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Towering limestone pillars and tiny islets topped by forest rise from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Halong translates as ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’ and legend tells that this mystical seascape was created when a great mountain dragon charged towards the coast, its flailing tail gouging out valleys and crevasses. As the creature plunged into the sea, the area filled with water leaving only the pinnacles visible. The geological explanation of karst erosion may be more prosaic, but doesn’t make this seascape any less poetic.

Designated a World Heritage site in 1994, Halong Bay’s spectacular scatter of islands, dotted with wind- and wave-eroded grottoes, is a vision of ethereal beauty and, unsurprisingly, northern Vietnam’s number one tourism hub. Sprawling Halong City is the bay’s main gateway but its dowdy high-rises are a disappointing doorstep to this site. Most visitors sensibly opt for cruise-tours that include sleeping on board within the bay, while a growing number are deciding to eschew the main bay completely, heading straight for Cat Ba Island from where trips to less-visited but equally alluring Lan Ha Bay are easily set up.

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Panorama of Halong Bay in Vietnam with green leaves in foreground. Cliffs and rocks standing out of water with boats floating around. Light fog in distance. Popular travel destination.

Panorama of Halong Bay in Vietnam with green leaves in foreground. Cliffs and rocks standing out of water with boats floating around. Light fog in distance. Popular travel destination.

OFFICIAL ENGLISH NAME: HALONG BAY

Administrative Division: Halong City, Quang Ninh Province

Area: 1553km2 and 120km coastline; covering over 3000 islets with water body

Population: about 1600 people living in floating fishing villages: Cua Van, Ba Hang, Cong Tau & Vong Vieng

Recognition:

– 1962: ‘Renowned National Landscape Monument’ by Vietnam Tourism Authority.

– 1994: UNESCO World Heritage Site by UNESCO

– 2012: New 7 Wonders by New 7 Wonders Foundation

– Member of Club of the Most Beautiful Bays of the World

Mentioning about Halong, ones would not hesitate to use the most beautiful words to describe the breathtaking natural scenery of the Bay. Besides the unique natural scenery, the bay has a great geological value.

The long-lasting history of geological formation of Halong Bay is known with more than 500 million years of changes between mountain growing, marine degradation, mountain sinking, and encroaching sea. Halong used to be a very deep sea during Odovic – Silua era, shallow sea during Cacbon – Pecmi era, and coastal area during Plaogen – Neogen era. Not only that, contributing on the present natural wonder Halong Bay was the result of a magnificent ancient marine limestone accumulation, which reached above 1,000 meters 340-240 million years ago, and the Karst erosion period of more than 20 million years.

Halong Bay was also an excellent example for Karst period of developing and dominating under the humid tropical weather of Vietnam. The bay went through the Karst evolution in million years, due to the combination of geological and climatic factors like thick limestone in association with tropical climate, and finally the slow tectonic uplift in general.

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Halong bay cruise