Sailing past the evocatively shaped islets and dramatic caves of Halong Bay can be a magical experience. At least an entire day can be spent exploring the islands and grottos, many of which house religious shrines. Most of the best-known sites lie in the western part of the bay and these are often overcrowd ed. It generally makes for a more relaxing trip to charter a private boat, hire a knowledge able guide, and sail around the less visited areas of the shimmering bay.
Hang Dau Go & One of the most famous caves in Halong Bay, Hang Dau Go or Hidden Timber Cave is on Dau Go Island, on the way to Cat Ba Island. The cave’s name dates from the 13th century when General Tran Hung Dao used it to hide his lethally sharpened metal stakes. The weapons were later planted in the shal low waters near the shore to des troy enemy Mongol fleets. Hang Dau Go is filled with many bizarre-shaped stalactites and stalagmites.
Hang Thien Cung & Also on Dau Go Island, Hang Thien Cung or the Celestial Palace Grotto can be reached by a steep flight of steps. It was discovered only in the mid-1990s. Floodlights in pink, green, and blue illuminate the sparkling stalactites that hang from the high ceiling.
Hang Sung Sot & Aptly known as the Cave of Awe, Hang Sung Sot is located on Bo Hon Island, which the French knew as the Isle de la Surprise. The first cavern in the three- chambered Sung Sot features a large, phallus-shaped rock, lit in lurid pink, and worshipped as a fertility symbol by the locals. The formations in the inner chamber, named the Serene Castle, on the other hand, are fascinating, seeming to come alive when the reflec tions of the water out side play upon them. Nearby, Hang Bo Nau or Pelican Cave draws visit ors for the fantastic views it offers across the bay.
Dong Tam Cung A massive karst fissure, Dong Tam Cung or Three Palaces con sists of three chambers, each of which is packed with stalactites and stalagmites. All three grottos are illuminated by strategically placed spotlights, which emphasize the strange, massed, carrot-shaped array of stalactites. Opinion is divided, but some consider Dong Tam Cung to be even more impres- sive than Hang Dau Go.
Hang Trong A short distance southeast of Hang Bo Nau, the small Hang Trong or Drum Cave echoes faintly with an eerie percus sive sound when a strong wind blows past its stalactites and stalagmites
Dao Tuan Chau A large island to the south of Bai Chay, Tuan Chau has been developed as a recreation complex, with a few restored French-Colonial villas and a resort holding unimpressive whale, dolphin, and sea lion shows. It is also the starting point for a number of tours of the bay.
Dao Titop The main attraction of this island is its isolated beach, which is very popular with swimmers. It is possible to hike to the top of the islet where there is the most spectac ular view of Halong Bay. Visitors can enjoy the few watesports facilities available at the small beach, including swimming and parasailing.