A nature weekend in Ninh Binh


A pedal boat trip amid the limestone karst mountains, a climb to Mua Cave and the largest population of Delacour langurs in the world are some of the attractions that Ninh Binh has to offer.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

The best time to visit the northern province of Ninh Binh is between May and July, which coincides with the rice and lotus seasons.

WHAT TO EXPLORE

Tam Coc-Bich Donga complex of limestone karst mountains rising from the water, caves and Buddhist pagodas, has become a tourist magnet, with locals making a living rowing their boats with visitors through rice paddies on the Ngo Dong River.

Tourists take a boat trip along the Ngo Dong River in Tam Coc, June 2022. Photo by Hoang Duong

May-July is rice harvesting season in Tam Coc with ripe rice paddies dyed golden yellow stretching on both sides of the river, making it the perfect place for a two-hour boat trip.

It costs 120,000 VND ($5) per person for a tourist ticket to Tam Coc and 150,000 VND for the boat ride which requires at least four passengers for one trip.

Tours are available from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily.

Visitors are advised to bring water, hats and umbrellas to protect against the bright sun.

Michael, an American tourist, who visited Tam Coc last month, said local women wearing conical hats ferried passengers on small bamboo boats.

“Along the way, they also tried to sell us embroidered items. Rowing with their hands for long hours can lead to severe back pain, so they’re also good at rowing with their feet,” he said. he declares. VnExpress International.

Bich Dong Pagoda Complex

One of the highlights of the cruise is visiting the Bich Dong Pagoda complex, accessible only by boat.

It was built in 1428 during the reign of King Ly Thai To on the limestone mountains of Truong Yen.

The pagoda is made of wood and stone and has brick roofs.

The entrance gate of Bich Dong Pagoda hidden in the middle of a big mountain. Photo by Shutterstock/Jimmy Tran

After disembarking from the boat, tourists cross a stone bridge spanning a large lotus pond, which explodes with bright pink flowers in the summer.

Beyond a gate is a quiet courtyard and three other ancient temples hidden at the base of a large mountain.

Like many other Buddhist sites, Bich Dong Pagoda has a dress code that requires visitors to cover their shoulders and knees.

Hang Mua

In Tam Coc, a place not to be missed is Hang Mua (Dancing Cave), nicknamed Vietnam’s miniature Great Wall of China.

Hang Mua (Dancing Cave) is seen from above. Photo by Shutterstock/Jimmy Tran

Legend has it that King Tran Thai Tong, who reigned from 1225 to 1258, ordered the construction of Thai Vi Temple and often visited the place to dance and sing, hence the name Dancing Cave.

Visitors can climb 500 white stone steps to the top of the mountain. On both sides of the steps are handrails richly decorated with the dragon or phoenix symbols of the Tran dynasty.

The summit offers spectacular views of Tam Coc with its yellow rice fields below.

From the top of Hang Mua, visitors can see the yellow rice fields below. Picture of Quynh Trang

A ticket for a guided tour of Hang Mua costs 120,000 VND.

Bai Dinh Pagoda

The Bai Dinh Pagoda complex covers 1,700 hectares and has a giant gold-plated bronze Buddha statue and an Arhat hallway.

Bai Dinh is one of the oldest pagodas in Ninh Binh. Photo by Minh Phung

Some 500 artisans and worker groups from famous traditional craft villages in northern Vietnam used traditional materials such as green stone and ceramic tiles from Bat Trang village to create Vietnamese architectural elements at the pagoda.

It takes a long time to visit the whole site, and it is a good idea to board an electric shuttle bus which costs 80,000 VND for a round trip to go around and visit a tower in the complex of the pagoda.

Cuc Phuong National Park

Just an hour from downtown Ninh Binh is Cuc Phuong National Park, a popular camping spot.

The country’s first national park has tropical forests, thousand-year-old trees, extremely rich and diverse flora and fauna, including the black and white douc langur, the symbol of Cuc Phuong.

Cuc Phuong National Park in Ninh Binh Province. Photo by Kieu Duong

In addition to trekking, biking, and camping, visitors can also take a wildlife viewing tour at night to watch animals that come out to feed and kayak on Yen Quang Lake.

Cuc Phuong is home to the Muong ethnic minority, who live in stilt houses and are skilled in brocade weaving.

It’s not a bad idea to carry hats, hiking boots, medicine, food and drink, and binoculars for sightseeing.

Van Long Reserve

Travel bloggers say a boat ride around the Van Long Wetlands Nature Reserve, famous for its appearance in the Hollywood film ‘Kong: Skull Island’, is a must-do experience with local men acting as guides tourist.

Van Long Nature Reserve in Ninh Binh. Photo by Shutterstock/Jimmy Tran

Costing 60,000 VND ($2.58) per person for a maximum of two passengers per boat, the journey takes about an hour through karst limestone mountains and magnificent caves.

From the boat you can observe birds such as kingfishers, herons and storks and even see a very rare monkey, Delacour’s langur, if you are lucky.

Foreign tourists in Van Long lagoon, Ninh Binh province. Photo by VnExpress/Le Bich

WHAT TO EAT

Goat meat is a specialty in Ninh Binh. While goats can be found all over the country, they are said to be special in Ninh Binh with the firmest meat as they graze in the grasslands on top of the mountains.

Some places to try the meat are Hoang Giang Restaurant, Hang Ca Mountain in Truong Yen District, Hoang Long Restaurant on Trang An Street, and 446 Nguyen Hue Street.

Eel vermicelli is another famous dish of Ninh Binh. Again, the dish here comes highly recommended by travel bloggers as it comes with a broth made from cooked bones. The eels are fragrant and yellow after being mixed with red chilli, onion, pepper and fish sauce and fried in hot oil.

You can try this dish at 999 Tran Hung Dao Street.

Like that (rice crackers) is a crispy dish made by scorching rice with onion, dried pork and artisan sauce.

Thang Long, Duc De and De Quy restaurants are the most popular places for this dish.

Other dishes that carry the unique flavors of the northern delta, such as sour fish soup, cellophane noodles served with eel, and roasted field crab in betel leaf are other amazing culinary offerings in Ninh Binh.

Forgotten by foreign tourists for years, Ninh Binh found its name on the world tourism map after “Kong: Skull Island” was filmed there in 2016, and in response to the tourism boom since then, locals have developed homestays.

Some places for budget tourists are Chezbeo Homestay, Ninh Binh Valley Homestay, Tam Coc Homestay, Ninh Binh Panorama Homestay, Nguyen Shack Homestay, Ninh Binh Greenland Homestay, Ninh Binh Family Homestay and Ninh Binh Mountain View Homestay.

Ninh Binh Valley Homestay. Photo courtesy of host family

Most of them are located amidst lush green paddy fields and lotus ponds.

More upscale accommodations include Toki Cottage, An’s Eco Garden, Bai Dinh Garden Resort, Tam Coc Garden Boutique Resort and Emeralda Ninh Binh Resort with prices starting at VND 1 million per night.

HOW TO GET HERE

In Hanoi, you can take a bus from Giap Bat station in Ninh Binh for a two-hour journey with tickets costing between 100,000 and 150,000 VND.

Taking a train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh is not a bad option to enjoy the beautiful scenery along the way. The journey takes around 2.5 hours, with fares starting at 70,000 VND and the first train leaving at 6am.

You can also opt for a motorcycle ride. In this case, from downtown Hanoi, follow Giai Phong Street and turn onto Phap Van-Cau Gie National Road and walk down Cau Gie-Phu Ly Road to reach Ninh Binh.

The Ngo Dong River is seen from above. Photo by Giang Huy