Ha Long Bay is a body of water of approximately 1,500 square kilometer in north Vietnam with a 120 kilometer coastline, in the Gulf of Tonkin near the border with China, and 170 kilometer east of Hanoi. “Vịnh Hạ Long” — Ha Long Bay — means “Bay of the Descending Dragon” in the Vietnamese language. Hạ means “descending” and Long means “dragon” in Sino-Vietnamese.
The bay consists of a dense cluster of 1,969 limestone monolithic islands, each topped with thick jungle vegetation, which rise spectacularly from the ocean. Several of the islands are hollow, with enormous caves. Hang Đầu Gỗ (Wooden stakes Cave) is the largest grotto in the Ha Long area. French tourists visited in the late 19th century, and named the cave Grotte des Merveilles. Its three large chambers contain large numerous stalactites and stalagmites (as well as 19th century French graffiti). There are two bigger islands, Tuan Chau and Cat Ba, that have permanent inhabitants. Both of them have tourist facilities, including hotels and beaches. There are a number of wonderful beaches on the smaller islands. Some of the islands support floating villages of fishermen, who ply the shallow waters for 200 species of fish and 450 different kinds of mollusks. Many of the islands have acquired their names as a result of interpretation of their unusual shapes: such names include Voi Islet (elephant), Ga Choi Islet (fighting cock), and Mai Nha Islet (roof). 989 of the islands have been given names. Birds and animals including bantams, antelopes, monkeys, and iguanas also live on some of the islands.The bay was World Heritage listed by UNESCO at the 18th meeting of the Committee of the World Heritages of UNESCO (in Thailand on December 17th, 1994). It is one of Vietnam’s most popular tourist destinations