Ha Long – Bay of the Descending Dragon
The end of the Vietnam war, and the advent of “Doi moi”, Vietnam’s policy of opening its economy to foreign trade, means that Westerners and South Vietnamese now have a chance to visit Ha long. Vinh Ha Long or Bay of the Descending Dragon is often touted by proud Vietnamese as the world’s Eighth wonder. One of the main attractions of Ha long is the bay’s calm water and the thousands of limestone mountains dotting the seascape. The Bay’s water is clear during the spring and early summer. Some of the islands are quite large and there are small alcoves with sandy beaches where swimming is possible. Ha Long bay lies in the northeastern part of Vietnam and is 165 Km from Hanoi.
Ha Long literally means descending dragon(s) and according to local myth, the story goes as follows:
Long ago when their forefathers were fighting foreign invaders from the north, the gods from heaven sent a family of dragons to help defend their land. This family of dragons descended upon what is now Ha Long bay and began spitting out jewels and jade. Upon hitting the sea, these jewels turned into the various islands and islets dotting the seascape and formed a formidable fortress against the invaders. The locals were able to keep their land safe and formed what is now the country of Vietnam. The Dragon family fell so much in love with this area for its calm water and for the reverence of the people of Vietnam that they decided to remain on earth. Mother dragon lies on what is now Ha Long and where her children lie is Bai Tu Long. The dragon tails formed the area of Bach Long Vi known for the miles of white sandy beaches of Tra Co peninsula
This myth is in line with the Vietnamese myth of their origin Con Rong Chau Tien. This myth describes the union between a king (representing the dragon) and his bride (representing a goddess) giving birth to 100 children which are the ancestors of the Vietnamese people. The Ha Long myth illustrate the Vietnamese belief of their origin and the fact that throughout their history, they are aided by their ancestors, the dragon and the gods, in the defense of their land.
Hang Dau Go (Wooden Stakes Cave)
Hang Dau Go is one of the most beautiful cave at Ha Long. The name, Dau Go or Giau Go, has direct ties to the history of Vietnam. According to the locals, while preparing for the Mongolian attacks in 1288, general Tran Hung Dao, sent a convoy to this area to cut wood from this region. Wooden stakes were then fashioned from the wood and hidden in Dau Go cave. The stakes were embedded in Bach Dang river to form a barrier against the attacking Mongols. According to legend, general Tran Hung Dao dealt a great blow to the Kublai Khan when he tricked the Mongolian army into chasing him deep up Bach Dang’s channel. When the tide were down the enemies were stuck in these wooden stakes driven into the river bed. Dau Go was also the site where general Tran Khan Du hid his force while waiting for the Mongols led by Truong Van Ho in 1287.
Dau Go is located on a limestone islet 8 km south of Bai Chay. The islet itself stands 187 m above sea level. Upon arriving visitors must hike the 90 rocky steps that lead to the cave’s entrance. There are three chambers with the outer one having the most spectacular stalagmites and stalactites. Some are as tall as 20 m in height. The locals claim that these giant formations resemble human forms and are the keepers or guardians of Dau Go cave. The outer chamber is also the largest with capacity for three to four thousand people. The cave’s floor is approximately 6 m lower than the entrance and the distance from floor to ceiling is approximately 25 m.
The middle chamber is accessible through a narrow passage approximately 1.4 m wide. There is a round crystal like structure on the path. When struck by light, this structure emits a kaleidoscope of light that is both breathtaking and unique. The inner chamber is famous for the colorful stalagmites and stalactites.
The inner chamber is much smaller by comparison. It is here that visitors will find stone wells filled with fresh water. According to the locals these wells are filled year round.
Dau Go is probably the most famous of all grottoes in Ha Long. Since its discovery, many Vietnamese dignitaries have visited Dau Go cave. In 1929, King Khai Dinh (Nguyen dynasty) visited Dau Go cave and was awed by its beauty. His praise in writing is carved on a stone stele at the entrance of the cave.
Pelican Cave (Hang Bo Nau)
Unlike Dau Go cave, Bo Nau cave is not as deep and large. Looking out from the cave the visitor can enjoy the scenic beauty of Ha Long. The clear blue water with rocky formations rising forms a picturesque setting. Bo Nau is a compound word derived from two words, bo cau meaning pigeon and nau meaning brown. Bo Nau literally means brown pigeon. For some reason, many foreign translations refer to this cave as Pelican cave.
According to the fishermen in this region, long ago, when there were still few visitors, Bo Nau cave was home to thousands of pigeons. Today as more visitors and people begin to inhabit the surrounding islands, the pigeons have left until only the name Bo Nau remains out of habit of the local fishermen
Hang Trinh Nu (Virgin Cave)
Hang Trinh Nu or the Virgin is also known as Mid Gate cave. According to local lore, an old couple lived here long ago. The husband made a living fishing around the bay. They were very poor. They had only one daughter. She grew up to be a beautiful young woman, so beautiful that people from all around knew of her. There were many suitors and her reputation reached the local mandarin. The mandarin immediately sent his soldier to her home to capture her. She was forced to marry the old mandarin.
After much cajoling and threats the fair maiden still steadfastly refused. One day, she escaped from the mandarins home, however she was afraid to return home for fear of retaliation. After much thought, the maiden decided to go to Mid Gate cave to commit suicide. Her body turned into the stone statue lying atop a flat surface. Since then, Mid Gate cave became known as Virgin cave.
Virgin cave tunnels through the middle of an island approximately 2 km long. Along the tunnel, there are many chambers. Each is famous for a different reason. All are unique in their beauty. Many visitors to the cave are awed by its beauty and so the name Hang Sung Sot was given to the outer chamber of the Virgin cave. Sung Sot literally means astonishment or awe.
Cave of Awe (Hang Sung Sot)
Sung Sot cave is on the same island with Trinh Nu cave. The path to Sung Sot is quite steep and is lined with shady trees. The cave has 2 chambers. The outer chamber is square and is often referred to as the waiting room. The cave’s ceiling is approximately 30 m high. The walls are almost perfectly smooth as if it was built by man. The walls generate a variety of colors that blend with the setting of the area.
The path to the inner chamber is approximately 3m wide. The inner chamber is known as the serene castle. The formations in the chamber take the form of sentries conversing with one another, animals in varying poses etc. In the middle of the chamber stands a formation which resembles a general surveying his troops.
There is a side entrance which is approximately 6m in height. The light reflected from the moving water outside causes the formations inside the chamber to seemingly come alive. According to the locals, this was the reason the cave was named Sung Sot, from the awe-stricken reaction of the visitors to the cave.