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Ninh Binh is a northern province of Vietnam, located around 105km to the south of Hanoi (approximate 2-hour drive). It ideally lies between 2 big rivers: Red River with 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 sources for cement manufacturing and granite blocks for construction.
Once the capital of the country during 10th century, Ninh Binh is featured by historical heroes 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 achievement as well as nation protection.
Ninh Binh province is often reminded as the dried Halong Bay one, of the most renown 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 of the tranquil and scenice landscape; plus, it’s super convenient to arrange a day trip to Ninh Binh from Hanoi thanks to moderate distance.
Main attractions 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” which is endowed with still Ngo Dong River 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 then sail quietly along calm river in around 1.5 – 2 hours to contemplate the picturesque karst mountain and explore the water caves. Different travel seasons 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 colored 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 visitors by its archeological, geographical and aesthetical values which make the place listed as a UNESSCO Cultural Heritage. Trang An 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 beautiful scenes with fresh atmosphere for a pleasant visit.
There are multiple choices of exploring Trang An; and could be divided into two main ways either via waterway or land hiking. For the waterway, a local villager will row the boat floating you along an emerald Sao Khe River to admire the serene 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 and religious temples. Boat ride duration could be varied from 1.5 hours to 3 hours with some options of routes. 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 settling in Ninh Binh for 42 years (938 – 1010); though the land witnessed significant 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 ranges and winding Hoang Long River as the capital. The granted craggy mountains were very helpful to country’s defense from the invaders.
As time passed fiercely, the opulent palace was destroyed and left with the ground only. These days, 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 in 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. 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 mountains 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 at 539 ha and was built in 2003. Situating around 17km from Ninh Binh City, Bai Dinh Pagoda is a site in buffer zone of Trang An Complex. The pagoda amazes visitors by its vast premise, huge buddhas statues up to 10 tons weight; the Arhat buddha corrida, giant bell and so on. This spot is a popular Buddhist Pilgrimage spot and regularly visited by both foreign and local Buddhists.
Mua Cave in Ninh Binh means dancing cave, is the place where Tran King came over and enjoyed dancing performances by imperial maids. The challenge of 500 stairs is worth for an amazing view from above of Tam Coc serene mountains and Ngo Dong River. The view has always been fantastic and more stunning during May – June when the rice meadow is mostly lush green and turning yellow. There are two paths leading to the cave premise. It’s very convenient for you to find the way reaching the cave after the sightseeing of Tam Coc or Trang An, Hoa Lu.
Apart from above must-to-see places in Ninh Binh, the last point urging you to Ninh Binh is this land’s peacefulness and greenish scenes. There are promising chances to observe local life and even interact with villagers in a rural hamlet of Vietnam while you taking the bike around, getting on the same boat with them, and greeting them while surpassing each other.
Normally, the visitors arrange a day trip to Ninh Binh to Hanoi, however, if your timing is not so tight, you can spend one night at local homestay, budget hotel in Ninh Binh, 4 hotel and ecolodge or 5-star resort. Ninh Binh have is all to match with your spending budget. Getting around Ninh Binh is not difficult. You can use private air-conditioned car, hop on a bike and exploring leisurely or rent a motorbike and practice your skills. For other experiences, you might want to see other post Ninh Binh is Halong Bay on land, is it all as the saying?
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