In order to relish in its mystery, one must also savor its legends.
The name Ha Long is derived from “Descending Dragons”.
Halong Bay’s innumerable islets dotting the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin conjure up images of a watery Milky Way. It is truly one of the wonders of Vietnam, and as are all wonders, this one, too, is shrouded in legends.
Amongst the numerous legends, one that stands out is that which tells of an enormous dragon “as big as the world and as high as the sky” that lived in the waters of Halong. It was of such great stature that once unfurled “it withstood the weight of all of Annam, its heart lying in Hue, its limbs extending from the northern to the southern delta”.
When the country was under attack, the Jade emperor sought the help of the mythical creature. As the invaders advanced, the dragon spat out pearls and jewels which, upon making contact with the sea, were instantly transformed into small islands, thereby blocking the enemy’s passage. Peace restored, the dragon chose to reside in the calm waters of the bay.
One can well-nigh believe this myth as we gaze upon this enchanting, captivating landscape.
To relish in its character, one must also revel in its history.
Halong bay was, for many a decade, the scene of countless epic naval battles. While this natural labyrinth played a part in thrice bringing the neighboring Chinese to a halt, it also provided a refuge for the numerous pirates that once plundered the Gulf of Tonkin.
During French colonization, the French mapped out the bay and laid claim to some of the islets. Here they discovered coal deposits, which were exploited by the French coal mining company of Tonkin, as well as limestone, which was used in the making of cement.
Granted Unesco World Heritage site status in 1994, Halong Bay is one of the most well-renowned tourist destinations in Vietnam. Today, it is host to one thousand six hundred inhabitants who reside in floating houses and who work, for the most part, in fish farming or pearl farming. While cruising on the bay, one can observe fishermen leaving their floating homes to climb aboard their small bamboo boats in the hopes of hauling in a good catch. Tourism notwithstanding, the bay is host to a rich biodiversity of tropical ecosystems including mangroves, coral reefs, sea grasses, as well as preferred habitats for shrimp, fish, squid, and other indigenous sea creatures.