Situated in the North-East region of Vietnam, and 165km from the capital of Hanoi, Halong Bay is a part of the Gulf of Tonkin, comprises the sea region of Halong City, Cam Pha City and a part of Van Don Island District. To the south-west it borders the island of Cat Ba (Hai Phong City), to the east is the sea, and the mainland follow a coastline of 120km to the north. It stretches between the 106°8' and 107°22' eastern meridians and the 20°45’ and 20°50’ northern parallels.
Halong Bay covers a total area of 1,553 sq.km, including 1,969 islands of various sizes, 989 of which have been given names. There are two kinds, limestone and schist, which are concentrated in two main zones: the south-west (belonging to Halong Bay), and the south-east (belonging to Bai Tu Long Bay). The average geological age of the islands is between 250 and 280 million years old. The densely concentrated zone of stone islands, grottoes and caves, world famous spectacular scenery, forms the central zone of Halong Bay which has been listed as one of UNESCO's world heritage sites. This Protected site covers an area of 434 sq.km, comprises 775 islands and forms a triangle with Dau Go Island (Driftwood Island) to the west, Ba Ham Lake (Three-Shelter Lakes) to the south, and Cong Tay Island to the east.
Halong Bay is located in a tropical and tem-pirate zone. The four distinct seasons are most evident in a year. The annual average temperature is 22.8°C. The average temper-nature in summer is 26.4°C and the hottest temperature is 37°C. The annual average rainfall is 2,005.4mm. The period from May to October receives the more important rainfall. The winter lasts from 4 to 5 months. Between the main two seasons are a shorter spring and autumn. The period from August to October is typhoon season.
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Legend of Halong Bay
It has said that, once upon a time, soon after the Viet people established their country, invaders came. The Jade Emperor sent Mother Dragon and her Child Dragons down to the earth to help the Viet people fight against their enemy. Right at the time invaders' boats were rushing to the shore, the dragons landed down on the earth. The dragons immediately sent out from their mouths a lot of pearls, which then turned into thousands of stone islands emerging in the sea like great walls challenging the invaders' boats. The fast boats couldn't manage to stop and crashed into the islands and into each other and broke into pieces.
After the victory, Mother Dragon and Child Dragons didn't return the Heaven but stayed on the Earth at the place where the battle had occurred. The location Mother Dragon landed is nowadays Halong Bay and where Child Dragons descended is now Bai Tu Long. The dragons' tails waving the water created Long Vi (present Tra Co peninsula) and formed a fine sand beach over ten kilometers long.
Outstanding Universal Values
Halong Bay is a spectacular seascape sculpted by nature, comprises of a multitude of limestone islands and islets with variety of sizes and shapes rising from the sea. The outstanding features of Halong Bay include the magnificent towering limestone pillars and associated notches, arches and caves which are exceptionally well-developed and among the best presented of their type in the world. The repeated regression and transgression of the sea on the limestone karst over geological time have produced a mature landscape of clusters of conical peaks and isolated towers. Halong Bay also displays the full range of karst formation processes on a very large scale and over a very long period of geological time, possessing the most complete and extensive example of its type in the world and proving a unique and extensive reservoir of data for the future understanding of geo- demotic history and the nature of karst processes in a complex environment.
Besides, Ha Long's exceptional scenic beauty is complemented by its great biological interest. Halong also has been proven by scientists to be one of the first cradles of human existence in the area with several archaeological sites.
With such special values, at the 18th Session of UNESCO's Council of World Heritage held on 17 December 1994 in Thailand, Halong Bay was officially placed on the list of the World Natural Heritage. In 2000, UNESCO recognized it as the World Heritage for the second time for its geographical and geomorphologic values. This confirms the global premier value of Halong Bay.
In addition, Halong Bay has been recognized as one of 7 natural wonders of the world since 11 November 2011.
Speaking of Ha Long, one must above all talk of the beauty of its stone, water and sky. In a relatively small area, there are various islands and islets forming some legendary world of stone islands. Halong Bay has been called by the great national poet Nguyen Trai (1380-1442): "a wonder of the earth erected towards the high sky."
Seen from above, Halong Bay resembles a light blue handkerchief dotted with emerald gems; sometimes clustered together, sometimes isolated. The clever artistic hand of creation has made thousands of stone islands simulating familial' personages or animals.
Like the constellations of the sky, it's possible to find a familiar form in every island of Halong Bay: one brings to mind a pair of chickens bobbing on the spacious water (Trong Mai Islet); another is like a giant tortoise with half-closed and sleepy eyes (Rua Islet); another is like an old monk joining his hands in prayer to Buddha, with his face turned to the sea (Ong Su Islet); yet another is like a giant incense-burner standing in the middle of the sea which used to pray the Heaven and the Earth (Dinh Huong Islet); Rong (Dragon) Island looks like a dragon hovering above the turquoise water. It is a safe bet that many other islands bearing familiar forms remain undiscovered in the mysterious bay.
The sea of Ha Long is deep blue water throughout all four seasons. In the spring, sailing amidst the waves, the stone islands look to be bobbing on the water. As the summer approaches and the sun is setting on the far horizon, they appear to awake in unison and rise from the blue depths. The whole bay is bright red, and then turns to blue as the crests of the waves run together towards the shore. Orchids and fig trees, growing from fissures in the stone, bloom with snowy flowers. At the sunset, when the mountains' shadows stretch out long across the bay, the water turns grey-blue, before suddenly transforming to a crimson red as the last of the sun's rays reach the far away islands. For one short instant, the whole scene mingles into one colour, and then all light is extinguished. After the moon climbs into the sky, the sea seems to be coated with silver, with the lights of Halong City reflected on the surface of the water. As a boat makes its way through this forest of islands by ways of meandering channels, sometimes stone seems to be spread in front of you; forming a wall heeding further progress. Once nearer, the wall appears to crack open as if letting your boat pass. The scenery disappears behind you as yet an-other panorama opens to your view.
The winding route seems to be endless, but the beauty of Halong Bay does not consist only in the forms of its mountains, islands and the colour of its waters, but also in its infinitely rich system of grottoes and caves; concentrated mostly in the middle of the UNESCO-protected area. Thien Cung (Heavenly Palace) Grotto bears a modern and refined trait, while Dau Go (Driftwood) Grotto is ample and grandiose and Sung Sot (Surprise) Grotto appears deeply secretive. There are many beautiful examples, closely linked with legends and popular tales, such as Trinh Nu and Trong (Virgin and Male) grottoes and Dong Tien (Fairy Grotto) Lake. Each is a grandiose and refined natural architectural creation.
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It seemed that every island, cave and beach in Halong closely linked with the legend and popular tale of love, of the heroic song for safeguarding country... Discovering Halong Bay is a good chance to witness the romantic and attractive love story which happened only in the legend.
Value of Geology
At the beginning of the Cambrian era (500 to 570 million years ago), the area which now forms Halong Bay was basically mainland, submitted to a process of rain erosion. At the end of the period, it was flooded by the advance of the sea west-ward, commencing the existence of Halong Bay.
During the Odovic and Silurian periods (400 to 500 million years ago), the area of north-east Vietnam was basically a deep sea, submitted to the constant activity of tectonic plates. At the end of the Silurian period, it underwent a phase of inverse- motion that created mountains deep under the water. From the end of this period and throughout the whole Devonian period (340 to 420 million years ago), the area was subjected to powerful forces of erosion from the hot and dry climate. At this point, Halong was part of a wide mainland that comprised most of today's East Sea.
Due to tectonic activity, the Halong area and the entire north-east region were raised from the depths at the end of the Devonian period. In the later Carboniferous and Permian periods (240 to 340 million years ago), a shallow and warm sea reformed, which existed for approximately 100 million years. It created two kinds of limestone: the Cat Ba layer of the early Carboniferous period (450m thick); and the Quang Hanh layer of the middle Carboniferous period (750m thick). These two layers constitute the majority of the islands of the bay.
Passing into the early periods of the Con-temporary era (67 million years ago), Halong Bay existed in the environment of a high mountainous mainland due to the influence of strong mountain-forming phases. The middle of the Palaeocene period saw these motions remain continuous and stable, while strong processes of erosion began, and after millions of years, a form of semi-highland topography took shape. The continuation of this erosion has progressively cut the highlands into blocks with altitudes similar to today's mountains.
Into the Quaternary era, the process of erosion began dissolving the limestone- rich region of Ha Long. The islands of today's Halong Bay are basically remnants of these mountains flooded during the early Holocene period. The middle and late Pleistocene epoch (11,000 to 70,000 years ago) marks the period when the famous caves and grottoes of the area formed. Rain water flowed into crevices in the limestone that had formed from tectonic activity. This steady erosion constantly widened the cracks, eventually creating today's formations. The Holocene period (from 11,000 years ago to today), is notable for the advance of the sea. This movement reached its peak 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, forming today's Halong Bay. After that, with the sea in a steady process of recession, Halong culture began to develop. At the beginning of the late Holocene epoch, the level of the water once again increased, forming a marshy floor of canals and streams, and creating the water marks that can be seen on the stone cliffs of today.
The most remarkable geological events of Halong Bay's history in the last 1,000 years include the advance of the sea, the raising of the bay area and the strong erosion that has formed coral and pure blue and heavily salted water. This process of erosion by seawater has
deeply engraved the stone, contributing to its fantastic beauty. Present-day Halong Bay is the result of this long process of geological evolution that has been influenced by so many factors. Some of the most remarkable are: the formation of the limestone layer more than 1,000m thick during the Carboniferous and Permian periods (240 to 340 million years ago); and the development of the Halong depression during the Neogene period (10 to 26 million years ago). The erosion process forming the limestone plain was most active in the Quaternary Pleistocene epoch (11,000 to 2 million years ago).
It is because of all these factors that visitors now visiting Halong Bay are not only treated to one of the true wonders of the world, but also to a precious geological museum that has been naturally preserved in the open air for the last 300 million years.
Values of Biological Diversity
Ha Long is also a region of highly-concentrated biological diversity with many varied ecosystems of salt water-flooded forests, coral reefs and tropical forests, featuring thousands of diverse species of animal and plant life.
Halong Bay has a very complicated structure with its meandering coastline and many river mouths. Rich and diversified sources of food for many species of plants and animals are also found here. In particular, the bay, partitioned by thousands of large and small islands, creates areas of water with an average and stable sea level. Meanwhile, the climate in Halong Bay is also very stable, with an average temperature of between 19 and 25°C, and an average heat radiation rate of 17 kcal/ sq. cm/ month. It sees an average rainfall of 2,0 to 2,200 mm/a year. These favourable conditions have seen the development of many varied ecosystems.
Results of scientific research show that Halong Bay features ecosystems of a tropical ocean region, such as salt water- flooded forests, coral reefs and tropical rain forests.
In the sea surrounding Halong, coral grows in many places, but is densely concentrated on the eastern and southern sides, far from the mainland.
The coral forests of Halong Bay are a wonderful sight, with many extraordinary shapes and diversified colours. When the tide flows, the coral moves with the water, pumping as rhythmically as a heartbeat. At the same time, the reefs are residence to a great number of species: fish (107 varieties), water plants, algae and transitory animals and plants.
The salt water-flooded forests also offer especially interesting scenery along the coastline of Halong Bay. These forests are chiefly concentrated in the zones of Tuan Chau, Cua Luc and Ba Che. Many species of salt water-flooded plants, the most diversified collection in North Vietnam, are found here.
The tropical rain forest ecosystem also features a rich quantity of species. This is the residence of various rare and precious creatures: deer, weasels, squirrels and in particular, white-tabby and red- haired monkeys. At the same time, there is a system of small caves along the sea, which are the living and development places for many animals and plants: seaweed, water plants, algae, fish and shrimp. Deeper into the water, there are also many species of shrimp, fish (almost
1,0 species), abalone and other sea- specialties.
Cultural and Historical Values
Ha Long was also the cradle of ancient people who helped create the present Ha Long culture.
At the end of 1937, a Swedish archaeologist named Anderson, together with two French archaeologist sisters named Conani, journeyed for months through Halong sea. They climbed mountains, visited caves, explored the coastline, and founded many stone artefacts: axes, grinding tables, sewing needles and jeweler. They called the culture that formed these remnants "Ngoc Vung". In the months and years following, Vietnamese archaeologists continued their research and made many excavations; discovering more archaeological sites, such as Dong Mang, Xich Tho and Soi Nhu. Through an area of some hundreds of square kilometres, they discovered many stone artefacts and pieces of broken designed pottery.
In Particular, in the central zone of the Present world heritage site area, there have been recent discoveries of fascinating archaeological finds: the Me Cung, Thien Long and Tien Ong grottoes. The quantity of ancient shellfish in the Melina indicated by the 1.5 m-thick heap of shells, amounts to hundreds of cubic metres.
Wherever the remnants of the first peoples of Ha Long are found, they seem to bear a common characteristic: the same materials, techniques, forms and designs. Scientists have called it the "Ha Long culture of the late period of the New Stone Age."
Throughout its development, Ha Long has had a particularly important position; being situated on the communication routes between China, Japan and Thailand. Gradually, it became the centre of cultural and commercial exchanges between these countries and ancient Vietnam. The book Comprehensive History of Dai Viet reads: "In the second month of the spring of the year of Ky Ty, the 10th year of the reign of Ly Anh Tong (1149), the commercial port of Van Don was established." In the long period overlapping the Ly, Tran and Le dynasties, Van Don was a place of busy commercial and cultural exchanges between Vietnam and its South-East Asian neighbours. A remaining vestige of the ancient commercial port is Cai Lang Wharf in Quan Lan Island.
Van Don is also a site that witnessed glorious feats of war against the invasion of the Yuan-Mongols aggressors. It was here that the enemy, General Truong Ho, had an entire fleet of food supply boats set ablaze by Tran Khanh Du. Closely linked to this animated commercial centre were many religious architectural constructions; built to meet the requirements of both traders and the population that practised Buddhism and Catholicism.