• Ninh Binh

    Ninh Binh has affectionately become known as the 'Ha Long Bay on Land'. Photo by Christian Berg.

Far too few international tourists make it to Ninh Binh, a mesmerizing area known locally as ‘Halong Bay on Land’ thanks to its magical riverine landscape with sheer-sided limestone mountains rising up from the paddies.

Ninh Binh – Ha Long Bay on Land

Far too few international tourists make it to Ninh Binh, a mesmerizing area known locally as ‘Halong Bay on Land’ thanks to its magical riverine landscape with sheer-sided limestone mountains rising up from the paddies.

The best way to get a sense of this UNESCO-listed landscape is to gain some height and look down with a bird’s eye view. To do so, head to Hang Mua where 500 steps have been dramatically carved into the steep face of a mountain.

The best way to get a sense of this UNESCO-listed landscape is to gain some height and look down with a bird’s eye view. To do so, head to Hang Mua where 500 steps have been dramatically carved into the steep face of a mountain.

At the top, a lookout points affords a vista across the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex and its fabled scenes of shimmering rivers winding lazily among paddies hemmed up by limestone outcrops.

The specific area laid out before visitors here is called Tam Coc, which means three caves. It is so named thanks to the path a river cuts through three passages in the mountains creating a river trip loop that’s like something out of a fantasy movie. 

Caves and riverways

At the Tam Coc boat dock, board one of the countless green sampans, each guided by a boat person controlling the oars with their feet, not their hands. Relax and be expertly guided through caves barely tall enough to accommodate these low-slung vessels. As the boats enter the caves they are enveloped by darkness adding a sense of adventure to the trip.  

Those with the energy left can embark on another climb to the awe inspiring lookout at Bich Dong Pagoda or head over to Trang An where a choice of two more river journeys through yet more mesmerizing scenes awaits.

Step back in time

Today the capital of Vietnam is Hanoi, but in the past that honour was held by Hoa Lu. This small ancient city served as Vietnam’s capital in the 10th and 11th centuries. Today, it’s a good place to get a history fix at two impressive restored pagodas.

In search of wildlife

Another of Ninh Binh’s boating experiences is the Van Long Nature Reserve, but unlike Trang An and Tam Coc, there may be few or even no other tourists for company. Instead, you might have some much more exotic friends around you—the Delacour's langur, one of the world’s most endangered primates. Even if you are not lucky enough to spot one on the limestone cliffs, it is likely that their distinct call will be heard echoing around the cliff faces.

One place where a sighting of primates is guaranteed is the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre in the nearby Cuc Phuong National Park. Here, alongside the Delacour's Langur, visitors can see golden-headed langur, Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys and the black crested gibbon, all of which have been rescued from wildlife smugglers.

The Cuc Phuong National Park itself is home to a great variety of walking trails and simple accommodation, making it a good trekking option within easy reach of Hanoi.

Monumental temples

An important place of pilgrimage and the largest complex of Buddhist temples in the country, Bai Dinh is a fascinating site for its mix of the ancient and new. The old temples are housed in caves reached by a pretty climb of 300 steps, while the new temple area covers an area of 500 hectares—for perspective, that roughly equates to 500 football pitches. Built in traditional style, this is a tranquil place to while away an afternoon.

Itineraries

24 hours in Ninh Binh

With 24 hours, climb up to the lookout at Hang Mua to survey the landscape before a river tour at Tam Coc. Add a trip to Trang An in the afternoon. Be sure to lunch on some grilled goat—the area’s specialty.

48 hours in Ninh Binh

With another day, add on a trip to Van Long in search of primates and a visit to the ancient capital of Hoa Lu. Alternatively, for a more active day out, head for Cuc Phuong National Park and take on some of the trails before a visit to the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre.

When To Go

The temperatures are kindest in March to May and September to November. For the finest views, go during harvest season in October.

How To Get There

Regular buses depart for Ninh Binh from Hanoi every day. Those staying at the Emeralda Resort can arrange transport direct. From Ninh Binh, the best way to reach all the attractions is via rented motorcycles or taxi.

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