Descending Dragon – Mystical Halong Bay

Local fishing boats ‘putter putter’ through Halong Bay

The putter putter of small boat engines is the only sound that breaks up the serene stillness of the mystical and magical landscape of Halong Bay.

All around me lay still emerald waters and towering limestone karst peaks covered in green foliage rise up around on all sides. In the distance the outlines of more karst islands and towers of rock formations become fainter before blending into the blue skies.

Emerald waters and distinctive karst rock formations abound in Halong Bay

Halong Bay is listed by UNESCO and one of the world’s new 7 natural wonders. The bay is a  product of over 500 years of geological formation and covers an area of over 1500 km2 and contains over 2000 limestone islets.

Halong means “descending dragon” and the legend of Halong Bay originates from ancient Vietnam. While fighting against invaders coming from China the Jade Emperor sent a mother dragon and her children to descend to earth to help the Vietnamese people defend the country.

The dragons incinerated the attackers with fire and giant emeralds which were scattered all around the sea sinking the enemy battleships and forming an invincible defensive wall. Thanks to the dragons, the invaders were vanquished and peace came to Vietnam.

 After thousands of years the wall of emerald turned into a variety of islands and instead of returning to heaven the dragons stayed in the mortal world, turning into human form, to help the people farm and expand the country, fueling the legend that Vietnamese people have dragon origins.

Colourful fishing villages float between the rocks in the bay

As the boat cruises along through the glittering waters I see colourful little floating houses clustered around the rocks. 1600 people live in floating fishing villages in Halong Bay. Most houses have a boat moored up to the floating house and are surrounded by small nets of fish with walk boards between them floating on blue barrels.

Floating houses have small nets of fishing attached to them

Men and women in conical hats haul in fish by the net load and squat on the planks sorting through the haul of fish while other villagers row in small canoes across to their neighbours houses or putter through the bay with their goods.

The only way for the people who live on Halong Bay to get around is by boat

While I bask in the sun on the top deck of the wooden boat as it moves slowly through the mythical landscape I start to see other wooden junk boats like ours, flying the red and yellow stared Vietnamesse flag. Girls hang their legs out over the side or sunbathe on the top deck and boys jump off the top splashing and laughing into the clear water. Other boats are larger with sleeping cabins and traditional large saffron sails taut in the soft breeze.

Cruising Halong Bay and relaxing on wooden boats

As the sun glitters on the emerald water the boat stops and I start to explore by kayak. It feels good to be closer to the to sea and the rocks. Paddling away from the boat, I pass under caves eroded from the limestone cliffs by the sea over centuries and float into secluded bays that boats can’t reach. 

 I have to duck down low, squeezing through the cave to avoid hitting my head on the encrusted roof of the cave and swerving around the stalactites.

Kayaking through a watery cave passage to explore a secluded lagoon

. The air inside the watery cave is still and cool, the rocks pale and sandy and the water is a cool, spookily, clear, bright green colour while my paddles create echoes around me.

 After emerging from the watery cave we find a larger cave and disembark to explore the large, dark cavern where evidence was found that prehistorical human beings used to live tens of thousands of years ago and long strands of stalactites hang from the roof.

Cruising through the stunning scenery of Halong Bay

Back aboard the wooden junk lulls some passengers to sleep and with the gentle swaying and putter putter of fishing boats in the distance I concentrate on studying the karst towers. I drift, dreamily through the serene mystical environment back to Cat Ba Island and start to make out the legendary dragon in the dips, curves and round ridges of the rocks as they jut out of the sea in the fantastical landscape.

Back on Cat Ba Island I soak up the scenes of Halong Bay below from a peak which once housed a fort.

The view of Halong Bay from Cannon Fort on Cat Ba Island

Even on dry land the scenery continues to be just as stunning as I feel the wind in my hair as the motorbike passes through prawn farms and quaint villages of colourful, elegant tall and thin houses. 


Luscious green, rural scenery nestled between karst towers on Cat Ba Island

I zip through the luscious green rice paddies and jungle as the road twists and turns around the towering limestone peaks, that are maybe even more awe inspiring when viewed from the land, as eagles swoop and soar above catching the warm air thermals around the peaks. 

Exploring the limestone landscape of Cat Ba Island by motorbike

In the national park I trek through the humid jungle, home to the endangered langur, and scramble up rocks and cliff faces until I reach the top and am rewarded with stunning views over the jungle clad peaks.

A steep climb through the jungle on Cat Ba Island rewards with stunning views

After scrambling back down I make a head line to the beach to cool off in the shallow sea and watch as the sun goes down between the rocks as fishing boats dock in the harbour and the putter putter becomes silent.

A beautiful sunset ends a beautiful day in Halong Bay as the fishing boats return home
  • Life In Halong Bay (
  • Cat Ba; do not go round! (

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