Halong Bay is intricately linked to the long and fascinating history of Vietnam. But its importance stretches back even further, before the country of Vietnam existed as we know it today.
One of few places in the whole world where evidence of the earliest human existence has been found, Halong Bay is known as one of the cradles of mankind. The ancient geographical make up of the area, and the ancient civilizations that lived amongst it, have shaped the culture of Halong Bay today. For lovers of history and culture, Halong Bay offers a never-ending story mixing scientific fact and age-old legend. Here are a few of the best places to see and things to do for all the culture vultures visiting Halong Bay.
There is evidence of several ancient civilizations in existence in Halong bay, dating back over 4000 years. Archaeologists have been toiling away for years, collecting artefacts such as farming and rock tools, weapons and ceramics that have helped them to understand the lives of ancient Halong people. It is thought that the existence of these Halong people was only discovered around 65 years ago, during French colonial time. Since then 27 separate communities have been discovered. It is possible to visit the archaeological sites of Dong Mang, Xich Tho, Soi Nhu and Thoi Gieng during your trip.
Poem Mountain (Bai Tho Mountain)
My favourite Halong Bay attraction, the whimsical Bai Tho Mountain got its name ‘Poem Mountain’ from one of Vietnam’s early kings, King Le Thanh Tong, who in 1468 engraved his poetry into the side of the mountain. In the 1700s another famous Vietnamese followed suit and added his own hand-written musings. Since this date several more poetry engravings have been added making this mountain a must-see for all lovers of the written word.
Van Don Port
Van Don Port was built under the Ly Dynasty way back in the 12th century and at that time was one of the busiest ports in the North of Vietnam. Foreign traders soon found out about this bustling commercial port and Van Don Port became the first point of contact for foreign trade in Vietnam. The geographical layout of Van Don Port was perfect for boats, its small lagoons and deep canals helping sailors to dock their vessels safely. The islands of the Van Don District fill Bai Tu Long Bay, one of the three peaks of Halong Bay. You can explore the ancient ruins of this early maritime site along the islands of Quan Lan, Minh Chau, Cong Dong, Cong Yen and Cong Hep.
Bach Dang River and Bai Chay
Like many parts of the world, war and conflict have played a huge part in Vietnam’s history. Halong Bay was the site of the Battle of Bach Dang, a fierce war between the native Dai Viet and invading Mongol army. The famous Bach Dang river was the site of the most ferocious and successful offensive against the Mongolian invaders.
Bai Chay now boasts an attractive man-made beach that leaves no mark of the fierce naval battle once fought here. Bai Chay, meaning scorched sand, was named after a victory of the Tran Dynasty who, led by Lord Tran Hung Dao, set fire to the battleships of invading Mongol troops, razing a nearby forest to the ground in the process.
Hoang Gia Park
By now you’ll be ready to take a break from all the war and ancient history and see a few living souls, I bet. Make your way over to Halong City and spend a day at the Hoang Gia Park. Also known as ‘Royal Park’, this ten hectare park is situated near Bay Chay Beach. While the park offers all of the tourist draws you’d expect, restaurants, Bird Park, bars, artificial beach, it also offers a few attractions that might surprise you, including a ‘sensation train’, ghostly house and archery grounds. We haven’t forgotten about the culture vultures, though.
Hoang Gia Park has its own cultural theatre where you can enjoy Vietnam’s traditional dance and songs. Beware, the Sap dance is a participatory and event and you may be invited to join the dancers on stage. There are three performances every evening.
Water Puppet Theatre
The park also has a Water Puppet Theatre, an incredibly popular form of traditional Vietnamese entertainment dating back to the 12th century ‘Ly’ Dynasty. Again, you have three chances to catch it.
The antique museum at Hoang Gia Park is the place to see some of the ancient artefacts found on the archaeological sites mentioned earlier. Featuring antique tombs from the Han and So Dynasties, this museum’s collection includes antiques from all over Asia.
Finally, if you can still stand, have a wander around the park’s art gallery, home to over 200 paintings by Vietnamese artists.
Tags: Vietnam package tours