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Halong Bay Travel Guide

The name “Halong” means “descending dragon.” According to local legend, the rocks and islands that dot the bay were created in ancient times, when the gods sent a family of dragons to help the Vietnamese people protect themselves against foreign invaders. The dragons started spitting out jewels, which turned into islands and mountains that destroyed the invaders’ ships.


More than 500 years ago, Confucian scholar Nguyen Trai called the bay a "rock wonder in the sky.” The magnificent limestone karst scenery still attracts crowds; in 1994, the bay formally received the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site.


You can explore the bay as most visitors do - on board a two-day cruise - or by staying overnight on one of the smaller islands, such as Cat Ba. Either option offers a great way to see this natural wonder.


There are more than 3,000 limestone islands in Halong Bay, including many hollow ones that contain caves. Many tours offer the opportunity to kayak through several grottoes, which allows you to see the impressive scenery up close.


The largest cave is Hang Đầu Gỗ, which colonial French tourists called “Grotte des Merveilles” (Cave of Wonders). It features three enormous chambers filled with spectacular stalagmites and stalactites, as well as some prime examples of 19th century graffiti. The Vietnamese name, which literally means “Cave of Wooden Stakes,” is a reference to the wooden stakes inside the cave - supposedly the remnants of underwater columns that the infamous 13th-century general Trần Hưng Đao built to sink the ships of Mongolian invaders.


Many people around here make their living from fishing and aquaculture. Getting off the boat to explore one of their floating fishing villages provides a worthwhile glimpse into local life.

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