View of Halong Bay

Vietnam is a land of mystique and drama. Its history and location make it so tantalisingly near to Asians and yet so distant. Its people and culture share many similarities with the rest of South East Asians, but its violent history rend it apart from the common progress and philosophy of its neighbours. It is nevertheless trying to catch up at an anxious pace and tourism is one of its prongs to catch a slice of the cake.

If you go to Halong Bay, the serenity of the place and the tempting seafood will delight your senses and tastebuds. Moreover, the relatively cheap prices of food and transport won’t set you back very far. Halong Bay, situated in the gulf of Tonkin is arresting with its array of limestone islands and caves. You can travel by boat to explore the islands and caves. A chartered boat costs US$15 per hour and entrance into each grotto is US$1 per person. One should not miss the sumptuous meal that can be dished out on the boat including stir-fried mussels, delicious soft-shell crab, succulent prawns, and piping hot deep-fried spring rolls. The sea breeze can only increase one’s appetite. Halong Bay is also filled with legends and myths. One is transported into a different world as one journeys tranquilly through the bay and marvels at stories of a dragon king, a beautiful maiden and a spectacular wedding witnessed by creatures of the underwater kingdom.

Halong Bay is one of the best-kept secrets of South East Asia. The bay is about 170km or three-and-a-half-hour’s bus ride from Hanoi. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994. Among places to visit are Bai Tho (Poem) Mountain, Tuan Chau Islet, Trinh Nu (Virgin) and Trong (Male) Grottos.

Harbour in Hong Gai at Halong Bay

Halong Bay is a body of water of approximately 1,500 square kilometres in north Vietnam with a 120 kilometre coastline, in the Gulf of Tonkin near the border with China, and 170 kilometres east of Hanoi. “Vịnh Hạ Long” — Halong Bay — means “Bay of the Descending Dragon” in the Vietnamese language. Hạ means “descending” and Long means “dragon” in Sino-Vietnamese.

Simple life


Halong bay consists of a dense cluster of 1,969 limestone monolithic islands, each topped with thick jungle vegetation, which rise spectacularly from the ocean. Several of the islands are hollow, with enormous caves. Hang Đầu Gỗ (Wooden stakes Cave) is the largest grotto in the Halong area. French tourists visited in the late 19th century, and named the cave Grotte des Merveilles. Its three large chambers contain large numerous stalactites and stalagmites (as well as 19th century French graffiti). There are two bigger islands, Tuan Chau and Cat Ba, that have permanent inhabitants. Both of them have tourist facilities, including hotels and beaches. There are a number of wonderful beaches on the smaller islands.