“Descended dragon” means Ha Long in Vietnamese. The bay with about 2000 islands on an area of 1500 km² is one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world. The enchanting bay is the result of geological processes in the last ice age when a limestone plateau sank into the sea.
Ha Long Bay: Facts
|Official title:||Ha Long Bay|
|Natural monument:||about 1600 islands and islets made of limestone formations in a long bay with an area of 1500 km²; Islands with heights of up to 200 m and islets with heights of 5 to 10 m; partly limestone formations in grottos and caves with stalagmites and stalactites; 1962 under protection; Numerous archaeological sites, on Giap Khau (Hon Gai) references to the Hoa Binh culture as well as Stone Age finds of the so-called Ha Long culture on Tuan Chau, Ngoc Vung, Cai Dam, Dong Naim and Cat Ba|
|Location:||in the Gulf of Tonkin, southeast of Hanoi|
|Meaning:||the limestone formations rising out of the sea have a particular aesthetic appeal|
|Flora and fauna:||tropical primary forest on islands like Ba Mun and Cat Ba; there are more than 1000 species of fish in the waters|
The dragon’s territory
When the fine drizzle covers the landscape for hours, maybe days, when mountains and valleys, trees and rice fields are only shadowy against a gray background, then the right mood is for a trip on one of the old junks through the bay of Ha Long come up. Surprisingly, mighty colossi or sharp needles grow out of the gently lapping waves of the sea. And the stories of the locals become more and more adventurous and grotesque, so that one almost believes to see the turtles, buffalo, elephants, fighting cocks and ghosts that the bizarre rock formations are supposed to look like. The boaters like to let their imagination run through.
According to oxfordastronomy, the most beautiful is the myth of origin. Vietnam has had to struggle with conquerors and occupiers over and over again in its long history. The Chinese alone exercised political and cultural sovereignty for more than a thousand years. So it is not surprising that the Viet borrowed their dragon myth to explain the origins of the bay. Because many, many years ago, attackers are said to have landed again on the coast in the north. The dragon, who lived in the mountains above this coast, did not like it at all, so that he got angry at the strangers. On his way to the sea he pulled deep valleys into the landscape with his mighty tail. Horrified, the conquerors fled onto their boats and back to sea. But the giant dragon fell after them, flooding the valleys it had just created.
How prosaic, on the other hand, is the geologists’ explanation of the bizarre landscape of water and rock: The region belongs to the southwestern Chinese limestone tablet, which sank in the last Ice Age. Salt water, winds and other effects of nature washed out the particularly soft parts of the limestone cliffs over the centuries and gave them their bizarre shapes.
The area was never particularly comfortable for people. Although some thousand-year-old evidence of settlement was found, to this day there are only a few fishing villages in the wide bay. So a chance for rare animals. And indeed, gibbons and snub noses do gymnastics on the rocks and in the remaining monsoon forests and bamboo groves. Chinese bitterns and various species of herons have settled in the bank area; Purple, great egrets and little egrets stretch their long necks in search of food. Underwater there are coral banks between which sea cucumbers, shrimp, abalone, lobsters and black fish move almost weightlessly.
And yet this apparent idyll of rocks and water dwellers is threatened. As early as the 19th century, the cultural landscape in the form of monotonous rice fields, cotton and sugar cane plantations, which had been expanded by the French colonial rulers, threatened the remote bay. In addition, the French found high-quality coal in the Hong Gai area, which has been mined and largely exported since 1888. The place then grew into the largest in the bay, where numerous industrial companies have settled.
With the booming economy in Vietnam, tourism has also steadily gained in importance in recent years. Around four million visitors a year also want to see the famous Dragon Bay. The coral population is threatened by increasing siltation and the water quality has already deteriorated considerably. The fishermen are the first to feel the “modern” economy, as their catches have been halved in recent years. The time seems to be approaching for the “descending dragon” to have to defend itself this time against completely different intruders.