About 170km (or 3.5 hour drive) east of Hanoi, Halong Bay or Descending Dragon Bay is a must see place in the North for any visitor to Vietnam. The bay which is twice recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site features thousands of dramatic limestone karsts rising from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin.
Legend claims the islands and islets of the bay were created by a great dragon family who was sent by the God to help the Vietnamese defend their homeland against the Northern invaders. The bay’s immense more than 2000 rocky islands in different sizes and shapes covering an area of more than 1,500 km. People have given many of them evocative names according to their appearance: Cone-shape Cookie, Banana, Small Fish, Tortoise, Nail, Wading Ox, and Wallowing Buffalo. Many islands are riddled with wind-and-wave-eroded caves and grottoes offering spectacular stalactite and stalagmites, all open to interpretation. Sung Sot cave, Bo Nau cave, Dau Go grotto and Trinh Nu grotto are especially worth seeing.
The best way to discover the bay’s beauty is spend overnight on a traditional wooden junk. Day boats, motorboats are available at the bay. Visitors to Halong also come to explore the caves or kayaking on the bay. Though you can visit the bay year-round, the best is from Mar to Jun.
To the northeast Halong is the Bai Tu Long which offers the breathtaking scenery as its famous neighbor yet more untouched and less tourist with deserted beaches, coral reefs, mangrove forests. The Bai Tu Long is perfect for those love traveling off the beaten path and a laid-back adventure.
Cat Ba Island is the largest island of the Cat Ba Archipelago, which forms the Southern periphery of Halong Bay. Half of its area is covered by the Cat Ba National Park. The park is home to the Cat Ba Langur, the world’s most endangered primate with around 65 individuals remaining. It’s also a great base for adventurous activities like trekking, motorbiking or cycling through the jungle.