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Quảng Ninh, Vietnam

GPS: 20.816581262884, 107.17992031851

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Hạ Long Bay is located in Quảng Ninh Province, in the north-east of Vietnam, not far from the city of Hanoi (160 kilometres). This natural wonder of the Gulf of Tonkin forms one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Because of its proximity to the Chinese borders, Hạ Long Bay has been the setting for several naval battles in its history, all won by the Vietnamese army. From the 15th to the end of the 18th centuries, this maritime area was an important base for pirates attacking merchant ships operating in South-East Asia, between China, Japan and Thailand. They were hunted by British Royal Navy ships to secure the transport of goods (including opium) in the South China Sea, although some acts of piracy still occur in the region.

Home to the largest marine karst in the world, Hạ Long Bay occupies a large body of water covering an area of 1,500 km². This former centre of international trade boasts a spectacular maritime landscape consisting of 120 kilometres of coastline and a natural labyrinth of almost 2,000 islets of karst nature. Renowned for its geological heritage, rocky peaks, limestone cliffs, lush forests, intimate coves and primitive caves, Hạ Long Bay is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful panoramas in the world. It has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1994. Its landscape is constantly changing due to the effect of wind, currents and marine erosion.

Archaeological research has shown that this natural site has been inhabited for several millennia and is one of the cradles of humanity. Even today, the dwellings of fishermen who reside permanently in Hạ Long Bay are scattered over multiple floating villages, built from woven bamboo. Due to their steep relief, most of the islands are uninhabited and relatively unspoiled from human influence, although tourism activity is increasingly developing there. In recent years, this part of the world has been the subject of fierce territorial disputes between China and Vietnam over the control and exploitation of its large oil reserves.

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  • The calcareous hill rocks that emerge by the hundreds from the waters of Hạ Long Bay and which are crowned by a vast forest cover
  • The beaches of Bai Chay, Soi Sim, Ba Trai Dao, Tuần Châu, Ngoc Vung, Minh Chau and Quan Lan; the caves of Thien Cung (“Paradise Cave”), Dau Go, Bo Nau, Trinh Nu, Tam Cung and Sung Sot (“Surprise Cave”)
  • The floating fishing villages of the bay including Cong Dam, Cua Van, Vung Viêng, Ba Hang and Cape La
  • The archaeological sites of Dong Mang, Xich Tho, Soi Nhu and Thoi Gieng
  • The numerous possibilities to make mini cruises for a day or several days; Nautical activities (diving, swimming, fishing and kayaking); local seafood and fish; pho (traditional soup to be tasted all over Vietnam); the Tai chi classes on the deck of a boat in a majestic setting
  • The geological, biological and oceanographic value of the bay; a rich biodiversity including rare plant and animal species; mangrove, rainforest and coral reef ecosystems (nearly 150 different species of coral)
  • The cable-stayed Bãi Cháy Bridge; Bài Tho Mountain and Titov Island offering some of the best views of Hạ Long Bay ; the museum-library of Quang Ninh; the Quang Ninh Exhibition Center (Cung Cá Heo); The nature reserve of Dong Son – Ky Thuong Forest
  • The neighbouring bays of Bai Tu Long to the east and Lan Ha to the south are less well known but equally admirable; the archipelago of Cát Bà Island near Hạ Long Bay and little frequented by travellers: it offers wild landscapes worthy of Jurassic Park movie sets
  • The Ha Long Carnival and its parade of floats (end of April); the leisure park Sun World Halong Complex
  • In ancient Vietnamese, Hạ Long means “descending dragon”. According to the legend, the Jade Emperor (Chinese god of Taoist origin) was helped by a dragon to repel invaders from the north. He would have spat emeralds and pearls to form an impassable wall over the bay. When the battle was won, this wall was transformed into a series of islands and islets of different shapes where the dragon now rests. Other Vietnamese myths and legendary tales are regularly associated with Hạ Long Bay.
  • Hạ Long Bay has already been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on two occasions: in 1994 as natural heritage and in 2000 for its geological and geomorphological value. After having approached Cát Bà Island to pool its protection and management actions, Hạ Long Bay plans to apply for a third classification for its archaeological resources.
  • The limestone formations in Hạ Long Bay are the result of a long natural process that began about 500 million years ago. Most of the islands in the bay are named according to their shape, uniqueness or historical references. There are still several hundred islets and rocky outcrops that have no official name.
  • Nearly 500 boats, junks and craft pass each day in Hạ Long Bay (just under 200 offer overnight accommodation).
  • This grandiose natural site is affected by several sources of pollution (discharges from nearby coal mines, anarchic constructions in coastal areas, over-visitation by tourists, dilapidated boats, aquaculture and over-fishing activities…). Without the implementation of protective measures for better water management, the Hạ Long Bay could lose its classification on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Aware of the environmental issues at stake, the authorities have recently set up an action plan to reduce human and industrial pollution in the bays of Hạ Long, Hải Phòng and Bai Tu Long. As a sign that things are changing, the use of single-use plastic products is now banned in Hạ Long Bay. Other operations to protect the bay’s coral reef ecosystems and habitats are underway (creation of strictly protected areas, formation of human patrols, improvement of the waste management system, new restrictions on fishing and shipping…).
  • The best time to explore Hạ Long Bay is from April to May or August to November (outside the typhoon season). Depending on the season, it may be preferable to visit its southern part or neighbouring bays to avoid the crowds.
  • If possible, avoid staying in this region on a public holiday as local accommodation providers tend to double the price of their rooms.
  • Mini day or multi-day cruises on board a junk can be a great way to visit this beautiful region. Be wary, however, of some operators who do not always respect rudimentary safety conditions (several fatal accidents have occurred in recent years).
  • Renting a kayak will allow you to reach the most peaceful parts of Hạ Long Bay.

Where to eat

  • Linh Dan Restaurant
    (fresh seafood)
  • Hana Hana
    (Japanese cuisine)
  • 1958 Restaurant
    (succulent seafood)

Where to go out

  • Bai Tu Long National Park
    (less busy than Hạ Long)
  • Yen Tu Mountain
    (the Mecca of Buddhism)
  • Quang Ninh Museum
    (cultural wonder)

Where to sleep

  • The Light Hotel
    (family-friendly hotel)
  • Viethouse Lodge
    (well-located guesthouse)
  • Halong Paradise Suites
    (elegant and refined hotel)

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