Posted by: sharemore1 | October 15, 2010

Ha Long Bay: The Dragon’s Pearls

Please note the link to the Q&A page in the banner above.  If you have any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them.

Sailing on Ha Long Bay

A Ha Long Bay boat ride with a seafood banquet was a treat the math department hosted for visiting faculty two days after my arrival in Viet Nam.  My husband Moshe is spending this semester teaching mathematics at Viet Nam National University.

As I kept filling my plate with fruits of the sea–fish, shrimp, clams, crab and squid–and sipping rice wine on the deck of the boat, I quickly forgot the three-hour drive in a cramped car from Hanoi, about 100 miles away.  The bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a calming counterpoint to noisy, crowded Hanoi.

Islands in the Bay

Cruising among the magical islands we could almost believe the legend that they were created by a mighty mother dragon, who descended with her children to save the Viet people from Chinese invaders.  The dragons loaded their mouths with pearls, which they dropped in the bay creating islands that thwarted the enemy, causing their boats to crash.  The dragons then formed peninsulas and beaches with their powerful tails.  The words “Ha Long” mean descending dragon.  (See “Happy Birthday Hanoi” for the story of an ascending dragon).

Geologists have another creation story, enchanting in its own way.  Once upon a time, some 20 million years ago, rainwater began dissolving the carbonate limestone bedrock.  Great floods came and covered the land.  A few million years later tectonic plates first created mountains underwater and later thrust the limestone pyramids to the surface.  Water seeping into the cracks over the years formed the islands as they are today and hollowed out the lakes, caves and grottos.

Mother Dragon

My geologist father would have gone with the tectonic plate theory, but I like the mother dragon story myself.

About 1,600 people live in floating fishing villages, where they make their living from the sea, selling their catch to bigger boats that take them to market.  Some also earn money by selling handcrafts to tourists or inviting them to spend a night in their villages.  Children row themselves to a floating school.

Floating Fishing Village

Hang Sung Sot Cave

Our boat let us off to explore Hang Sung Sot, one of the many caves in the bay.  It has three large chambers with spotlights illuminating the stalactites and stalagmites.  In the second chamber, pink lights shone on a huge and unmistakable phallus. (Sorry, my picture didn’t turn out.)  As we left the cave we sat down to enjoy a sweet drink that was extracted from sugar cane while we waited.


Sadly, the many tourists visiting the bay are endangering a treasure that took millions of years to create.  Coral, shells and even the stalactites and stalagmites are sometimes collected and turned into souvenirs.  Mangroves and seagrass beds have been cleared to make room for wharves built to accommodate tourist boats, which leave behind fuel, oil and litter.

It’s time to call on the mother dragon to descend again, this time to warn humans to take good care of her pearls.

Tour Boats in the Bay


  1. Breathtaking! My first thought when I saw the photo of the islands was…what is the geological background…but, I too like the Mother Dragon theory.

    Many thanks for sharing your journey.

  2. Wow. What stunning scenery! I want to sail there! Love your descriptions of the land formations. Keep these great posts coming. Glad I’ve subscribed so I don’t have to remember to look.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: