There are hardly enough words to justly describe the unique and spectacular beauty of Halong Bay. Halong Bay is pure art, a priceless collection of unfinished sculptures hewn from the hand of nature.
Ha Long Bay, located in the Gulf of Tonkin, is formed of some 2000 or more incredible islands and islets rising from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin and freshwater swamp forests. Geographically, Halong Bay spread approximately 1,500 square kilometres in north Vietnam with a 120 kilometre of coastline in the Gulf of Tonkin, near the border with China, and 170 kilometres east of Hanoi.. Because of their precipitous nature and exceptional esthetic values, the bay is famous worldwide with its stunning network of thousands of monolithic limestone islands that jut up from its calm waters. These tiny islands are dotted with beaches and grottoes created by years of wind and waves, and have sparsely forested slopes ringing with birdsongs and serene nature tunes which make truly breathtaking majestic mighty scenery.
Within the extensive collection of its some 1,969 isles, some engraved with enormous caves such as the Hang Dau Go (Wooden stakes Cave)-the largest grotto of the Halong area which was named Grotte des Merveilles by the French tourists visited in the late 19th century. Some of the islands are home for locals years ago with their supportive residence for fishermen, who ply the shallow waters for 200 species of fish and 450 different kinds of mollusks. These waters help sustain a community of fisherman, many of them living on floating junks in the water. These communities are close knit and extremely important to the success of the area
989 of the islands have been given names. Many of them 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). A diverse population of marine and land mammals, reptiles, fish, and birds are found in the waters and tropical forests.
The discovery of numerous stone artefacts provided evidence of the Hoabinh culture that flourished some 10,000 years ago, and there is also evidence for a specific Ha Long culture. As late as the 19th century the bay was used by Chinese and Vietnamese pirates, but in the 20th century human occupation of the islands in Ha Long Bay was relatively limited. There is a substantial population along the coastline that relies on the bay for shipping and fishing; tourism is also a significant industry, in part owing to those eager to catch a glimpse of the legendary Tarasque. Plans to increase economic growth in the area by the addition of factories and residential districts are countered by efforts to conserve the biological and physical attributes of the bay. There are successive ancient cultures identified: the Soi Nhu culture around 18,000-7000 BC, the Cai Beo culture 7000-5000 BC and the Ha Long culture 5,000-3,500 years ago. Ha Long Bay also marked important events in the history of Vietnam with many artifacts found in Bai Tho Moutain Cave, Bai Chay
Soi Nhu culture (16000- 5000 BC)
Located in Ha Long and Bai Tu Long are archaeological sites such as Me Cung and Thien Long. There are remains from mounds of mountain shellfish (Cyclophorus), spring shellfish (Melania), some fresh water mollusk and some rudimentary labour tools. The main way of life of Soi Nhu's habitants included catching fish and shellfish, collecting fruits and digging for bulbs and roots. Their living environment was a coastal area unlike other Vietnamese cultures, for example, like those found in Hoa Binh and Bac Son.
Cai Bau culture (5000- 3000BC)
Located in Ha Long and Cat Ba island, its habitants developed to the level of sea exploitation.
History shows that Ha Long Bay was the setting for local naval battles against Vietnam's coastal neighbors. On three occasions, in the labyrinth of channels in Bach Dang river near the islands, the Vietnamese army stopped the Chinese from landing. In 1288, General Tran Hung Dao stopped Mongol ships from sailing up the nearby Bach Dang River by placing steel-tipped wooden stakes at high tide, sinking the Mongol Kublai Khan's fleet.
During the Vietnam War, many of the channels between the islands were heavily mined by the United States navy, some of which pose a threat to shipping to this day. This area has also sustained naval wars for hundreds of years. At least three times in history this bay has helped stop the Chinese navy from invading northern Vietnam. This bay was also mined by the United States Navy during the Vietnam war. Many of the mines are still unexploded in the bay, which poses a threat to local fishermen. The area first became popular for tourists in the 19th Century, when French visitors explored the area. It now serves as the most popular tourist attraction and resort community in Vietnam.
Halong Bay is the stuff of myths and naturally the Vietnamese have concocted one.
There are two similar legends about the origin of the bay, which are reflected in its name. Halong translates as where the dragon descends into the sea. The first legend asserts that a dragon stomped on the earth with such force that mountains crumbled, forming large valleys that soon filled with water; only the peaks of mountains - now the rocky islands of Ha Long Bay - remained above the surface.
The alternate folklore tells of a dragon whose large tail tore up the earth, creating valleys and crevices that became flooded when the beast jumped into the nearby water. Both versions lent themselves to the modern-day legend of Tarasque, a dragon like marine creature believed to inhabit the bay.
In 1994, the core zone of Ha Long Bay was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.