Geography Topography Climate History
Natural Beauty Value of Geology Cultural and historical Value
Festival Halong hotel Halong tours
Situated in the north-east region of Vietnam, Ha Long Bay is a part of the Gulf of Bac Bo, and comprises Ha Long City, the township of Cam Pha and a part of the island district of Van Don. To the south-west it borders the island of Cát Ba, to the east is the sea and the mainland follow a coastline of 120 km. It stretches between the 106º58 and 107º22 eastern meridians and the 20º45 and 20º50 northern parallels.
Ha Long Bay covers a total area of 1,553 sq. km, including 1,969 islands of various sizes, 989 of which have been given names. There are two kinds, limestone and schist, which are concentrated in two main zones: the south-east (belonging to Bai tu long Bay), and the south-west (belonging to Ha Long Bay). The average geological age of the islands is between 250 and 280 million years old.
The densely concentrated zone of stone islands, grottoes and caves, world famous for its spectacular scenery, forms the central zone of Ha Long Bay, which has been listed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. This protected site covers an area of 434 sq. km, comprises 775 islands and forms a triangle: with the Dau go island (Driftwood Island) to the west; the Ba ham Lake (Three Shelter Lake) to the south; and the Cong Tay Island to the east. The regions immediately surrounding the area were classified as a national site by the Ministry of Culture and Information in 1962.
Ha Long Bay is located in a tropical and temperate zone. The four distinct seasons are most evident in a year. The annual average temperature is 22,8ºC. The average temperature in summer is 26,4ºC and the hottest temperature is 35,7ºC. The annual average rainfall is 2,005.4 mm. The period from May to October receives the more important rainfall. The winter lasts from 4 to 5 months. Between the main two seasons are a shorter spring and autumn. The period from August to October is typhoon season.
Ha Long Bay has been called by the great national poet Nguyen Trai: "a wonder of the earth erected towards the high sky.” It is also a place closely linked to Vietnam’s history with such famous geographical names as: Van Don (site of an ancient commercial port); Poem Mountain (with engravings of many poems by emperors and other famous people of the past); and Bach dang River (the location of three fierce naval battles fought against foreign aggressors).
This is not all; Ha Long has been proven by scientists to be one of the first cradles of human existence in the area, with such archaeological sites as Ðồng Mang, Xích Thổ, Soi Nhụ and Thoi Giếng. It is also a region of highly-concentrated biological diversity with many varied ecosystems of salt water-flooded forests, coral reefs and tropical forests, featuring thousands of diverse species of animal and plant life.
While exploring the bay, it’s hard not to feel lost in some legendary world of stone islands. There is an island resembling a man standing and looking towards the mainland. Dragon Island looks like a dragon hovering above the turquoise water. Yet another island, Lã Vọng, resembles an old man fishing, and was named after a famous Chinese mandarin who abandoned his position to become a fisherman. There are also the islands of the Sail, the Trong mai Islet (Cock and Hen Islet), which look like a pair of chicken lovingly playing with each other above the sea; and the Dinh Huong Islet (Incense Burner Islet), which all bear astonishing resemblance to their namesakes. The forms of the islands change incessantly, depending on the angles of lighting and from where they’re viewed.
At the core, are wonderful caves and grottoes such as: Thiên Cung Grotto (Heavenly Residence Grotto), Dau go Grotto (Driftwood Grotto), Sung sot Grotto (Surprise Grotto) and Tam Cung Grotto (Three Palaces Grotto).
With such special values, at the 18th Session of UNESCO’s Council of World Heritage held on 17 December 1994 in Thailand, Ha 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 Ha Long Bay.
Speaking of Ha Long, one must above all talk of the beauty of its water and sky. In a relatively small area (1,553 sq. km), there are 1,969 islands rising from the sea.
Seen from above, Ha Long Bay resembles a light blue handkerchief dotted with emerald gems; sometimes clustered together, sometimes isolated. The clever artistic hand of creation has made thousands of stone islands simulating familiar personages or animals. Like the constellations of the night sky, it’s possible to find a familiar form in every island of Ha Long Bay: one brings to mind a pair of chickens bobbing on the spacious water (Trống Mái Islet); another is like a giant tortoise with half-closed and sleepy eyes (Rùa Islet); another is like an old monk joining his hands in prayer to Buddha, with his face turned to the sea (Ông Sư Islet); yet another is like a giant incense-burner standing in the middle of the sea which used to pray heaven and earth (Ðinh Hương Islet). It is a safe bet that many other islands bearing familiar forms remain undiscovered in the mysterious bay.
The sea of Ha Long is deep blue water throughout all four seasons. In spring, sailing amidst the waves, the stone islands look to be bobbing on the water. As summer approaches and the sun is setting on the far horizon, they appear to awake in unison and rise from the blue depths. The whole bay is bright red, and then turns to blue as the crests of the waves run together towards the shore. Orchids and fig trees, growing from fissures in the stone, bloom with snowy flowers.
As a boat makes its way through this forest of islands by ways of meandering channels, sometimes stone seems to be spread in front of you; forming a wall heeding further progress. Once nearer, the wall appears to crack open as if letting your boat pass. The scenery disappears behind you as yet another panorama opens to your view.
The winding route seems to be endless, but the beauty of Ha Long Bay does not consist only in the forms of it’s mountains, islands and the colour of its waters, but also in its infinitely rich system of grottoes and caves; concentrated mostly in the middle of the UNESCO-protected area. Thiên Cung (Heavenly Palace Grotto) bears a modern and refined trait, while Đầu Gỗ (Driftwood Grotto) is ample and grandiose and Sửng Sốt (Surprise Grotto) appears deeply secretive. There are many beautiful examples, closely linked with legends and popular tales, such as: Trinh Nữ and Trống Grottoes (Virgin and Male Grottoes) and the Fairy Grotto Lake (Ðộng Tiên Lake). Each is a grandiose and refined natural architectural creation.
At sunset, when the mountains’ shadows stretch out long across the bay, the water turns grey-blue, before suddenly transforming to a crimson red as the last of the sun’s rays reach the far away islands. For one short instant, the whole scene mingles into one colour, and then all light is extinguished. After the moon climbs into the sky, the sea seems to be coated with silver, with the lights of Ha Long City reflected on the surface of the water.
It seemed that every islands, caves and beaches in Ha Long closely linked with the legend and popular tale of love, of the heroic song for safeguarding country... Visiting Ha Long Bay is a good chance to witness the romantic and attractive love story, which happened only in the legend.
The 18th meeting of the Committee of the World Heritages of UNESCO (in Thailand on December 17th, 1994), officially recognized Ha Long Bay as a natural heritage of worldwide importance. And Ha Long Bay is honorly recognized as a world natural heritage once again for its geological value.
Value of Geology
The most remarkable geological events of Ha Long Bay’s history in the last 1,000 years include the advance of the sea, the raising of the bay area and the strong erosion that has formed coral and pure blue and heavily salted water. This process of erosion by seawater has deeply engraved the stone, contributing to its fantastic beauty. Present-day Ha Long Bay is the result of this long process of geological evolution that has been influenced by so many factors. Some of the most remarkable are: the formation of the limestone layer more than 1,000 m thick during the Carboniferous and Permian periods (240 to 340 million years ago); and the development of the Ha Long depression during the Neogene period (10 to 26 million years ago). The erosion process forming the limestone plain was most active in the Quaternary Pleistocene epoch (11,000 to 2 million years ago). It is because of all these factors that tourists now visiting Ha Long Bay are not only treated to one of the true wonders of the world, but also to a precious geological museum that has been naturally preserved in the open air for the last 300 million years.
At the beginning of the Cambrian era (500 to 570 million years ago), the area, which now forms Ha Long Bay, was basically mainland, submitted to a process of rain erosion. At the end of the period, it was flooded, commencing the existence of Ha Long Bay. During the Odovic and Silurian periods (400 to 500 million years ago), the area of north-east Vietnam was basically a deep sea, submitted to the constant activity of tectonic plates. At the end of the Silurian period, it underwent a phase of inverse-motion that created mountains deep under the water. From the end of this period and throughout the whole Devonian period (340 to 420 million years ago), the area was subjected to powerful forces of erosion from the hot and dry climate. At this point, Ha Long was part of a wide mainland that comprised most of today’s East Sea and Chinese continental shelf. Due to tectonic activity, the Ha Long area and the entire north-east region were raised from the depths at the end of the Devonian period. In the later Carboniferous and Permian periods (240 to 340 million years ago), a shallow and warm sea reformed, which existed for approximately 100 million years. It created two kinds of limestone: the Cat ba layer of the early Carboniferous period (450 m thick); and the Quang Hanh layer of the middle Carboniferous and the early Permian period (750 m thick). These two layers constitute the majority of the islands of the Bay.
Passing into the early periods of the Contemporary era (67 million years ago), Ha Long Bay existed in the environment of a high mountainous mainland due to the influence of strong mountain-forming phases. The middle of the Paleocene period saw these motions remain continuous and stable, while strong processes of erosion began, and after millions of years, a form of semi-highland topography took shape. The continuation of this erosion has progressively cut the highlands into blocks with altitudes similar to today's mountains.
Into to the Quaternary era, the process of erosion began dissolving the limestone-rich region of Ha Long. The islands of today’s Ha Long Bay are basically remnants of these mountains flooded during the early Holocene period. Rainwater flowed into crevices in the limestone that had formed from tectonic activity. This steady erosion constantly widened the cracks, eventually creating today’s formations. The middle and late Pleistocene epoch (11,000 to 70,000 years ago) marks the period when the famous caves and grottoes of the area formed.
The Holocene period (from 7,000 to 11,000 years ago) is notable for the advance of the sea. This movement reached its peak 4,000 to 7,000 years ago and forming today’s Ha Long Bay. After that, 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, with the sea in a steady process of recession, Ha Long culture began to develop. At the beginning of the late Holocene epoch, the level of the water once again increased, forming a marshy floor of canals and streams, and creating the water marks that can be seen on the stone cliffs of today.
Cultural and historical Value
The beauty of Ha Long Bay consists in its mountains, water, clouds, caves and grottoes. Many, however, do not realise that Ha Long was also the cradle of an ancient people who helped create the present Ha Long culture.
At the end of 1937, a Swedish archaeologist named Anderson, together with two French archaeologist sisters named Conani, journeyed for months through Ha Long sea. They climbed mountains, visited caves and explored the coastline, finding many stone artefacts: axes, grinding tables, sewing needles and jewellery. They called the culture that formed these remnants “Ngọc Vừng” In the months and years following, Vietnamese archaeologists continued their research and made many excavations; discovering more archaeological sites, such as Ðồng Mang, Xích Thổ and Soi Nhụ. Through an area of some hundreds of square kilometres, they discovered many stone artefacts and pieces of broken designed pottery.
Throughout its development, Ha Long has had a particularly important position; being situated on the communication routes between China, Japan and Thailand. Gradually, it became the centre of cultural and commercial exchanges between these countries and ancient Vietnam. The book Comprehensive History of Ðậi Việt reads: "In the second month of the spring of the year of Kỷ Tỵ, the 10th year of the reign of Lý Anh Tông (1149), the commercial port of Vân Ðồn was established.” In the long period overlapping the Lý, Tran and Lê dynasties, Vân Ðồn was a place of busy commercial and cultural exchanges between Vietnam and its South-East Asian neighbours. A remaining vestige of the ancient commercial port is Cái Làng Wharf (Quan Lan).
Vân Ðồn is also a site that witnessed glorious feats of war against the invasion of the Yuan-Mongols aggressors. It was here that the enemy, General Truong Dinh Ho, had an entire fleet of food supply boats set ablaze by Tran Khanh Du. This contributed greatly to the victory of Bach dang river.
Closely linked to this animated commercial centre were many religious architectural constructions; built to meet the requirements of both traders and the population that practised Catholicism and Buddhism.
(Yen Tu Vestige) Poetry
(Bai Tho Moutain Vestige )
At Soi Nhụ, researchers found three fossilised human skeletons.
In particular, in the central zone of the present UNESCO World Heritage Site area, there have been recent discoveries of fascinating archaeological finds: Mê Cung, Thiên Long and Tiên Ông grottoes. The quantity of ancient shellfish in the Melina Spring, indicated by the 1.5 m-thick heaps of shells, amounts to hundreds of cubic metres.
The archaeological sites of the Ha Long culture are distributed everywhere, but are mostly found on the sandy beaches of the coastline, and in these caves and grottoes: Ngọc Vừng, Tuần Châu, Xích Thô and Ðông Mang. There are also sites far from the coast, such as Thoi Giêng and Tiên Ông. Wherever the remnants of the first peoples of Ha Long are found, they seem to bear a common characteristic: the same materials, techniques, forms and designs. Scientists have called it the "Ha Long culture of the late period of the new Stone Age.”
In Cái Làng Wharf, along to 200m-long coastline scientists had found broken pieces of pottery and china forming a 0.6 m-thick layer. Ages date from between the Lý and Tran dynasties. Here, there are also foundations of ancient houses once built along the wharf. Apart from here, many other ancient wharves have been found, such as: Cống Ðông, Công Yên, Ngọc Vừng, Quan Lạn and Cái Bầu. They have featured similar artefacts.
On Cống Ðông Island alone, four pagodas were built. Among them, the Lâm Pagoda is one of the most ancient in the area. It was built under the Tran Dynasty with three gates, a shrine to Buddha, anterior cult room and house of ancestors. On the north-east side of the pagoda was a tower, the remnants of which indicate it was a large and solemn construction.
Bach Dang Festival
Place: Yên Giang Commune, Yên Hưng District
Time: The festival is organized on the eight day of the fourth lunar month, some years last 4 days and nights.
Significance: It celebrates the Bạch Ðằng Victories of national heroes struggled against foreign aggression: Ngo Quyen (938); Le Hoan (981); and Tran Hung Dao and the famous generals of the Tran Dynasty (1288).
Bach Dang River has been etched into locals’ memories as a site where national heroes struggled against foreign aggression. These included: Ngo Quyen who planted sharp wooden stakes into the riverbed to defeat a Chinese invasion force (938); Le Hoan (981); and Tran Hung Dao and the famous generals of the Trân Dynasty (1288).
The ceremonies are comprised of the usual incense burning and offerings in Tran Hung Dao Temple and Vua Ba Temple. The populations of the village stage a procession along the banks of the river, and also have a boat race. Bamboo leaf-shaped kayaks gliding across the water surface with the shouting of spectators celebrate the victories of days gone by.
Along with the boat races, other entertainment is organized for the festival, such as wrestling, human chess playing, and cock-fighting.
Cua Ong Festival
Place: Cửa Ông Temple, Cửa Ông Ward, Cẩm Phả Town.
Time: Yearly, the festivities take place at the Cửa Ông Temple from the second day of the first lunar month until the end of the third lunar month.
Significance: Cửa Ông Temple is dedicated to Tran Quốc Tảng, the third son of Trân Hưng Ðạo, who defeated many enemies and brought peace to the region. Hoàng Câu, a local general who fought bravely against invaders, is also honoured here. The festival dedicates to the merit of Tran Quốc Tảng and other Generals of Trân Dynasty.
Cửa Ông Temple is one of the famous Trân Dynasty vestiges of the northeast region. The temple has three areas: low, middle and high, facing the majestic Bái Tu Long Bay. During the war, the middle and lower temples were both destroyed, but today the low temple has been restored.
Formerly, locals organized the main festivity on the second day of the third lunar month. There were grand cult ceremonies, and a palanquin procession carrying Tran Quốc Tảng’s funeral tablets from the temple to a shrine in Trác Chân Commune. Legend has it that this was the place where Tran Quốc Tảng’s ashes drifted after being dispersed on the river. The procession would then proceed back to the temple, symbolizing the inspection tour of Tran Quốc Tảng (called Ðức Ông).
Yen Tu Festival
Place: The mountainous region of Yen tu, Thượng Yên Công Commune, Uong Bi Town
Time: Yen tu festivities begin on the ninth day of the first lunar month and last until the end of the third lunar month.
Significance: Yen tu has been a centre of Buddhism for many centuries, and is the starting point of the Buddhist sect of Truc Lam. Travellers to Yen tu Festival to stay away from the mundane and go on a religion pilgrimage in the midst of the mighty nature.
There is a popular saying about Yen tu:"Even after 100 years of virtuous religious life, if you don't come to Yen tu you cannot be called a true religious person".
In the wide ensemble of vestiges in Yen tu, there are 11 pagodas and hundreds of shrines and towers. One form of entertainment is to climb the peak to where the Ðông Pagoda was built (1,068m above the sea).
On the way, you'll see pagodas, a tower, a stream and a forest. At the top, after having burned joss-sticks, you seem to be lost in nature somewhere between the sky and the earth. When clear, you can perceive almost all of the northeast area from here.