Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay, where dragons fly.

With incomparable and ethereal beauty, Hạ Long Bay’s towering rainforest-covered limestone pillars push through the emerald green waters in northeastern Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin, in Quảng Ninh Province.

The site is otherworldly and will humble the most hardened traveller. Covering an area of over 1,500 square meters, it is one of the natural wonders of the region, with the bay dotted with 1,600 islands and islets, caves, and grottoes that have been shaped and eroded by the elements over the millennia. A surreal setting that resembles something imagined in a movie.

The Vietnamese name Hạ Long translates as “descending dragon.” Dragons play a prominent role in Vietnamese culture, and according to local legend, the bay’s islands were formed when a dragon charged down from the mountains to defend the Vietnamese people from invaders, spraying fire, emeralds, and jade. The dragon’s tail carved out valleys and ravines until it hit the water, flooding the area and leaving nothing but towering peaks. The most beautiful peaks are said to be Ti Top Island, Quan Lan island, and Ngoc Vung Island, which is located between the two small islands of Hon Net and Phuong Hoang Island.

Junk boat tours take hordes of excited visitors past islands named for their shapes, including Stone Dog and Teapot, and there is excellent scuba diving, rock climbing, and hiking, particularly in mountainous Cát Bà National Park. Kayaking and boat cruises connect you to the limestone cliffs, which loom over you as you float on the calm, warm waters. Flying over Hạ Long Bay by seaplane reveals the grandness of the bay and offers the best understanding of the landscape.

A day of travelling will bring a basketful of learning. ― Vietnamese proverb

When eating fruit, remember who planted the tree; when drinking clear water, remember who dug the well. ― Vietnamese Wisdom

** This post forms part of my 100x Magical Places series which offers an introduction to my favourite destinations.

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Dawn Bradnick Jorgensen
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