15°C- 25°C, and annual rainfall is between 2000mm and 2200mm. Ha Long Bay has the typical diurnal tide system (tide amplitude ranges from 3.5-4m). The salinity is from 31 to 34.5MT in the dry season and lower in the rainy season.
System of isles and caves
Thien Cung grotto
The bay consists of a dense cluster of over 3,000 limestone monolithic islands (although locals claim there are only 1,969 as this is the year of Ho Chi Minh's death), each topped with thick jungle vegetation, rising spectacularly from the ocean. Several of the islands are hollow, with enormous caves. Hang Đầu Gỗ (Wooden stakes cave) is the largest grotto in the Ha Long area. French tourists visited in the late 19th century, and named the cave Grotte des Merveilles. Its three large chambers contain large numerous stalactites and stalagmites (as well as 19th century French graffiti). There are two bigger islands, Tuần Châu and Cat Ba, that have permanent inhabitants. Both of them have tourist facilities including hotels and beaches. There are a number of beautiful beaches on the smaller islands.
Some of the islands support floating villages of fishermen, who ply the shallow waters for 200 species of fish and 450 different kinds of mollusks. Many of the islands have acquired their names as a result of interpretation of their unusual shapes. Such names include Voi Islet (elephant), Ga Choi Islet (fighting cock), and Mai Nha Islet (roof). 989 of the islands have been given names. Birds and animals including bantams, antelopes, monkeys, and lizards also live on some of the islands.
Almost all these islands are as individual towers in a classic fenglin landscape with heights from 50m to 100m, and height/width ratios of up to about six.
Another specific feature of Halong Bay is the abundance of lakes inside the limestone islands. For example, Dau Be island has six enclosed lakes. All these island lakes occupy drowned dolines within fengcong karst.
Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba island, Vietnam’s Pearl Island, a surprising heavenly landscape!
Belonging to Cat Ba Archipelago, which includes 367 islands, in the south of Ha Long bay, Cat Ba Island is only 30 km from Hai Phong city centre and 25 km from Ha Long city.
Not at all is it a random thing when Cat Ba is also called Pearl Island (Dao Ngoc in Vietnamese). With a 70m altitude, and the post to overlook Lan Ha lagoon, Cat Ba lures tourists by its heavenly captivation. With an area of 140 km2 and population of 9000 people, it is proud to be the biggest island among the 1,969 islands in Ha Long bay. If you are considering a fresh-air and beautiful place to travel, just pack your stuff, stand up and fly to this magic land of blue Sky and Sea!
The Biosphere reserve of the world!
The archipelago has a global significance thanks to its plentiful species found nowhere else. It is home to the golden-headed langur (Trachypithecus poliocephalus), one of the top ten rare primates in the world due.
Besides, visitors can find several precious habitat types here, including fringing coral reefs, mangrove forest, sea grass beds, willow swamp forest and tropical limestone forest. Many of those are fiercely endangered.
With a major coastal fishing zone, and a karst seascape of outstanding beauty, a tremendous potential for agri-aqua culture and tourism is open to the area. Thanks to the special values, Cat Ba was acknowledged as the World Biosphere Reserve in 2004. So, are you curious to go? Then…
… Take a visit to its caves and grottos, now?
Cat Ba boasts many beautiful caves and grottos such as Trung Trang, Quan Y and Thien Long…
Trung Trang is the largest valley in Cat Ba Island with the total area of 300 ha, from 10-30 meter lower than the sea level, which is 15km northwest of the island. It is about 300 m walk. Beautiful with glistening stalactite & stalagmite it is! Visiting Trung Trang, one has learnt that it is deeply a thousand-year great work of Nature!
Quan Y grotto: “Quan Y” means “Army medical care”. This special name derives from the Wartime against American Air force, when Vietnamese people built a hospital with hundreds of beds inside this grotto. Today, visitors can easily reach it as Quan Y Grotto is on the main way along the Island, only about 13 km from the Island’s centre.
About 2 hours traveling by boat from Phu Long wharf is Thien Long grotto. It has just been discovered since 1997. This is one of the most beautiful caves and grottos in Ha Long bay. As wide and deep with miraculously various shaped & colorful stalactites and stalagmites, and tree roots from the mount to the bottom, Thien Long grotto is admired by any tourist stepping inside. One even said: “It looks like a pretty and peaceful fairy land on the sea..!” after her tour here. Also, people can feel free to contemplate the coral system, salty lakes and ponds in and around, which are definitely rich of marine bio-diversity.
Go swimming & entertain yourself, or you might regret!
A peak mountain in the shape of a turtle divides the beach into 2 small beaches, Cat Co One and Cat Co Two. On the right hand is fabricated rock mountain, while on the left hand is the clear and blue sea water, white and smooth sand. The beauty of the beach has been changing side by side with the flying time. Yet, never would it lose the natural luring power.
In the morning, after enjoying the sunrise on the sea, tourists will visit Monkey Island, conquering Hai Thanh mount, Hon Thot mount or Hon Guoc mount, and swimming in the pure sea as much as you can to feel how fresh a “heaven” can be!
In the afternoon, you may discover the area’s original beauty by renting a kayak to paddle to the bay. Then, should you are still well enough, perhaps we join some sports on the beach, such as valley ball, boat racing, and so forth. When night falls, the whole team would lie down in the cottages near by the beach to relax for a while, listening to the sound of rough sea waves. A romantic & relaxation experience!
Lan Ha Bay
Lan Ha bay is situated in the southeast of Cat Ba Island. It takes about 30 minutes to go there from Cat Ba by boat. The bay is large with arched shore. Getting inside, a number of islands and beaches are welcoming tourists.
Not only is it famous for beautiful beaches, but also for the imposing caves and ideal place for fishing. A lot of visitors who are fond of fishing do not want to come back once staying here for a while!
Viet Hai village
To switch into a new atmospheric space, tourists should now get to Viet Hai Village. It captures attentions by the precious retained hundreds-year traditional cultural values of Cat Ba. Viet Hai people still live in the simple house, built in bamboo, wood, leaves and soil.
If it gets late, we may stay overnight in the village in a simple and guest house at very reasonable price. You might be surprised as being treated in a friendly way, and served with special local cuisine seafood by the honest and hospitable local people. Believe me, you may not want to go back soon!
How to reach Cat Ba Island?
Visitors can reach Cat Ba Island by two ways. One, by ferry from Hai Phong city, Binh ferry station or Dinh Vu ferry station. And two, from Ha Long bay. After visiting this Natural World Heritage Site, visitors can keep staying on boat and getting to the Island.