Halong Bay, Vietnam: Where legend meets wonder

Today, locals still say some of the islands resemble dragons' teeth protruding out of the deep emerald waters.

Soon after Halong Bay was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage in 1994, the northern coast of Vietnam was bombarded with adventurous travellers keen on exploring one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Consisting of at least 3,000 islets and islands, Halong Bay has mystified sailors for centuries, and to this day, only local fishermen and guides know how to navigate the labyrinthine waters of the South China Sea. Aussies who are staying at Hanoi hotels need only travel about 100 kilometres east to begin their exploration of this dazzling bay.

Legend in the making

According to local legend, when the Vietnamese first arrived in this Southeast-Asian nation hundreds of years ago, they prayed to their ancestral gods to protect their fruitful land from foreign invaders. Hearing their cries for help, the gods sent families of dragons to the northern shores, where the mythical creatures began spitting out jade and jewels that would later become the thousands of limestone formations making up Halong Bay.

Today, locals still say some of the islands resemble dragons' teeth protruding out of the deep emerald waters.

Unparalleled geography

Stretching for about 120 kilometres along the northeastern corner of Vietnam, Halong Bay contains thousands of limestone formations, many of which are hollow, allowing for snorkelers and scuba divers to explore these illustrious wonders. Upon entering the hollow mountains, swimmers will be amazed when they happen upon the dazzling waters that glow like, not surprisingly, a jade gemstone.

Because many of the islands boast steep cliffs, few people have managed to inhabit them, which has allowed for the plants and sea animals to flourish throughout the area. A number of small fishing villages have popped up over the last few decades, and Aussies should have their cameras poised and ready to capture these architectural feats on film. These stilt houses seemingly defy gravity as they undulate precariously with each passing wave.

Cruising through the bay

The best way that Aussies can tour the entirety of Halong Bay is to book a cruise through a variety of providers. Ideal for those who can afford luxury travel, these itineraries treat explorers to front-row seats to Southeast Asia's best-kept secrets. Most of these traditional vessels boast fan-like sails, and passengers might feel like they're taking a trip back in time to when the Vietnamese first arrived to this country centuries ago.

Best time to go

If Aussies want a more eerie experience in Halong Bay, they should consider booking their flights from February to April, when the cool and foggy air lays a blanket of mystery over the glittering bay. Between May and September, however, tropical storms frequent the area, so travellers should avoid attempting to cruise through Halong Bay during this time. That leaves November through January, which provides the best window of opportunity for explorers to visit the region.

Expedia.com.au By Tobias McMaster

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