The Red River Delta in Northern Vietnam was settled many centuries ago. While it may be slightly overshadowed by the nearby UNESCO World Heritage site of Halong Bay, and the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi, it is a wonderful place. It has been called the ‘’Halong Bay on land’’ by some and it was recently used as the main location for the movie hit, ‘’Skull Island’’, a remake of ‘’King Kong’’, The reason for its selection as a location and its comparison to Halong Bay is the stunning Karst scenery.
Even though the City of Ninh Binh is fairly quiet, visitors enjoying Northern Vietnam should ask for Ninh Bing to be included in their Vietnam travel package. A good Vietnam travel agent will be happy to do so. The Province of Ninh Binh is just a couple of hours east of Hanoi, a regular starting point for a Vietnam holiday.The Reunification Express Train travels between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in the south. Ninh Binh is on the route the train takes incidentally. It offers the chance to see typical rural life, villagers working in the rice paddy fields surrounding by a great natural environment.
Hoa Lu in Ninh Binh is an ancient capital, dating back to the 10th Century during the reign of Dinh Tien Hoang. There are many relics from the Dynasties of Dinh, Le and Ly, palaces, tombs and pagodas.
For many, many centuries before that this area of mountains, rivers, valleys and caves was developing. The modern-day tourist has to visit the Trang An eco-tourism centre which not only offers the natural environment but also historical relics. Here are some ideas of the places to visit while you are in Ninh Binh:
• Tam Coc is stunning. Take a boat ride between the cliffs and through the tunnels that the river has created. It is best to do this early or late in the day, either before the tour groups from Hanoi have arrived on a day trip, or after they have left.
• If you do not mind steps, then climb to the top of Hang Mua Peak where you will get great views over the Red River Delta.
• Bich Dong Pagoda and Cave are a short distance from Tam Coc and will be included in any Vietnam tourthat includes Ninh Binh because the city is very close by. While there you must see Thai Vy Temple which is up a small road away from the Tam Coc pier.
• The Trang An grottoes are the alternative to Tam Coc though if you have time see them both. There are more caves than at Tam Coc and you will need to duck and watch your head as you pass through some of them.
• Bai Dinh Pagoda is the largest Buddhist complex in Vietnam. There is the original temple and a larger newer one. The complex covers 700 hectares and was begun in 2003. The project was completed 7 years later. If you happen to be on holiday in Vietnam in the first lunar month, there is a festival here on the 6th day.
• Cuc Phuong National Park offers not only great flora and fauna but the chance to go hiking and simply enjoy the fresh air. There is a primate centre, birds and orchids but if you are there in the spring the highlight is the butterflies, thousands of them. The animals are shy and best seen at night; there are tours at night time for those interested.
• Van Long nature reserve is a picturesque place to visit with sampan. Vietnamese couples come to Van Long for wonderful wedding.
• Phat Diem, a church built of wood and stone is worth a visit. Located in Ninh Binh, it took 24 years to build. It is the only stone church in the whole of the north and was built by the French without any cement/plaster to keep the stones in place.
• Kenh Ga Floating village is not far from Van Long, a nice place to experience the life of the local, a floating village surrounded by scenic field fields, rocky mountains and rivers. Kenh Ga is really a water-painting.
• Phat Diem, a church built of wood and stone is worth a visit. Located in Ninh Binh, it took 24 years to build. It is the only stone church in the whole of the north and was built by the French without any cement/plaster to keep the stones in place, It is a mix of eastern and western architecture, a huge place with small gothic chapels either side.
It may be tempting to concentrate on the cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and highlights like the Mekong and Halong Bay while you are travelling in Vietnam but if you have the time, you will not regret devoting some of it to Ninh Binh, a place of natural beauty as well as historical and cultural relics.