Trang An Ninh Binh information and tips
North Vietnam is well known for its stunning landscape of mountains and deltas. Travelers are always amazed by how picturesque and majestic the sights are. Halong bay is no doubt the most beautiful thing in Vietnam. Beside the stunning Halong bay, travelers can experience the alike kind of rock formation and landscape in Ninh Binh. Ninh Binh is considered to be the heaven on earth for having the magnificent sceneries of Trang An, Tam Coc, Van Long. Among those Trang An Ninh Binh is the largest and the most beautiful and peaceful mountains, rivers, caves and rice fields combination.
Trang An from the above
Trang An Ninh Binh has a total of 2168 hectares, 90 kms to the south east of Hanoi. Trang An Ninh Binh has been recognized as the World Heritage by UNESCO in 2014. This beautiful landscape is truly a heaven on earth. The whole area is covered with magnificent limestone mountains with different sizes and shapes mirroring on silky rivers and rice paddies. An endless series of wondrous caves, grottos and lagoons giving adventurers endless chances to be wowing. The totally green colors of forests mixing with crystal blue water colorful flowers will make you feel like you are lost in Eden. Trang An Ninh Binh has in total 31 valleys, 50 cross-water caves, and home to 600 kinds of flora and over 200 kinds of fauna, many of them in the Vietnam’s Red Book.
Together with the beautiful nature Trang An Ninh Binh also witnessed the early days of Vietnam in the 10th century from 3 dynasties: Dinh Tien Hoang, Le Dai Hanh and Ly Thai To. Trang An Ninh Binh was also the first capital city of Vietnam back in the year 938 to year 1010 when King Dinh Tien Hoang defeated the Chinese domination and became the first independent king of Vietnam.
The boat ride in Trang An
Tips to visit Trang An Ninh Binh
1. How to get to Trang An
- By public buses: There are buses from Hanoi’s Nuoc Ngam bus stations and Giap Bat station going to Ninh Binh or passing Ninh Binh. Tickets are 60.000 VND/person. You can catch the bus from Hanoi then take a taxi or motorbike taxi to Trang An.
- Trains: There are trains starting from Hanoi train station going to Saigon via Ninh Binh. From Ninh Binh train station it is 20 kms to Trang An.
- Motorbikes: For adventurers it’s possible to ride a motor scooter from Hanoi. But you have to go on the old highway 1. Important note: the new high way one is NOT for motorbikes! It’s highly recommended you take other kinds of transport then rent a motorbike in Ninh Binh if you want to ride. Motorbikes can be rent easily at hotels or even restaurants in Trang An Ninh Binh. It’s about 150.000 VND (7 US$)/bike/day and you take care of gasoline yourself.
- Private cars: You should start from Hanoi around 8:30 in the morning and get to Trang An Ninh Binh at around 10:30. This is the most convenient and safe way to go to Trang An. You can also use your car to explore more sights in the area too. Trang An Ninh Binh can be seen in within the day so no need to spend the night there.
Trang An boat reception area
2. Entrance tickets in Trang An Ninh Binh
Ticker price is 150.000 VND per person based on a shared boat of 4 (for foreigners) and 6 (for Vietnamese). If you want to have your private boat then buying all 4 tickets is required (600.000 VND or about 26 US$). That included both boat fee and entrance tickets. The price is applied for all routes. There are different routes for you to choose. The standard one is 3, 5 hours including boat trip on the rivers and visiting 6-9 caves as well as the climb to some of the pagodas and temples. You can make it shorter by skipping some of the climbing and do the boat row only. Tickets can be achieved at the beginning of the well come reception. Note: if you want your private boat and don’t want to wait for others to join you then make it clear to the ticket counters. Boats are not too large so a private boat is recommended for the maximum space and view.
All sites in the area
3. The boat trip
The main thing you are going to do in Trang An Ninh Binh is the boat trip (sampans). Sampans are a basic with no roof and they are rowed by your rowers. You may help to row if you feel like. They always prepare a spare paddle for you. Basically you just sit there and watch the stunning scenery and admire the nature. It’s complete quiet you can only hear the paddles waving the blue water. The water is so clean you can even see many fish and water plants. Look around you may see some gibbons or monkey in a good day. When going into a cave your boat rower will remind you to lower your head. It’s dark inside the caves but touches are prepared for your view.
At about 2/3 of the boat row they will stop at a temple for your hike up the path way going to series of temples and pagodas carved into the rock. Spend time to walk the steps and wander around. Boats are waiting for you at the end rout of the hiking steps. In high time there can be many boats so remember your boat number of the boat rower to make sure you come back to the right boat when done the hiking. Steps can be slippery when in the rain.
Water is crystal clear in Trang An
4. The boat rowers:
They are all farmers nearby and this is not their main job. They work in the rice fields and only do boat row when there is a chance. There are thousands of boat so they really have to take turn to wait for their “number”. Boats belong to the Trang An Ninh Binh boat company and boat rowers only do the freelance job. They are well organized by the boat company and they are happy to do the ride for you. No-one can speak English and they always tend to greet you in French no matter where you come from haha. That’s easy to understand as we had almost 100 years of the French colonial time in Vietnam.
When I finished my boat ride I found these boat women eating the lunch right on their boats. Those rowers are not very much paid and they cannot do this every day. So make sure when you finish your boat trip you leave some tip. That will make their day! How much should you tip? If you are having your private boat then about 100.000 VND (5$) is appropriate. And if you’re sharing with other then about 1$ each person would be ok. Tipping is absolutely volunteer so only do it if you feel happy. One thing I like about those boat rowers: they are well educated so they won’t throw rubbish and empty bottles to the water (which sadly cannot be seen a lot in other tourist sites in Vietnam).
Boat rowers having lunch
5. Food after boat ride
If you’re doing Trang An Ninh Binh boat ride in the morning it will be about lunch when you finish. There is a restaurant right there at the boat reception. They serve Vietnamese food as well as specialty of Ninh Binh province. I’m talking about goat meat. Goats are found everywhere in Ninh Binh and they make many good dishes out of goats. That restaurant is normally quite busy with Chinese and Vietnamese group tour. You can go further to Ninh Binh city or all the way to Tam Coc to have more choices of restaurants. Don’t forget to try their crunchy fried sticky rice dipping in a special sauce made from goat’s intestines. Well yes you don’t have to eat it!
Going through many caves and grottoes in Trang An
6. Other sights and activities nearby
Ninh Binh is blessed to have many things to see and do. After Trang An Ninh Binh you can drive to the Hoa Lu citadel nearby (about 5kms) to visit the temples of the King Dinh and King Le as well as the remains of the ancient capital city of Vietnam. Tam Coc- another boat trip is 20 kms from Trang that has the familiar scenery. Bai Dinh pagoda- the biggest pagoda in Southeast Asia is also a good sight to visit. Van Long Conservation Area is also worth a visit. If you want to do some bird watching then go to Thung Nham. For seeing everything in Ninh Binh you need at least 2 days. There are many hotels in the city and the Amerada resort in Van Long (my favorite!) for your choices. They are all near Trang An.
Many temples and pagodas can be viewed and visited on the way
7. Other notes:
- Totally the boat trip takes about 3, 5 hours. And there is no toilet on the way. So make sure you visit the bathroom at the reception area before getting on the boat. Forget to do it? I’m afraid you’re not going to enjoy yourself very much. Prepare to have some small change (2.000 VND) to pay for the toilet.
- Dress comfortable for the boat ride and the walk but make sure your shoulders and knees are covers. As you’re visiting temples and pagodas. It can get really hot in the summer and you may not want to wear your long pants. No worries ladies bring some scarfs to cover when you visit the religious sites.
- The boat trip involves some hiking up the mountains. There a paved steps that make it easy to walk but some good walking shoes should be worn. Flip flops will not be effective.
- Prepare to bring some water (or lots of water in the hot summer) with you on the boat ride. There are no shops or cafes on the way.
- Tips for boat rowers at the end of the boat ride. Believe me it’s not as easy as it looks to row the boats.
By Pham Tuyen