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Ha Long

Introduction
Halong Bay is perhaps the most spectacular of Vietnam's natural wonders. Located in the Gulf of Tonkin 170km from Hanoi, it is an impressive collection of nearly 2,000 islands covering an area in excess of 1,500km forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars and cliff faces. The breathtaking scenery and unusual geology of the bay led UNESCO to designate Halong Bay a World Heritage site in 1994.

Because of their precipitous nature, most of the islands are uninhabited and untouched by man. The ancient Vietnamese believed that Halong Bay was where a giant dragon "descended into the sea", as the rocky outcrops resemble the humps and scales of a dragon's back. Another legend says that the giant limestone rocks themselves are dragons, protecting Vietnam from hostile invaders. In fact the bay was formed as a result of millions of years of erosion on the limestone rocks. Then when the last ice age finished, the seas rose as the glaciers melted, flooding the entire area transforming hills into the islands we see today.
Many of the forested islands in the bay have hidden caves and grottoes which are easily explored by boat or kayak. Some of the island caves are filled with a colorful stalagmites and stalactites.
A full exploration of Halong Bay takes 2 to 3 days, though a day trip provides enough time to get a feel for the place. Halong Bay is 3-4 hours by car, or 2 hours by train, from Hanoi.

Places of interest

Cave Of The Wooden Stakes (Dau Go Cave)
This is one of Halong Bay's most beautiful and historically significant caves. The impressive 8,000 sq. meter cave is believed to have been used to store the wooden stakes that General Tran Hung Dao planted in the riverbed of the Bach Dang River to sink the invading Mongol fleet in the 13th century. The cave is reached by climbing the 90 rough hewn steps.

The Celestial Palace (Thien Cung Cave)
Located next to the Cave of wooden Stakes, the Celestial Palace is probably the most frequently visited cave in Halong Bay. Although dating back millions of years the cave was only discovered in 1993 by a local fisherman. The cave is illuminated with colored lights and the spacious chambers are filled with impressive stalactites and stalagmites.

Cave Of Surprises (Sung Sot Cave)
Sung Sot was discovered in 1901 by the French. Lying 25m above sea level the cave has 3 distinct chambers connected by narrow passages and accessible via an 800m walkway.