When Vietnam was newly formed, it had to fight off many fierce invaders from the north who arrived by sea. The supreme Taoist god, the Jade Emperor, took pity on the fledgling nation and sent the Mother Dragon and her young down to earth to help defend Vietnam. The dragons appeared in the middle of a particularly ferocious battle but were able to defeat the attackers by shooting divine fire and giant gems of emerald and jade from their mouths. The gems scattered around the sea battlefield, forming a defensive wall that would protect Vietnam from invaders. Over the following millennia, the wall turned into the thousands of rocks and islets we can see today. To honour the dragons, the Vietnamese people named the bay “Ha Long”, which means “descending dragon”.
Ethereally beautiful, it’s no wonder that this UNESCO World Heritage Site is steeped in myth and legend. Turquoise waters are punctuated by thousands of rocky outcrops, some of which soar up to 100 m high and wear crowns of thick jungle. Several islands are hollow, encompassing craggy grottoes or enormous awe-inspiring caves. Research has shown evidence of human beings living in this area tens of thousands of years ago, and despite a long history of human use, the bay retains a high level of naturalness. It plays host to 14 endemic plant species and 60 endemic animal species.
The spectacular seascape sits in the Gulf of Tonkin, about three and a half hours from the capital Hanoi, and is easily the country’s most famous tourist attraction. Along with a community of around 1,600 locals, the bay is occupied by traditional Vietnamese junk boats that take tourists on overnight cruises. Weaving around the limestone islands, panoramic views and sleeping and dining on the bay, the cruise is often the highlight of people’s trip to Vietnam. Each of our Vietnam tours include this unforgettable experience. Check out the itineraries to find out more:
Vietnam at a Glance
Grand Tour of Vietnam
Vietnam and Cambodia