Situated in the northeastern part of Vietnam, Halong Bay is a part of the Gulf of Tonkin. It is comprised of regions of Halong City, the township of Cam Pha, and a part of the island district of Van Don. To the southwest sits Cat Ba Island. East of Halong is the East Sea. A 120-kilometer coastline exists with the mainland.

In the Bay, 989 of the 1,969 islands of various sizes have been given names. These formations are either limestone or schist, and they are concentrated in two main zones: the southwest (belonging to Halong Bay) and the southeast (belonging to Bai Tu Long Bay). This dense area of stone islands, known for its spectacular scenery and grottos, forms the central part of Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Bay itself has an area of 43,400 ha, consists of 775 islands, and forms a triangle with the island of Dau Go (Driftwood Grotto) to the west, the lake of Ba Ham (Three Tunnels) to the south, and the island of Cong Tay to the east.

Viewed from above, Halong Bay resembles a geographic artwork. Depending on the angle of light and vantage point, the forms of the islands change shape. Man’s Head Island resembles a man standing and looking toward the mainland; Dragon Island looks like a dragon hovering above the turquoise water; La Vong Island has the shape of an old man fishing. Other islands include the Sail, Pair of Roosters, and Incense Burner, all resembling their namesakes. These astonishing silhouettes are the stuff of legends. At the core of the islands, one can find wonderful caves and grottos, such as Thien Cung (Heavenly Residence Grotto), Dau Go (Driftwood Grotto), Sung Sot (Surprise Grotto), and Tam Cung (Three Palaces Grotto).

The history of Vietnam is linked to Halong Bay in many ways. Important sites include Van Don (an ancient commercial port), Poem Mountain (containing engravings of many poems about emperors and other famous historical figures), and Bach Dang River (the location of two fierce naval battles fought against foreign aggressors).

Scientists have identified archaeological sites such as Dong Mang, Xich Tho, Soi Nhu, and Thoi Gieng as among the first cradles of human civilization in the area. Furthermore, it is a region of great biological diversity, with ecosystems of saltwater-flooded forests, coral reefs, and tropical jungles featuring thousands of species of flora and fauna.

With these attributes in mind, the 18th meeting of the Committee of the World Heritages of UNESCO (in Thailand on December 17, 1994) officially recognized Halong Bay as a natural heritage site of worldwide importance.

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