Folklore and legends are an integral part of Vietnamese culture as it is in many countries around the world. For history buffs or curious visitors in general, folklore passed down from generation to generation gives us a glimpse into an ancient world that once was and how it has shaped the world up to today.
Vietnam is full of intriguing legends from Sword Lake, located in the center of Hanoi, which tells a tale of a turtle that surfaced and equipped Le Loi with a sword to defeat the enemies invading to majestic Halong Bay.
Legend says that long ago, when the country was newly formed, the Vietnamese forefathers had to fight against fierce invaders coming from the North by sea.
The gods from the heavens watched on before sending the Mother Dragon and her children to help the ancient Vietnamese people to defend their country.
The dragons descended upon the earth, incinerated the invaders and spat jewels of emerald and jade that upon hitting the land, turned into great islands and islets that formed invincible defensive walls that the invaders could not overcome.
The enemies fled and peace finally returned to this Southeast Asian country.
After the battle, The Mother Dragon and her children did not return to the heavens, but stayed in the mortal world. To this day, the dragons lay on the lands they helped protect. The seas rose but it is the dragons that form the bays iconic mountainous landscape.
The dragon children lay on the lands that are known as Bai Tu Long which literally means ‘Thanks to the Dragon children’ and their tails form the area of Bach Long Vi. The great Mother Dragon forms Ha Long Bay, which literally translates as ‘Descending Dragon Bay’.
Thien Cung Grotto
The collection of tales explaining the names of each islet and island definitely evoke curiosity. Thien Cung Grotto (Heavenly Cave), Dau Go Cave (The Cave of Stakes), or Sung Sot Cave (Surprise Cave), why are all the names so weird? Actually, they all originate from legends and true historical events.
Home to the King of Dragons – Thien Cung Grotto is a prime example. In order to end the severe drought lasting for years at that time, a couple decided to find their way to the grotto, begging the King of Dragon for creating rain and helping people.
The couple had a daughter – a beautiful little girl named Cloud (Mây), who later fell in love with the Prince of Dragons. Their love story resulted in a wedding celebrated for seven days in the cave and attended by the whole animal kingdom as well as gods from the heavens.
Dau Go Cave
In the Resistance War of Nguyen – Mong invaders, Tran Hung Dao ( a well known Supreme Commander of Vietnam in Tran Dynasty ) prepared long spiky stakes used to sink invaders in the deep ocean floor of Bach Dang River.
The remains of the stakes were still in the cave and account for the name “The cave of stakes”. Another name of this cave is Giau Go cave which literally means “Hidden Wood” since the Commander Tran Hung Dao concealed it for the cave and let no one else know about this event.
Trinh Nu Cave
In contrast, Legend of Trinh Nu Cave is a mourning love story. Legend said that there was a gorgeous girl who lived off of fishing. Because of her poor status, she had to work for the owner of the whole fishing area.
This man was attracted to the girl’s beauty and dishonorably forced her to marry him as his step wife. Of course she didn’t agree with the man. She had a lover who was a strong experienced fisherman, and he had previously sailed to the middle of the sea for a big fishing contract in order to have money for their wedding.
The rich man gets very mad and immediately commands his servants to kidnap her and leave her on an abandoned island. The poor girl gives up on life due to starvation and exhaustion. When her lover heard the bad news, he sailed his boat instantly to the island she was left.
Unfortunately, there was a storm coming and the fisherman’s boat got struck badly. The man died while trying to swim to the shore. The two bodies of the couple turn into rock effigies. These effigies still exist until now.
The cave where she died is called Trinh Nu Cave meaning “Virgin Cave”. The place of her poor lover turned into a cave named Hang Trong which means “Male Cave”.
Cat Ba island
Cat Ba island is the biggest island in all of the Halong Bay region including Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay. Local people of Cat Ba island tell a lot of interesting legends about this island.
The island was the place where women during times of war produced supplies, medicines, bullets, clothes, et cetera for men in the front line fighting with enemies on another island.
Therefore, the island where men took to fighting is called Cac Ong island meaning “Men Island”.
In the flow of time, Cac Ong becomes Cat Ong. Island where the women lived. It is named “Cac Ba” or “Cat Ba” island which means “Women Island”.