| Nguyen Thi Thuy Anh & Zhang Jianhua |
HANOI (Xinhua) – If Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi is called the “ascending dragon”, there is a place in the country where the dragon descends and this is Ha Long Bay, literally “the descending dragon bay” in the Vietnamese language.
Dubbed as the most picturesque place in Vietnam, the postcard perfect bay is located in the Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnam’s northeastern province of Quang Ninh, some 120 km east of Hanoi.
Ha Long Bay was first listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 in recognition of its outstanding, universal aesthetic value. In 2000, the World Heritage Committee additionally recognised Ha Long Bay for its outstanding geological features, particularly its islets and caves.
Visitors can board a tourist boat to see the bay and enjoy the serenity of the surrounding blue sea with rock formations in the background.
Ha Long has four distinctive features depending on the season: in spring, it features the pristine beauty of the bay with green buds blanketing limestone mountains; in summer, it has colourful flowers dotting the islands; in autumn, the bay’s islets are covered by yellow bamboo; and in winter, the islets and the sea are shrouded in fog and drizzle.
Covering an area of 43,400 hectares with islands and islets, most of which remains uninhabited and unaffected by humans, Ha Long Bay forms a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars developed over the years by a combination of warm and wet tropical climate. The property’s exceptional idyllic beauty is complemented by its great geological structures.
The outstanding value of the property is centred on the submerged limestone karst landforms, displaying spectacular pillar-like islands and islets with a variety of coastal features resulting from soil erosion such as arches and caves which are part of the bay’s majestic natural scenery, according to the assessment of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
A distinctive feature of Ha Long Bay is the abundance of lakes within the larger limestone islands. Extensive limestone caves represent another important feature of the bay. Visitors can see thousands of rock formations and islands in various shapes and sizes jutting out from the sea, structures beautifully carved by Mother Nature.
They can use their imagination to name each island and cave based on its shape, from Fighting Cocks (or Kissing Cocks) islet and Dog Stone to Cat Stone and Golden Tortoise Cave.
Visiting the caves that abound around the bay, tourists can experience something unique and awe-inspiring.
Being considered as the largest and most magnificent cave in the bay, Hang Sung Sot, located in the middle of Ha Long Bay, was discovered by a Frenchman in 1901 who named it as “Grotte des Surprises” or “Cave of Surprises”.
The name of the cave exactly describes the feeling of a visitor once he or she is inside. Entering a narrow path leading to the cave, the visitor will be met by with various shapes of hanging stalactites that look like giant chandeliers.
From the highest point of the cave, the panorama of Ha Long Bay comes into sight with boats sailing peacefully on the tranquil water.
Another cave, which is considered as one of the most wonderful caves in Ha Long Bay is Dong Thien Cung (Heaven Cave). It was not until 1993 that the cave was accidentally discovered by a local man who went to the mountain to gather firewood.
Located 25 metres above the sea level, one has to pass craggy cliffs to reach Dong Thien Cung.
The legend was told that the Dragon Prince fell in love with a beautiful woman called “Nang May” (Ms Cloud). They held a wedding party inside the cave for seven days and seven nights. The legend of the wedding party is depicted through the stalactites and stalagmites in the shapes of dragon, elephant, eagle and lion inside the cave.
Visitors can also see “Hon Trong Mai”, or rock of the male and female chickens, a famous islet in Ha Long Bay. Another islet is called “Ga Choi”, or rock of the fighting cocks.
The Trong Mai islet rises about 10 metres above the sea level and is shaped like a couple rising from the sea.
Local people say that Trong Mai islet represents fidelity to love as the two have stood by each other for thousands of years, making it the symbol of Ha Long Bay and also of Vietnam’s tourism.