About Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh is a northern province of Vietnam, located around 105km to the south of Hanoi (app. 2-hour drive). It ideally lies between 2 big rivers: Red River with its reddish-brown color brought by the laden silt and Ma River (400km long) originated from Vietnam, runs over Laos and then return Vietnam to meet Gulf of Tonkin. This grants the province advantages for agriculture and farming. Furthermore, the region is scattered with limestone mountains providing abundance source for cement manufacturing and granite blocks for construction.
Once the capital of the country during 10th century, Ninh Binh is featured by historical legendary and reveal the proud and touching stories since the country’s early forming. Ninh Binh is a sacred land of extraordinary people. We could name with some heroics like Dinh Tien Hoang King, Le Dai Hanh King, Nguyen Cong Tru, Truong Han Sieu, etc. who played important roles in the development of the country, independence achieve as well as nation protection.
This province is often reminded as the dried Halong Bay one of the most famous attractions in Vietnam with karst mountains spitted up from river and scattered all over the land.
Ninh Binh could be, and definitely should be in your bucket list while traveling in the northern region of Vietnam because with the short distance of 95km southward Hanoi, it’s super convenient to arrange a day trip or an overnight stay.
Things to do in Ninh Binh
Main things in Ninh Binh should be in your travel bucket including Tam Coc boat ride, Trang An boat ride, Hoa Lu ancient temples, Bich Dong Pagoda, Bai Dinh Pagoda, Mua Cave.
One of the most popular places in Ninh Binh, Tam Coc means “three caves” is endowed with still Ngo Dong River which was blocked by the karst mountain. After million years, the limestone has been eroded and water current is smoothly run through the mountains which nowadays create a charming sightseeing complex of boat trip and three water caves.
Stop by and hop on a local boat and quietly sail along calm river in around 1.5 – 2 hours to contemplate the karst mountain and explore the water caves. Different travel season will offer different colorful landscape. During Mar – May, the nature is wholly greenish with tree on mountains, emerald water in the river, and green rice planted on riverbank. In one month later, the area is embellished with some yellow tripe when the rice is ripe and color by bright yellow. The rest months would be variable depending or rotational agriculture farming.
Trang An Ecological Site
Belong to the Trang An Complex of 2,168 ha, Trang An Ecological Site is a beguiling area pleasing dozens of visitors by its archeological, geographical and aesthetical values which make the place listed as a UNESSCO Cultural Heritage. Trang An, Ninh Binh is a place of giant karst mountains forming different shapes lie next to the graceful and still river winding to connect the caves and valleys. The ecological site offers visitors a picturesque area with fresh atmosphere for a pleasant visit.
There are multiple choices of exploring routes; and could be divided into two main ways via waterway or via land hiking. For the waterway (could be combined with stops to walk up to temples if interested), a local will row the boat carrying you along an emerald Sao Khe River to admire the landscape, go through 12 water caves with the longest one of 321m. They are named interestingly such as Three Drops Grottos, Sticky Rice Making, Dark Cave, Bright Cave, etc. Besides, the boat ride could be combined with three possible spiritual stops to see historical temples.
Boat ride duration could be 1.5 hours or could reach up to 3 hours. The opening hour for this activity is from 7:30am – 4:00pm.
Active people seeking for off-beaten-track could follow the trails, hike up to the hill of around 60m high. Beginning at Cay Bang Pier, you will excitingly surpass Cay hill (named after Cay Tree, a branch of Diospyros species, which mainly cover this hill), Vai hill (also named after Vai Tree) and Tran Temple Hill where is presented with sacred Tran Temple – one of the country’s four guardian temples during the Dinh Dynasty.
Hoa Lu Temples
Hoa Lu was the first capital of Vietnam – a Feudal Centralize State, in only 42 years (938 – 1010); the place however witnessed the main historical happenings and national missions attached to three dynasty Dinh – Early Le – Ly.
Undoubtedly, the Dinh King with excellent vision chose Hoa Lu surrounded by rolling mountain range and widing Hoang Long River as the capital. The granted nature supported significantly to nations’ military development and maintenance.
As time passed fiercely, the opulent palace was destroyed and left with the ground only. The visitors could visit Hoa Lu Temples – originally built in the 11th century and partly damaged by the war; fortunately, then restored in the 17th century by the Nguyen Dynasty and its impressive architects has been remained since then. Symbolic relics to be called out are the Dragon Bed representing the King’s power, the goose neck pillar, lacquer carving old language drawing, etc.
Bich Dong Pagoda
Bich Dong Pagoda, Ninh Binh is was constructed on the Bich Dong Mountain which is famously known as the second most beautiful cave of Vietnam, after Perfume Pagoda Cave (used to be called the South Land of China; topographically counted with the northern Vietnam only – before further land extension).
Bich Dong Pagoda is comprised by three leveled pagodas – Ha Pagoda, Trung Pagoda and Thuong Pagoda respectively means Low, Medium and High leveled pagodas. They are distributed well on the mountain and lied in-between with old trees. Especially, the marvelous view from the highest pagoda to land field and other limestone mountains is breathtaking.
Bai Dinh Pagoda
Bai Dinh Pagoda is the largest pagoda in Vietnam, 539 ha, built in 2003. Located around 17km from Ninh Binh City, Bai Dinh Pagoda is a site in buffer zone of Trang An Trang An Complex. The pagoda amazes visitors by its giant area, huge buddhas statues up to 10 tons weight; Arhat buddha corrida, giant bell and so on.
These days, Bai Dinh Pagoda is a popular Buddhist Pilgrimage spot and regularly visited by both foreign and domestic people.
Mua Cave, Ninh Binh means dancing cave is the place where Tran King came over and enjoyed dancing performances by imperial maids.
500 stair challenge is worth for an amazing view to above of Tam Coc serene mountains and Ngo Dong River. The view has always been fantastic by might be more stunning during May – June when the rice meadow is most lush green and turning yellow.
Apart from above must-to-see places in Ninh Binh, the last hitting point to urge you getting to this peaceful land is a promising chance to observe local life and even interact with people from countryside Vietnam while you taking the bike around, getting on the same boat with them, and greeting them while surpassing each other.
You might want t read more about Ninh Binh in another blog to find the least touristy places “Ninh Binh is Ha Long Bay on land, is it all as the saying?”