The legend of Hạ Long has it that, “Once upon a time, soon after the Việt people established their country, invaders came. The Jade Emperor sent Mother Dragon and her Child Dragons down to earth to help the Việt people fight against their enemy. Right at the time invaders’ boats were rushing to the shore, the dragons landed down on earth. The dragons immediately sent out from their mouths a lot of pearls, which then turned into thousands of stone islands emerging in the sea like great walls challenging the invaders’ boats. The fast boats couldn’t manage to stop and crashed into the islands and into each other and broke into pieces.
After the victory, Mother Dragon and Child Dragons didn’t return Heaven but stayed on earth at the place where the battle had occurred. The location Mother Dragon landed is nowadays Hạ Long Bay and where Child Dragons descended is now Bái Tử Long. The dragons’ tails waving the water created Long Vĩ (present Trà Cổ peninsula) and formed a fine sand beach over ten kilometers long”.
Hạ Long Bay is located in the northeastern part of Vietnam and constitutes part of the western bank of Bắc Bộ Gulf, including the sea area of Hạ Long City and Cẩm Phả Town and part of Vân Ðồn island district. It abuts Cát Bà Island in the southwest. Toward the west is the shore with a 120 km-long coastline. It is located within 106o58’-107o22’ east longitude and within 20o45’- 20o50’ north latitude. The site is 1553 sq. km with 1969 islands of various sizes, of which 989 have been named.
The islands in Hạ Long Bay are mainly limestone and schist islands most lying in the two main areas: the southeastern part of Bái Tử Long Bay and southwestern part of Hạ Long Bay. These islands represent the most ancient images of a geographical site having a tectonic age of from 250 million to 280 million years. They are the result of many times of rising and lowering processes of the continent to form a karst. The process of nearly full erosion and weathering of the karst created the unique Hạ Long Bay in the world. In a not very large area, thousands of islands with different forms look like glittering emeralds attached to the blue scarf of a virgin. The area where many stone islands concentrate has spectacular scenes and world-famous caves and is the center of Hạ Long Bay Natural Heritage, including Ha Long Bay and a part of Bái Tu Long Bay.
The area is recognized as the World Natural Heritage that is the area of 434 sq. km with 775 islands. It looks like a giant triangle with Ðầu Gỗ Island (in the west), Ba Hầm Lake (in the south) and Cống Tây Island (in the east) as its three angle points. The nearby area is the buffer area and areas classified as national beauty spots in 1962 by the Ministry of Culture and Information.
Viewed from above, Hạ Long Bay looks like an extremely vivid huge drawing. This is a wonderful and skilful masterpiece of the Creation and of nature that turns thousands of dumb soulless stone islands into fantastic sculptural and artistic works of various graceful shapes, both familiar and strange to human beings. Thousands of islands emerging uneven in the fanciful waves look strong and magnificent but also mild and vivid. Amidst these islands we feel as if we were astray in a petrified legendary world. There are many names given to islands according to their shapes and forms. This one looks like somebody heading toward the shore: Hòn Ðầu Người (Human Head Island); that one looks like a dragon hovering above the sea surface: Hòn Rông (Dragon Island); another looks like an old man sitting fishing: Hòn Lã Vọng; some look like big sails struggling amidst the wind to set off for the sea: Hòn Cánh Buồm (Sail Island); then two islands look like a pair of chicken lovingly playing with each other above the sea: Hòn Trống Mái (Male and Female Chicken Island); and amid the vast sea stands an island like a big incense burner like a ritual offering to Heaven: Hòn Lư Hương (Incense Burner Island)All are so real that people are taken aback by them. Those stone islands have experienced unpredictable changes over time and they take different shapes from different angles of view. Here, we come to realize that they are not dumb inanimate things but are vivid and soulful.
Inside the stone islands are various breath-taking caves, such as Thiên Cung, Ðầu Gỗ, Sửng Sốt, Trinh Nữ, Tam Cung and others. These are really magnificent palaces of the Creation on earth. Long ago, Hạ Long Bay has been called by the great national poet Nguyễn Trãi:“a wonder of the earth erected towards the high sky”. Many men of letters from all over the world have been taken aback at the grandiose scenery of Hạ Long. They seem to get puzzled and incompetent as their treasure of vocabulary is not rich enough to depict the splendor of this place.
Hạ Long Bay is also attached to glorious pages of Vietnamese history, with famous sites such as Vân Ðồn, a bustling trade port in the 12th century, charming Bài Thơ Mountain, and not very far away from here is the Bạch Đằng River which witnessed two famous naval battles of the Viêt’s ancestors against invaders. Also, Hạ Long is one of the cradles of human kind with the glorious Hạ Long culture in the late Neolithic age, discovered at such archeological sites as Ðộng Mang, Xích Thổ, Soi Nhụ and Thoi Giếng.
Hạ Long is also home to great biodiversity with typical eco-systems like mangrove forest, coral and tropical forest. It is also home to thousands of plants and animals of numerous species, for example shrimp, fish and squid. Some species are particularly rare and can be found no where else.
With such special values, at the 18th Session of UNESCO’s Council of World Heritage held on 17 December 1994 in Thailand, Hạ Long Bay was officially placed on the list of the World Natural Heritage. In 2000, UNESCO recognized it as the World Heritage for the second time for its geographical and geomorphologic values. This confirms the global premier value of Hạ Long Bay.
Wherever you come from, whosoever you are and however old you are, you will certainly experience the same emotion and feeling when admiring this wonder of stone and water. And great experiences will always remain even when you leave the place. The legend of Mother Dragon and Child Dragons sending out pearls to form thousands of stone islands to stop invaders still serve as the soul of this invaluable heritage of the world.
Have you ever come to Hạ Long, the unique wonder of the world of its kind, to admire and explore secretes implicit in the place?
(Source Tourism Information Technology Center & Quảng Ninh Tourism)
Beyond Ha Long Bay
Apart from Ha Long Bay, the rest of Quang Ninh Province has a range of attractions to tempt visitors.
Yen Tu - the sacred mountain
Located about 130 km from Hanoi, a few kilometres north of the main road to Ha Long at Uong Bi, is Yen Tu Mountain, the location of a complex of 11 pagodas and close to a hundred shrines and towers. Many are dedicated to the early founders of Vietnamese Buddhism who lived and worked there.
Heavily visited by domestic pilgrims during the early part of the year, it is worth the long, steep climb not only for its historical interest, but also for the attractive landscape and views. A cable car is a recent innovation.
The heroic battles of Bach Dang
The Bach Dang estuary, the site of two of Vietnam’s greatest victories, lies between Ha Long and Haiphong. In 938 AD, Vietnamese rebels led by General Ngo Quyen defeated a vastly superior Chinese army by sinking sharpened ironwood stakes into the mud so that the enemy ships were impaled when the tide fell, thus ending a thousand years of Chinese occupation. Three hundred and fifty years later, General Tran Hung Dao humbled the mighty hordes of Kublai Khan’s Mongol army, using the identical strategy in exactly the same place, suggesting that the Great Khan should have studied Chinese military history!
Apart from some of the stakes still in their original position, little physical evidence of the battlefield remains to be seen. However, the small town has a good commune house, a decent museum, and is located in a tranquil area of traditional villages and agriculture.
Cam Pha and coal mining
Cam Pha, 20 km east of Ha Long City, has one of the largest open cast coal mines in the world. It's far from beautiful, but the scale of operation (and pollution!) is impressive. A visit needs careful planning, though – we have to negotiate access with the mine authorities.
In the Cua Ong district of Cam Pha, the Cua Ong Temple is a rewarding visit, particularly during the festival period in the three lunar months of spring. Its classic architecture and striking engravings are noteworthy.
Quan Lan's Minh Chau beach is virtually empty of visitors Beyond Cam Pha, there are several ‘soil’ large islands created by alluvial deposits from the Red River. Their sea-facing shorelines are long sandy beaches, and their remote location means that few people visit them, and these is virtually no development of any kind. A boat takes several hours to reach them.
The best of these is Quan Lan, a peaceful island with a small population. There's a three places to stay. Two are very basic but a recently-built small resort is a possibility.
Closer to the shore, and thus more developed, Van Don Island’s beach is long and sandy, and overlooks the eastern extreme of the limestone towers of Ha Long Bay. There are a few local hotels and restaurant. A more up-market ‘resort’ is being developed.
Mong Cai and Tra Co Beach
In the extreme northeast of the area is the large border town of Mong Cai, devastated during the abortive Chinese invasion of Vietnam in 1979 and now re-built. Not far away, and best reached by hydrofoil from Ha Long City, is Tra Co Island. It has a long beach of hard sand – wide and practically deserted. There is also a village with an interesting commune house and pagoda. Accommodation is available in Mong Cai. A new five-star hotel with a casino has opened in the town, but it is mainly aimed at providing overnight accommodation for people passing though the border gate to and from China.