The Grand Sentinels of the Emerald Waters



Standing tall and majestic on the emerald green waters of the Gulf of Tonkin, the lime stone structures offer a spectacular panoramic view. These Karst formations resulting from millions of years of erosion (developed by the repeated regression and transgression of the sea on lime stone during wet and warm tropical climate) stretch over a large area towering on the calm, placid waters of Gulf of Tonkin in the northeast of Vietnam. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ha Long Bay features around 1600 limestone islands and islets with grottos and enormous caves. Rising from the sea in various forms and shapes they look like pillars or fortresses or castles or royal sentinels to the imaginative eye! An amazing seascape gifted by Nature.


Huge and mighty forms on the tranquil waters


View during low tide

During our recent visit I was happy to note that the bay still looks unspoiled from the time I last visited it, which was some 11 years ago. The number of boats and tourists have increased by  four to five times but the bay looks unpolluted and serene. The misty December air added to the ethereal charm of the bay.






Legend has it that when the country was newly formed, a dragon and her children descended on the earth to protect the Vietnamese from the invaders from north. Emeralds and other gems spit by these heavenly creatures got scattered all around the sea and turned out to be walls of defence. These huge walls baffled the enemies, they lost sense of direction and had to flee. The dragon and her children made earth their home. Thus the name Ha Long  which means ‘descending dagon’ came into existence.






The cold and misty weather of December was certainly a wet blanket! Clicking  some good photos was not easy.  The sky was always a dull, grey canvas, the sun appeared neither in the the afternoon nor in the the morning we spent on the bay. Nevertheless the place was mysteriously beautiful and enchanting.

We visited a couple of caves too. Sung Sot cave or the Surprise Cave is on one of the islands. The stone laid steps leading to the mouth of the cave is not too steep and the island has thick vegetation to its credit. It is a wide grotto full of stalactite stalagmite formations. Our guide described the caves as the palaces on the islands- the stalectite-stalagmite caves worth a visit. They are well lit and spacious.


Don’t you think the stalactites of this part resemble perfect meringues?!


Into the darkness! The mouth of the dark caves


A boat ride(or kayaking) on the tranquil waters helps you enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the Dark and Bright caves. The emerald-turquoise water, the loud silence- a silence that overflows the bay and fills your mind with a rhapsody- the grand sentinels standing around and watching you… everything offers tranquility at its best!




Beautifully  layered rocks

What magic chisel and hammer the master sculptor would have used!





As dusk dawned, the bay and the towering rocks looked a bit intimidating and ominous in the dim light. The craggy ridges and cliffs reminded me so much of Wordsworth’s ‘Stolen Boat’ where Nature reprimands Man and guides him back when he deviates from his right track.



Standing on the deck I visualised  his stolen boat heaving through the water, when a huge and black peak rose in front!

”When, from behind that craggy steep till then
The horizon’s bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
As if with voluntary power instinct,
Upreared its head.”

Nature, sometimes with her simplicity and sometimes with her magnificence, gives us a light nudge to show how insignificant we are.





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