Halong Bay Grottoes
Thien Cung Grotto
It is situated on the south-west side the bay, 4 km from the wharf outside of Ha Long City. The way to Thiên Cung is a perilous one, covered on both sides by thick forest. After entering a narrow gate, the grotto’s 130-meter-long girth opens up. Getting in we are more astonished in front of the very animated and splendid beauty which is made from stalactite. On the east wall of the grotto, there is a grandiose and imposing picture with characters of tales.
Going out of the Thiên Cung Grotto, we have a sensation of just watching a unique, meticulous, interesting fine-art museum which is made by nature, get out of the imagine, ability and intellect of man.
This grotto is recently discovered, one of the most beautiful grottoes in Hạ Long Bay.
Legend has it, that beautiful young lady named Mây (cloud), caught the eye of the Dragon Prince and he fell in love with her. They were betrothed, and their wedding lasted seven days and seven nights in the very centre of the grotto.
In honour of the wedding, small dragons flew about through the stalactites and stalagmites, elephants danced together happily, snakes twined themselves around trees and two stone lions danced with their manes flowing in the wind. A large elephant, smartly dressed, waited for the bride and the groom. The genies of the south and north stars also came to attend the banquet, and the atmosphere was definitely animated and lively. All these scenes have been seemingly fossilized in the grotto.
In the centre are four large pillars supporting the "roof of heaven.” From the base to the top, many strange images seem to live in the stone: birds, fish, flowers and even scenes of human life. On the north wall of the grotto a group of fairies seem to dance and sing in honour of the wedding. Under the immeasurably high roof, stalactites make a natural stone curtain. Somewhere there is the sound of a drum beating, but it is actually just the noise made by the wind blowing through stone.
Arriving at the last partition of the grotto, a natural gushing stream of water babbles throughout the year. Here are three small ponds of clear water. Legend has it, that this was where Mây bathed her 100 children, bringing them up wisely and happily into adolescence. One path meanders out of the grotto; it was the way Mây, together with 50 of her children, took to harvest new lands. The 50 remaining children, together with their father, were left to build the native land. Left behind by the mother was the natural stream described above.
Bo Nau Grotto
Some 2-3 km southeast of Trống Mái Islet lies Bồ Nâu Grotto or Pelican Grotto. This vaulted grotto covers 200 m2. The floor of the grotto is wide and flat, but not deep, and its wall features lots of stalactites and stalagmites.
At the entrance are three stones, looking like three fairies with their heads close to one another. Two men appear to be playing chess, with the third serving as a referee.
Bồ Nâu Grotto is one of the beauty grottoes in HaLong Bay.
The name Bồ Nâu or Bồ Nông is associated with the fact that pelicans often take shelter here. If Ðầu Gỗ Grotto lies completely inside the island, Bồ Nâu opens its mouth at the side of the island. Stalactites fall down from the roof of the grotto in different clusters. Meanwhile stalagmites grow up in different shapes and layers. Is this that the life out there is so noisy that the three fairies have to choose this tranquil place to play chess? Turning southward, Bồ Nâu Grotto enjoys cool wind. Standing there, one can hear the murmur of the sea all year round.
Me Cung Grotto
Two kilometers south-west of Ti Tốp Beach is the Mê Cung Grotto or Bewitching Grotto. It formed on Lom Bò Island, and seen from afar, the entrance is like the roof of a house denting the island’s side.
After a narrow crack only allowing one person through at a time, many partitions appear. These chambers are somewhat small and narrow, but very refined, and with many stalagmites and stalactites bearing beautiful forms.
Threading your way through narrow passages, you find a dim light from afar, which signals the exit of the grotto. On getting out of the grotto, climb up several rugged stone stairs and look down, you see a large round lake surrounded by the mountain. Its waters is blue all year round. The lake is home to many kinds of fish, shrimps, octopuses, algae, see weed, and coral. Lying adjacent to the lake there is an area of old trees popularly known as an alluring “royal garden”.
It is dry and well-ventilated, and features a thick layer of shells forming the foundation of the entrance. Formerly, this layer was 1.2-meter-thick and semi-fossilized. In the course of research, there was also a fossilized animal’s skeleton discovered in the interior. The Mê Cung Grotto has been recognized by archaeologists as one of the vestiges of the pre-Ha Long new Stone Age culture, that existed between 7, 000 and 10, 000 years ago.
Pushing into the grotto, tourists feel like walking in a palace of a Persian king. Hearing the murmur from out of nowhere, you think that Scheherazade is telling the stories of the Thousand and One Nights for her king.
On the island, there are many ancient trees casting long reflections on the water of the bay. They are home to many species of birds and animals (monkeys, chamois and varans).
Hang Hanh is one of the longest grottoes in Ha Long Bay, lying 9 km west of Cẩm Phả Town and 20 km from Bãi Cháy Beach. It is 1, 300 m long, and stretches throughout the stone mountain of Quang Hanh.
Hanh Grotto is extremely beautiful. The small boat will take you through the stone passageway by lamp-light, casting magical colours on the hanging stalactites.
The French named it “Le Tunnel” or Tunnel Grotto. The mouth of the grotto is so low one has to go by small boat to pass through.
To get there, tourists can hire canoes in Ðoan wharf (Hòn Gai, Hạ Long City) or take a coach to Cẩm Phả. At the Cẩm Phả wharf, one can also hire boats or canoes to go to the grotto. One should visit the grotto at low tide, as this is the time the mouth of the grotto appears. Remember to bring along torches before starting the journey. It takes one some 60 to 90 minutes to complete the trip. Hang Hanh Grotto seems suitable for adventures. Another matter of no less important is that the boatmen must be experienced or else you will get locked up in this deep “Water Palace”.
In front of the present-day mouth stands Ba Cô (Three Girls) shrine in a towering piece of stone. Legend has it that: “Once upon a time there were three girls who often went to the sea together. One day, they caught a pouring rain and took shelter in a grotto. They found the scenery so captivating that they forgot the time of rising tide. Locked up in the grotto, they passed away and became Water God.” Today, fishermen usually went to the shrine to pray for their bestowing favours on them.
Kim Quy Grotto
Kim Quy Grotto or Golden Tortoise Grotto is situated on Dâm Nam Islet, with a peak 187 m above sea level. Dâm Bac Islet is in the front of the grotto and Soi Sim Islet in the back.
The grotto is 100 m long and 5 to 10 m wide, running in a north-south direction. A narrow way leads to the interior of the grotto where a stream flows. The stalactites here are snow-white and lightly hang from the ceiling.
It is linked to the ancient legend of the Golden Tortoise: after having helped Emperor Lê Loi defeat his enemies, the Golden Tortoise took back the magic sword he had given him, and swam towards the sea. Arriving in Hạ Long Bay, it met with so many evil spirits and demons hindering its journey that it remained to do battle. After having defeated them all, the Golden Tortoise was so exhausted that it searched for a grotto to rest in, and once inside, turned to stone. Today in the grotto, it can be found dozing, still with ancient wounds covering its body.
Situated on Bồ Hòn Island, 14 km south of Bãi Cháy Beach is the Luồn Grotto. In front of the grotto is Con Rùa Islet, and the Sky Gate is on the right. Here the cliffs stretch vertically out of the pure blue and smooth water. At the water-level, an arched entrance leads to the grotto, just at the base of the island. Passing through the pretty entrance, you come across a tranquil round lake, surrounded by luxuriant trees and high dangerous stone walls. Monkeys run to and fro in groups, benjamin fig trees shade the landscape and many orchids hang their sweet-scented flowers. In the lake, many species abound: shrimp, fish, crab and cuttle-fish.
This is an enclosed group of islands. It connects with the sea via a 4-meter-wide, 100-meter-long, and 3-meter-high mouth. Inside the grotto, the 1-km2 brackish lake is surrounded by mountains. On the cliff one still find traces of fossils of fresh-water snails, which prove that men used to live there and this must have been a deep valley then.
The beauty of the site, is the mingling of a number of factors: the mountain's size and form, the colour of the water and the clouds.
Tam Cung Grotto
The Tam Cung Grotto or Three-palace Grotto is situated in the centre of Hạ Long Bay, 5 km from Sửng Sôt Grotto to the northeast. The grotto itself is divided into three parts; after threading the stone cracks, you find the first chamber. Many beautiful forms can be garnered from the rocky shapes.
Continuing on to the second chamber, the bumpy way leads to a spring with fresh water. The last room contains further incredible stone depictions.
Tam Cung Grotto lies in Mây Đèn, a luxuriant island nearly isolated from other islands. Mây Ðèn’s cliffs are extremely vertical, while its forest is flourishing.
Entering its first chamber, one can hear the sound of t’rung or stone musical instrument from near and far. Pushing further inside, tourists meet a “fairy” whose white beard flies in the wind climbing the mountain. High in the wall of the chamber there stand three statues representing prosperity, happiness and longevity, looking down at the earthly world. From the ceiling falls down a stalactite which resembles the bud of a hydrangea among a garden of stone flowers. Going through a narrow passage, one comes to a natural museum of lively animals, including lions, seals, even god of the sea. In the middle of the second chamber lies a stream murmuring all year round, making the two surrounding cliffs rustle. In the last chamber, tourists can find an imposing bas-relief in which are carved elaborate strange images, lying layer after layer in a harmonious layout. One can figure out flowers, bamboos, stone curtains, or sleeping elephants.
Sung Sot Grotto
Situated in the centre of the UNESCO-declared World Heritage area, the Sửng Sôt or Surprise Grotto is on Bồ Hòn Island, and is one of the finest and widest grottoes of Hạ Long Bay.
Ascending to the grotto, the way is covered by trees and foliage, and consists of great paved stone blocks. Inside, it is partitioned into two chambers; the first one being similar to a wide theatre hall. Many stalactites hang from the high ceiling, with numerous possible forms and shapes.
A narrow passage leads to the second rooms, where a flow of light meets visitors. The chamber is so immense it could contain thousands of people at one time.
At the deepest point of the grotto, a "royal garden" appears with a clear pond and a seemingly fascinating landscape of mountains. Many birds and plants (benjamin figs, cycads and centenary banyan trees) live here. On nice days groups of monkeys might arrive in search of fruit.
It is situated in the central tourism centre of the bay, as well as Ti Tốp Beach, Bô Nâu Grotto, Mê Cung Grotto and Luồn Grotto. French named it "grotte des surprises" (grotto of surprise) From the wharf, you climb 50 steep stone stairs to the mouth of the grotto, which lies 25 m above the sea level. Going down some 10 stone stairs, you reach the mouth of a grotto. The grotto covers some 10, 000 m2. Inside the grotto there have thousands of stalactites and stalagmites along the 500-meter paved passage. Light posts line the passage and serve as signposts and ornaments. The lighting system with elegant styles adds more charm to the beauty of the grotto.
Up in the 30-meter roof of the grotto, one can figure out small, soft and even concave spots, which look like patterns in the ceiling of a theater. A huge piece of stone stands up to the ceiling by the grotto’s mouth. This evidences one of the typical karst-style grottoes with high scientific values.
At the side of the entrance, the rock seems to form the shape of a horse with a long sword. Legend has it, that after having defeated the Ân aggressors, Thánh Gióng (the Saint Gióng) helped the population to chase away evil spirits and demons. After this feat, Saint Gióng flew to heaven, leaving a stone horse and sword to continue to keep the demons away.
Dau Go Grotto
The grotto is on Driftwood Island. Seen from afar, the entrance to the grotto appears to be blue, and has a shape similar to that of a jellyfish. After 90 steps up the island, the entrance is reached. The ceiling of the grotto is about 25 m. Hundreds of stalactites falling down from the roof of the grotto look like a waterfall.
The grotto is divided into three main parts. The exterior is a room with a vault full of natural light. Many forms may be seen in the rock formations of the chamber, depending on the imagination of the visitor of course.
Crossing the first chamber, one enters the second chamber through a narrow passage. The light here is mysterious, and new images appear in the stone. It makes us having a fear and be inquisitive.
The third chamber of the grotto is widely opened. At the end of the grotto is a well of clear water. Looking up in the dim light we recognize that surrounded is the image of an ancient citadel and a scuffle of elephants, horses, man with bristly sword and spear. All are making a rush and be petrified suddenly.
The name Driftwood Grotto came from a popular story of the resistance war against the Yuan - Mongolian aggressors. In a decisive battle, Trân Hưng Ðậo was given the order to prepare many ironwood stakes here, to be planted on the riverbed of Bạch Ðằng River. The remaining wooden pieces found in the grotto have given it its present name.
And the name Giâu Gô is associated with the legend that General Trân Hưng Ðạo (1226-1300) hid ironwood stakes in preparation for the Bạch Đằng battle against the Yuan-Mongolian invaders.
If the Thiên Cung Grotto is monumental and modern (in its natural form), then Driftwood Grotto is solemn, but also grandiose. In "Marvels of the World, " published in France in 1938, the author called the grotto "Grotte des merveilles" (a site of many marvels)
In the first chamber, in the very middle of the grotto, is a colossal pillar supporting the large vault. On the top of the pillar, there appears to be a monk draped in a long, dark cloak, with his right hand clasping a cane.
The second chamber is narrow. Here, the stalactites look smaller but more graceful. One feels like going to a pagoda with a monk in meditation so that one steps more gently.
The third chamber features high stone columns out of which nature has carved images of a large kingdom, of heroes and soldiers holding swords and spears rushing up, of war elephants and horses or lions, etc. All of them suddenly was petrified and remained there for good.
Trinh Nu Grotto
The Trinh Nữ Grotto or Virgin Grotto is situated on the island range of Bồ Hòn in the system comprising the Sửng Sôt Grotto, Ðộng Tiên Lake and Luồn Grotto. It is 15 km south of Bãi Cháy Beach. For fishermen, the Virgin Grotto is their house, but for young lovers, it is considered as the symbol of truly love, and is the romantic place for taking oath of love.
Entering Trinh Nữ Grotto, one finds in the middle of the grotto a stone statue of a lying-girl with her long hair hanging down who is looking to the sea in a vain hope.
Situated opposite to Trinh Nữ Grotto, Trống (or Male) Grotto has a stone statue of a boy who turns his face to Trinh Nữ Grotto. One still hears his vain scream in tune with the wind blowing into the cliff somewhere.
Legend has it, there once was a beautiful fisherman's daughter, whose family was so poor that it was in the service of the rich administrator of the fishing zone. He forced the family to give him the girl as a concubine. She already had a lover who at that time was on the high seas catching fish to prepare for their wedding. The administrator, angered by her refusal, exiled her to a wild island where she suffered from hunger and exhaustion. On one frightening night, amidst terrible rain and winds, she turned to stone.
It was also the night that her lover knew of her danger, and he rowed his boat in search of her. On the terrible night, the tempest destroyed his boat and he floated to one of the islands. In a lighting flash he saw his mate in the distance, but his calls were driven away by the wind. He used a stone block to hammer down on the mountain cliffs to announce to her he was nearby. He struck until blood flowed from his hands, and in his final exhaustion, turned to stone (today’s Trống Grotto).
Tourists also find Trinh Nữ Grotto attractive partly because of its association with a fanciful love legend: “Once upon a time, there lived a boy and a girl who deeply loved each other. However, they were so poor that they could not be able to get married. The boy decided to go offshore fishing with a hope that he could get enough money for his marriage. And the girl painfully waited in vain for her fiancé. She finally took a small boat and rowed to the sea to look for him. So immense is the sea, and so many are the islands, the boy, therefore could not hear her doleful call, though he was just several canals away. Exhausted, the girl lied in a grotto, looking to the sea and got petrified after the last call. The boy got lost in a grotto nearby, shouting to call the girl in vain. The echo of their call through the cliff was so moving. At last, the boy became exhausted and petrified in the grotto - present-day Trống Grotto.” Today, whenever passing this place, tourists can still hear his faint call.
Ba Ham Lake
Situated on the south-west side of Hạ Long Bay, Ba Hầm Lake is found on Ðầu Bê Island (Calf Head Island) in Lan Hạ Bay. This island is part of the range of islands at the farthest end of Hạ Long Bay, bordering the immense zone Long Châu Sea. Ba Hầm Lake is situated in the middle of a narrow, rectangular area, with the all four sides enclosed by vertical cliffs.
The lake is a system comprising three wide and round pits, linked together by a narrow and meandering tunnel. Stalactites hang from the ceiling in a myriad of strange, coloured forms. The silence is disturbed only by the sounds of the boat’s oars. On the island are many species of plants such as orchids, benjamin figs, banyans and cycads, which blossom throughout the year. It is also the home of yellow-haired monkeys, birds, flying squirrels and bats. Under the deep blue surface of the water are the animated lives of shrimp and fish.
Although 25 km from the shore, it has long been considered an ideal tourism zone. The entrance is a open semi-circular hole in the flat stone wall on the north-west side of the island, 4 to 5 m above the sea.
Starting from the entrance, tourists enter the first tunnel, which boasts a forest of stalactites and stalagmites in different shapes and various colours. They fall down the water surface like the roots of banyan or ficus trees. The deeper one pushes into the tunnel, the darker it becomes. The river is deep yet so clear that one can see shoals of fish swimming. Some 100 m from the entrance one finds a shaft of light coming from the roof of the tunnel, which reveals different kinds of orchids clinging to the cliff, cycads growing here and there, trúc duôi gà (a kind of reed with cock’s tail-liked yellow leaves) flourishing in clumps. In the southeast cliff of the second tunnel there grows an old carambola tree, which bears fruits all year round. Tourists can find groups of monkeys, flying squirrels, or silver-headed parrots gathering in its branches. Lying one cliff away from the second one, the third tunnel is home to various species of bats and butterflies.
Amidst the tranquil atmosphere, you feel like boating in an abyssal well walled by mountains. Ba Hầm Lake is one of the beauty spots of Hạ Long Bay.