Vietnam is full of outstanding natural scenery, but there is nothing quite as vast or magnificent as Halong Bay. To see the limestone karsts for yourself is an otherworldly experience. There are at least 1,960 islands covering the 600 square miles, from tiny islets to larger, semi-inhabited islands.
Halong Bay is, in fact, such a marvellous, awe-inspiring destination that, in 2012, it was named as one of the new 7 Natural Wonders of the world, alongside Mount Everest, The Grande Canyon and the Aurora Borealis. Halong Bay is an absolute must-see, and here we give you five reasons why.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site – Twice!
Originally listed as a World Heritage Site in 1994, Halong Bay gained further recognition in 2000 when the World Heritage committee recognized it for its outstanding geological and geomorphic value – making it a two-time UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Located on the Golf of Tonkin, many of Halong Bay’s islands are too small for human occupation, so have fostered a fascinating ecological environment. Halong Bay was awarded the titles of a UNESCO World Heritage Site for both its outstanding scenic beauty and its biological interest.
A Wealth of Culture in Fishing Villages
With one of the most unique habitable landscapes in the world, crossing cultures with Halong Bay’s residents is like stepping back in time. Within the 1,960 islets in Halong Bay, only 40 of them are inhabited. The entire population of Halong Bay, rather impressively, is fewer than the islands themselves, with only around 1,540 residents stretched out in Cua Van, Ba Hang and Cap De fishing villages.
Vung Vieng Floating Village is a great example of this. First established in the 19th century, Vung Vieng is a thriving community where tourists can have an authentic glimpse into local life and an insight into the rich traditional cultures of the bay’s indigenous people.
Today, residents of the bay still largely live on boats and rafts that have been cobbled together from wood, tires, and plastic jugs to keep them afloat. Culture in Halong Bay is still centered around wild fishing and fish farming, which is probably most evident in the floating village of Cua Van.
The geological history of this ancient seascape spans more than one hundred million years, where, prior to the formation of Halong Bay, an ancient sea sat above a bed of limestone 1000 meters thick. Over time, rain gnarled away the limestone, leaving caves and grottoes in the island. While some of these caves may not be open to tourists, there is still a plethora of sights to see. Luon Cave, for example, spans an awe-inspiring 60 meters and is accessible by kayak or speedboat.
Cat Ba National Park
The largest island in the bay, Cat Ba is half covered by the Cat Ba National Park, which teems with an abundance of flora and fauna. Part of Cat Ba National Park’s appeal is the Cat Ba Langur, one of the most endangered species in the world, where the population diminished to a mere 53 animals by 2000, though careful monitoring has raised that to 70. Halong Bay cruises don’t step onto Cat Ba Island, but you’ll sail past it on both one- and two-day itineraries.
Sitting at the heart of Halong Bay is Titov Island. While small, it is considered to be one of the most picturesque islands in the bay, with breath-taking landscapes and a magnificent view for anyone willing to climb to the top. The peak offers unparaleled panoramas and is a fabulous photo opportunity.
If the island’s name doesn’t sound Vietnamese, it’s because it isn’t. The unusual name derived from Russian cosmonaut Gherman Titov, who, in 1961, became the second man to orbit the earth. Once safely back on the ground, Titov visited Halong Bay and was given a special tour by Ho Chi Minh himself. In a gesture of friendship between Vietnam and Russia, Ho Chi Minh named the island after Titov.
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