When a fine mist hangs over Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay, the enclave of islands and karst formations rising from the water resembles glistening emeralds. Perhaps the story of its origin is not far off.
Mother Dragon and the Emerald Wall
Legend has it that centuries ago, when the country was newly formed, the Vietnamese people were forced to fight invaders coming over the sea from the north. Concerned, the Jade Emperor called the Mother Dragon and her children to descend from the heavens and help the people defend their country. While the enemies attacked, the family of dragons blew their divine flames and incinerated the unlucky invaders. Then they spit emeralds over the battlefield on the sea, forming an invisible wall that sank the enemy fleet and swept them away. Peace resumed, and the emerald wall became islands and islets of different shapes and sizes. The dragon family stayed on Earth in human form and helped develop Vietnam. With its name derived from the Sino-Vietnamese for “descending dragon,” the echoes of this legend resound vibrantly into the modern day.
Although today many Vietnamese still believe that they have some dragon ancestry, the conventional story of Ha Long Bay’s formation is more plausible. The history of the bay, located in the Gulf of Tonkin, dates back nearly 500 million years. It went through many ancient geological states, ultimately resulting in its karst landscape. The conical karst formed limestone and schist clusters that resemble pyramids. Within the more than 2,000 islands and islets are many caves and grottoes that only add to its magnificence.
Inhabitants of Ha Long Bay: Past and Present
Ha Long Bay has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The Hoabinhian hunter-gatherers lived in the caves around 12,000 BCE and were followed by many cultures, including the Bac Son, Quynh Van, Phung Nguyen, and the Dong Son people — skilled agriculturalists who lived during the feudal period (1,000 BCE – 100 CE) after the Vietnamese nation was formed (2879 BCE) and the region was a bustling trade center.
About 40 of Ha Long Bay’s islands are inhabited today, and many of its local residents live in floating houses. The region, which supports both a tropical rain forest and a marine and coastal ecosystem, is home to a striking array of flora and fauna, including many rare species. It boasts several honors as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, a top five Asian tropical island paradise as named by CNN, and a member of the Most Beautiful Bays in the World Club.
The beauty and serenity of Ha Long Bay have inspired artists and photographers from all over the world. Admire the peaks, caves, and grottoes firsthand when you spend a night aboard a traditional junk cruising the bay. Join the optional post-trip extension offered on Vantage’s Angkor Wat & the Mekong: A River Cruise in the Heart of Indochina.