Ha Long Bay is a wonderful artistic work of Nature, a harmonious mixture of sculpture and painting, with huge strength and romantic grace. It is not a still life. Instead, its appearance and color change with the times and create unusual images when looked at from different angles, very attractive to visitors. Former Prime Minister Pham Van Dong visiting Ha Long Bay once remarked: "Is this a landscape or a painting? Is it a world landscape or from another unreal world?" (Excerpt from his work entitled "Our Fatherland, Our People, Our Cause and the Artist")


Ha Long is Vietnam's unique sea area where thousands of islands in various strange forms stand, all making a beautiful carpet sparkling like blue gems. The islands crisscross each other, stretching over dozens of kilometers, and like a firm wall preventing in-shore and offshore waters meeting. In some places, the islands are separated, rising tall and jagged. The islands in Ha Long Bay are not monotonous and dreary but constitute a lively world of images of mysterious living beings: an old fisherman (La Vong Island), a praying monk (Ong Su), a pair of fighting cocks (Ga Choi), an eagle looking for food (Dai Bang), etc. It seems that each island has its own soul, like that of a human being.


When cruising Ha Long Bay, passing thousands of big and small stone islands of various forms, one has an impression of being in a world of creatures that were turned to stone millions of years ago. Look at the foot of the stone islands close to the water surface! The sea has carved delicate and strange figures with many strata and layers sewn as bas-relief similar to the stone columns of temples. Through millions of years, the carved designs on the island deepened, making the island's worn and thin compared to the huge island, giving the island peculiar, yet funny shape. Seeing it, the visitors may think that the island can easily fall down if a heavy wind passes through. Among this strange natural sculptural world are marvelous and huge architectural works created by Nature. Some islands are in the shapes of enormous cubes, black and smooth as if they were made of well-cut ironwood like the Mai Nha (House Roof) island. Another is curved like an elephant tusk which becomes smaller and sharper as it soars further into the sky (Nga Voi or Elephant Tusk). Others are created by square stone blocks piled one upon each other, making them much unfixed, yet very steady throughout millions of years of existence (Xep Island). Another island looks like a citadel, facing the sea (Phao Dai Island), etc. On the islands, the vegetation is of a dwarf species with small green leaves which becomes longer at higher attitudes like "tufts of hair" (in the poem "Van Don" by Nguyen Trai - ).

It is truly fascinating to cruise Ba Long Bay by sailing a boat which can go deeper into the forest of islands helping visitors admire different corners of the mysterious clusters of islands. From Bai Chay, the boat will carry visitors across Hon Gai bay towards the southern and southeastern islands. From afar, the islands appear to be a solid wall separating the seas from the waters near the coast, marking the horizon. When the boat comes closer, the wall suddenly breaks and a multitude of sea lanes opens to the visitor's eyes, winding and passing through the wall.

Behind the wall there may appear a blue sky with clouds hanging over, or a vast sea with brown or violet sailing boats. Visitors are impressed by the unique and attractive scenery. Sometimes, while sailing forward, a line of islands suddenly stands in front of the boat, making the sailor confused as he may think that he is heading for a deep-end. However, when the boat comes close to the island, there is room to pass and an unexpected path appears, leading the boat to another forest of islands. The tour is like a game, and impresses the visitors. In 1968, a Chinese tourist, Pan Ting Kouei, after enjoying a tour on Ha Long Bay, exclaimed: "It's fantastic! In the distance, it looks like something quiet familiar. But when we come closer it is no longer the same and disappeared. Things we see in front of us are completely different if we turn to another side and they even disappear.

An early morning in spring on Ha Long is magical. In the vast silvery screen of mist, the islands rise high and low with dark blue mountain tops which appear, then disappear. The coarse, strong, rugged stone mountains become soft and flexible as if they were painted with a quill. Together with the southeast wind and swimming in summer, sunrise on Ha Long Bay is beautiful. At dawn, the glare becomes extremely bright, rising overhead, lighting the sky full of colors. Far away, on the top of the Bai Tho (Poem) mount in the southeast, the small diamond of Venus has not yet disappeared. Amid the azure, violet sea blocks of limestone merge in extraordinary shapes of different colors: emerald blue, red brown and yellow. This is when the sea plays the deep blue and salty string of its musical instrument, companied by the melodious wind and waves.


In the afternoon, the sunshine over the water surface ripples with silvery gentle waves. The stone mountains line up, showing their bare breasts. Here and there, tufts of orchids grown on cliffs with their yellow, soft white and violet blossoming, emitting a sweet fragrance in the healthy atmosphere of the sea. In the evening, when the islands turn from blue to dark violet, there remains only the blazing red sun moving slowly to the west and disappearing behind the row of islands, casting a golden glow on the sky-line. This is the moment when Bai Chay beach has a bustling life "filled with music" ("Being Awaken in a Stormy night" by poet Huy Can).


In the autumn moonlit nights, visitors will find out a dazzling beautiful and mysterious Ha Long. The quiet surface of the Bay looks like a mirror reflecting the silvery moonlight like mercury. At moonrise or moonset, the islands appear in a half-light, half-dark scenes amid the sounds of the wind and waves. The islands, so familiar in daytime become alien and mysterious at night. The aesthetic value of Ha Long Bay does not only lie in the shape of mountains and the color of the sky, but is also hidden in its grottoes. Dozens of grottoes of diverse and rich colors scale and shapes have been found inside the mountains, mostly in the World Heritage area. The most fascinating grotto is Thien Cung (Heaven's Palace). To visit it, one must climb a steep slope, crawl under climbing liana, amidst the scent of orchids and the sound of singing birds. Visitors can enjoy mountain climbing and the enthusiasm of being on the road to Heaven.


Thien Cung is rectangular, about 25m wide, 250m long and 20m high, lying on a north south axis. From its opening to its interior, the visitor has an impression of a spacious and broad cave. The deeper inside, the more surprising and impressing is the wonder of Nature. On the two opposite eastern and western walls are two giant bas-reliefs representing men and animals carved with gracious designs like a flying silk scarf. Some sculptures are huge, rough or smooth to the touch, and the cutting is clear and neat. Here are representations of a kneeling elephant, a galloping horse or a playing tiger. Others are soldiers in war uniforms on cuirassed horses holding swords and shields. Looking up to the ceiling in the east, we are amazed by the living figures of the Heavenly world: the Jade Emperor, the Thunder God, the Nam Tao God, the Bac Dau God with their beards and hair floating like clouds. There are also beautiful fairies in gorgeous cloths, absorbed in their dancing and singing. Stuck to the ceiling is the magical stick of Suen- Wu-Kong (Monkey King) who troubled the Heavenly Court. The 2m-long circular stick sometimes emits light with one end leaning on a stalactite in the middle of the grotto ceiling and the other end on the eastern wall. Each wall of the grotto is a wonder and each grotto compartment is a sculptural masterpiece. Under the high and broad vault, the blue light of the stalactites and stalagmites make them seem silver plated. Standing in this world of strange shapes, both real and unreal, we feel lost in the mysterious and overwhelming Heavenly Palace.

Unlike the Thien Cung palace with an entrance opening at the middle of the mountain, Ba Ham Lake has its bottom at the water surface and is in the centre of Dau Be Island adjacent to the immense Long Chau sea area. Its semi-circular entrance opens in a flat rocky wall in the north west of the island. At its bottom is the water surface linked to the sea Cutlets from Cua Van. Ba Ham Lake is a network of three circular sea depressions with three abrupt cliffs opening to each other through a winding narrow cave. Tourists to Ba Ham Lake have to go by small sampans rowing through the cave, gradually advancing across a forest of stalagmites with various forms and brilliant colors. In an extremely calm space, there is a lively collection of fish, shrimp and crab swimming in the blue water or climbing on the rocky walls. Crossing the cave, the sampan rows on the circular sea depression like on a profound gigantesque pond. Orchids and evergreen plants growing on rocky walls give refuge to butterflies and bats. A carambola tree full of flowers grows at the cave entrance and is a bustling get together for flying squirrels, red buttock monkeys, silver-headed parrots and blue-eyed birds.

(Source: viet vision travel)

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