It is believed that Ha Long Bay was created by a dragon or a family of dragons. While it is agreed that “Hạ Long” translates to “descending dragon,” the origin stories vary. One story claims that a dragon plunged into the sea and used his tail to cut out islands. A different myth is shared about a family of dragons, sent by the king of heaven to help defend Vietnam in battle. A mother and her children spat jewels and jade that formed a way of islands to stop invaders.
Folklore has played a large role in the culture of Ha Long Bay as many locals utilize ancient legends and true historical events to name the islands.
Thien Cung Grotto (Heavenly Cave)
During a severe drought, a couple looked to a small cave where they would find the King of Dragons. Here, they could beg the king to create rain. The daughter of the couple was a beautiful girl named, Mây, or Cloud. Mây would soon fall in love with the Prince of Dragons. The two celebrated their wedding with a seven-day party inside the cave. The entire animal kingdom was invited as well as gods from the heaven.
Dau Go Cave (The Cave of Stakes)
Tran Hung Dao, a beloved general of Tran Dynasty in the 13th century, was best known for preparing long stakes to use in battle. His weapons would help defeat the Chinese invaders along the Bach Dang River. Dau Go Cave found its name as the pieces of the stakes were found in the cave.
Kim Quy Cave (Golden Turtle Cave)
Photo credit: James Cowel
King Lê Thái Tổ had a holy sword that he used in combat against Ming invaders from China. After the battle, the Golden Turtle swam toward the South China Sea to return it but was given permission from the Sea King to fight against marine monsters nearby. Eventually, the turtle grew weary and passed away in a cave, but he was still honored by naming the cave after him.
Sung Sot Cave (Surprise Cave)
When French colonists first saw Sung Sot Cave, they were awed by its beauty and shocked by the breathtaking nature of the formation. They deemed it the grotto of surprises. Over time, the name stuck.
These are just a few examples of the origin stories behind Ha Long Bay. Locals love to tell these stories; make sure to ask on your next trip the bay.