Top Halong Bay Grottoes
Sung Sot (Surprise) Grotto
Situated in the centre of the UNESCO-declared World Heritage area, the Sung Sot or Surprise Grotto is on Bo Hon Island, and is one of the finest and widest grottoes of Ha 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 Top Beach, Bo Nau Grotto, Me Cung Grotto and Luon 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 An aggressors, Thanh Giong (the Saint Giong) helped the population to chase away evil spirits and demons. After this feat, Saint Giong flew to heaven, leaving a stone horse and sword to continue to keep the demons away.
Thien Cung Grotto
This recently discovered grotto is one of the most beautiful in Ha Long Bay. Thien Cung is situated on the southwest side of the bay, 4 km from the wharf outside of Ha Long City. It is located in a small range of islands that resemble a throne embracing two superb grottoes at its core.
The way to Thien Cung is perilous, covered on both sides by thick forest. After entering a narrow gate, the magnificent, 130 m long grotto opens up. According to legend, a beautiful young lady named May (cloud) caught the eye of the Dragon Prince and he fell in love with her. They were betrothed and got married in the very centre of the grotto.
All of the scenes of their wedding, which lasted for seven days and seven nights, have been seemingly fossilized in the grotto. In the centre, there are four large pillars supporting the “roof of heaven”. From the base to the top, many strange images seem to exist in the stone, including birds, fish, flowers and even scenes of human life. On the north wall of the grotto, a group of fairies seems to be singing and dancing in honour of the wedding. Under the immeasurably high roof, stalactites form a natural stone curtain.
There is also the sound of a beating drum made by the wind blowing through the stone. In the last chamber of the grotto, a natural gushing stream of water babbles throughout the year. Here there are three small ponds of clear water. One path meanders out of the grotto.
Dau Go (Wood head) Grotto
Dau Go (Wood head) Grotto is found on Driftwood Island, formerly known as Canh Doc Island. The name Drift wood Grotto comes from the popular story of the resistance war against the Nguyen Mong aggressors. In a decisive battle, Tran Hung Dao was given an order to prepare many ironwood stakes to be planted on the riverbed of the Bach Dang River.
The remaining wooden pieces were found in ‘the grotto and, as a result, the grotto was given its present name. The entrance is reached via 90 steps up the island. The grotto is divided into three main parts. In the first chamber, many forms can be seen in the rock, depending on the imagination of the observer. In the middle of the chamber 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.
Moving into the second chamber, visitors pass through a narrow “door”, naturally formed through erosion. The light here is mysterious, and new images appear in the stone. At the end of the grotto is a well of clear water surrounded by four ancient walls. In this grotto, there remains an engraved stone stele singing the praises of Ha Long Bay ordered by Emperor Khai Dinh when he came to visit the grotto in 1917. Dau Go is 40 minutes from Bai Chay.
Bo Nau Grotto
Some 2-3 km southeast of Trong Mai Islet lies Bo Nau 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. Bo Nau Grotto is one of the beauty grottoes in Ha Long Bay.
The name Bo Nau or Bo Nong is associated with the fact that pelicans often take shelter here. If Dau Go Grotto lies completely inside the island, Bo Nau 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, Bo Nau Grotto enjoys cool wind. Standing there, one can hear the murmur of the sea all year round.
Situated on Bo Hon Island, 14 km south of Bai Chay Beach is the Luon 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.
Trinh Nu (Virgin) Grotto
The Trinh Nu (Virgin) Grotto is situated in the island range of B6 Him, in the system comprised of the Surprise Grotto, Dong Tien Lake, and Luon Grotto. The grotto is 15 km south of Bai Chay Beach. For some fishermen, the Virgin Grotto is home, while for young lovers it is a popular romantic rendezvous site.
According to legend, there once was a beautiful fisherman’s daughter, whose family was so poor that they were in service of the rich administrator of the fishing zone, who forced the family to give him their daughter as a concubine. However, the fisherman’s daughter already had a lover and refused to marry the administrator.
The administrator got angry and exiled her to a wild island where she suffered from hunger and exhaustion. One frightful night she turned to stone. On this same night, her lover, knowing of her danger, rowed his boat in search of her. However, a tempest destroyed his boat, and he floated to a nearby island. In a flash of lightening, he saw his lover in the distance, but his calls were driven away by the wind. In his final exhaustion, he also turned to stone (today’s Male Grotto).
When visiting the Virgin Grotto, you can still see the petrified girl with her long hair hanging down and eyes looking towards the mainland. Opposite the Virgin Grotto, the Male Grotto is still home to the lover whose his face is turned towards his mate. At times, his passionate calls and blows against the walls of the grotto can still be heard.
Kim Quy (Golden Tortoise) Grotto
Kim Quy Grotto or Golden Tortoise Grotto is situated on Dam Nam Islet, with a peak 187 m above sea level. Dam 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 Le Loi defeat his enemies, the Golden Tortoise took back the magic sword he had given him, and swam towards the sea.
Arriving in Halong 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.
Ba Ham Lake
Situated on the south-west side of Halong Bay, Ba Ham Lake is found on Dau Be Island (Calf Head Island) in Lan Ha Bay. This island is part of the range of islands at the farthest end of Halong Bay, bordering the immense zone Long Chau Sea. Ba Ham 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 Ham Lake is one of the beauty spots of Halong Bay.