Wooden junks with trademark fan-shaped sails have for centuries been used to transport goods around the coast of Vietnam. You still see the odd antique vessel chugging around Halong Bay, but the majority cruising the UNESCO World Heritage Site are of more recent vintage. Literally hundreds operate in the area, holding anywhere between one and 36 cabins ranged over two or three storeys, surmounted by cotton sails dyed a traditional dark ochre or burgundy colour. Traditionally, the prows of junks are carved in the shape of a sea monster – an echo of the legend that the limestone islands were created by the flailing tail of a mighty dragon (whence the name ‘Halong’, which means ‘where the dragon descends to the sea’).

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