There are so much to see in Hanoi, which has been the capital of Vietnam since 1010. You can enjoy exploring the French quarters with tree lined boulevard sparking with yellow buildings, or walking the old quarter to discover thousands of groceries on narrow streets after being guided through historical sites. But if you have seen all of those, where else can you go without a long drive? Is there any countryside area you can go for a day trip? The answer is Ninh Binh province, known for the scenic countryside and limestone mountains.
On Incense Travel’s journey to Ninh Binh province, you can see the outskirt of Hanoi, peaceful countryside, village pagoda, row on a little sampan boat, cycle through villages, or learn farming works with the local people…
Locating in the southernmost of the Red River Delta, about 120km from Hanoi, Ninh Binh province is well-known as the land of enchanting rivers and mountains. The province was the capital of Vietnam from 968 to 1010 with 3 dynasties, and also an important military area in different historical periods. With the recent recognition from UNESCO for Trang An as a Heritage Site and being the backdrop of the Hollywood movie – Kong: Skull Island, Ninh Binh tourism is awakening as a bright tourist destination. Let’s me take a moment to introduce what you can do and where to stay in Ninh Binh province.
Cuc Phuong National Park
Known as the first national park in Vietnam, and the country’s largest national park. Cuc Phuong National Park can be visited from Hanoi in a day trip, or visitors can overnight at the nearby Emeralda Resort to see the rest of the scenic area on the next day.
With 22,200 ha of rainforest, some of its thousands of species of plants and animals could be seen with the local park ranger. Park visitors can enjoy hiking up and down the karst mountains, or just have a rewarding trip to the primate and turtle rehabilitation and breeding centers.
Visiting the park is a terrific opportunity to get a close look at Vietnam’s nature, the best time of the year to visit the park is during the dry season, from November to February.
Hoa Lu – Tam Coc
Nicknamed as “Halong Bay on land”. This is one of the most famous destination for a day trip from Hanoi, almost every hotel in Hanoi is selling trip to this site. A day trip to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc is highlighted with leisurely cycling along rice paddies and peacefully rowing along charming river with a little bamboo boat.
Tam Coc literally mean "three caves", consists of three natural caves — on the Ngo Dong River, a small irrigation for the farming. Tourists to this sites are taken on a small boats and rowed along the river, gliding through rice field, lotus ponds, and limestone formations.
Recently recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site, Trang An Complex is a spectacular landscape of limestone karst peaks permeated with valleys, temples, Buddhist pagoda, paddy fields, and small villages. Unlike a traditional mountain range where the slopes connect to each other in a long undulating stretch, most of these peaks stand in isolation – making them even more dramatic in appearance.
While it is possible to cycle, drive – or even walk – around the mountains, most people choose to use boats to travel through some of the most scenic parts of the region, especially rowing through tunnel caves.
Being on a boat in Trang An, you would feel like mountains are surrounding you in almost every direction and, if it wasn’t for the tunnel, it would feel like you were in a lake. At the other end there’s another tunnel and you just go through it and emerge in another part of the landscape.
Van Long Nature Reserve
Van Long Nature Reserve is a very scenic river and limestone mountains; it is where you can expect to see rare wildlife. And – best of all – they are not full of foreign tourists.
Set amid yet more glorious limestone pinnacles, this tranquil reserve comprises a reedy wetland that’s popular with bird-watchers. Among the bird species that have been spotted here are the rare black-faced spoonbill, cotton pygmy goose and white-browed crake. Van Long is also one of the last wild refuges of the endangered Delacour’s langur, partly because the wetlands keep predators and poachers at bay. Langurs are not easy to spot; try your luck early in the morning or in the evening.
Bich Dong Pagoda
This charming cluster of cave temples is a couple of kilometers from Tam Coc. The Lower Pagoda is located at the base, from which 100 steps lead to the Middle Pagoda, then a shorter but steep ascent to the Upper Pagoda. Inside each cave temple, looming statues peer from the haze of burning incense. Outside offers incredible countryside views.
Bich Dong is a Buddhist pagoda complex, built in 1428. It is situated on nearby Ngu Nhac moutain, and consists of three separate pagodas: Lower, Middle, Upper Pagodas, in ascending order. Guided tours generally cover historical points and end with a view from the top.
Hoa Lu – the Ancient Capital
The very first meaningful stop-over in Ninh Binh should be Hoa Lu, where king Dinh Tien Hoang chose to settle down and made it the capital of Vietnam in 968. Hoa Lu marks the king’s great success as transferring from a district of China into an truly independent nation.
In 1010, King Ly Thai To moved the capital to Thang Long, which is now Hanoi, there were 2 temples build in the area to honor the Kings’ contribution to the country.
You may have to admit that the temple is an original architectural work of art full of folk sculptures! It attracts tourists for so many valuable relics hidden in thick bricks, tilts, Buddhist prayer-book pillars, and more importantly its meaningful history of the first ancient capital of Vietnam.
WHERE TO STAY
Emeralda Ninh Binh Resort
Locating nearby the famous Van Long Nature Reserve, the Emeralda Resort is known as the nicest resort in the area, a 5 stars accommodation. The resort is surrounded with rice paddy and water irrigations, you can walk or cycle around the area to discover the farming life, or relax at the resort's spa and pools.
Read on about the Emeralda Resort.
Tam Coc Garden
Locating about 3 km from Tam Coc tourist site, Tam Coc Garden is a litle cozy and boutique hotel. Surrounded by rice paddy fields and limestone moutains, the garden has its own atmosphere and well-turned to a relax and comfortable hidden hotel.
Tam Coc garden is also famous for its cuisine, their guests are very happy with foods they had during their stay. This place is perfect place for honeymooners, nature lovers, and people looking for a quiet boutique hotel in the countryside.