Ninh Binh- Halong Bay on Land
So my next destination after Phong Nha national Park was Ninh Binh . Ninh Binh is popularly known as the Halong Bay on land is one of the most underrated destinations in northern Vietnam. Tucked away about 90 kms from Hanoi (Capital of Vietnam). This quaint little town is another must on every traveller’s itinerary while visiting North Vietnam. You can either choose a day tour to Ninh Binh-Tamcoc-Hoa Linh –Perfume Pagoda from Hanoi or if time permits you can spent about 2 days in Ninh Binh exploring this beautiful place at your leisure. Well, due to my rushed itinerary I had to opt for the first one.
There are several travel agents mushrooming around Hanoi city who conducts daily tours to Ninh Binh from Hanoi. Just try and walk around to compare the rates, which is usually varying around 25 to 30 USD per person for a day tour. The second option would be if heading from Hanoi, you may choose to transfer yourself to Ninh Binh by regular buses plying between cities and stay in one of their several home-stays and cycle around the town at your own leisure to witness the stunning paddy fields and countryside beauty of Ninh-Binh. Infact, my suggestions would be not to stay in Ninh Binh City but in Tam Coc area which has several homestay options in the middle of rice paddies and also away from the chaos.
After reaching Ninh-Binh town, we visited Hoa Lu Temple. Hoa Lu, former capital of Dai Co Viet (an old name of Vietnam) under the Dinh and Le dynasties bears with it a legend. Being the capital of the first fundamental Government of Vietnam, Hoa Lu witnessed many important historical events like the union of Vietnam after “12 Lords Rebellion”, the war with the Song dynasty, the defence against the ancient Cambodian, and the formation of Hanoi. Hoa Lu old capital is an attractive place that history lovers should not miss out..
Strolling around the temples for a while and after about spending an hour, we proceeded towards much awaited Tam-Coc wetlands.
We took a rowing boat tour into Tam-Coc caves which passed through the narrow canals flowing into various gorgeous limestone formations. Usually these boats are rowed by the local women and that too skilfully using their feet and not hands. Lucky as we were, that our boat was the first one in the row and we could take some stunning shots of the same while sailing along the gorgeous landscapes. The caves were so low that we almost had to bend down while having to cross under it. After the boating, we went for a quick lunch at a nearby restaurant.
One of the best way to get the feel of this place is to cycle around the paddy fields of Tam coc. And, we exactly did this, grabbed a bi-cycle and peddled along the gorgeous rice paddy fields along the main high way. What a perfect setting of verdant green vista overlooking the hilly formations in the backdrop? One can also opt to stay here for more than one day and soak into the beauty of nature, it has to offer.
Infact, I almost regretted for having such a pressed itinerary and not to be able to keep a day or two to soak in the lap of nature. But I had other places like Halong Bay , Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh to visit before heading off to Cambodia and that too in a span of few days .
Stay : Although I didn’t stay in Ninh-Binh but one can find plenty of hostel or cheap homestays in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc . My suggestions would be to stay away from Ninh Binh City and live somewhere around Tam-coc. Hostels can be booked through hostelworld , booking.com , Agoda etc.
Eat : There are several small restaurants around the city catering to the tourist. However, if you book a day tour from Hanoi, then the lunch is often included .
How to Reach: Ninh Binh is just about 90 kms to the south of the Capital city of Hanoi. Hence, lots of buses plys regularly on this route. Cabs are readily available but often are overpriced. Usually if one books a day tour to Ninh Binh which is usually in the range of USD 25-30 which includes a mini Van/bus transfers. Trains are also available from Hanoi to Ninh Binh. Do check Vietnamrailways website.
Things to see- Hoa Lu temples for its age old history, Perfume Pagoda, the Trang An natural scenic landscapes complex which includes -Tam Coc- Bich Dong and Bai Dinh Temple, Cúc Phương National Park which is situated in Ninh Binh province of the Vietnamese red river delta .
Things you should know : Since, there are quite a number of visitors around these places , hawkers often tries to sell souvenirs and small items at a hefty price. Also the women peddling the boats tries and sell items like sourvenirs, snacks etc to the tourist on the boat. Try to avoid buying it. Again one must carry enough cash as there are hardly any ATMs there. Not a place to party actually, hence don’t keep major expectations on nightlife there. Please negotiate and get the details of the tour package that your tour operator will provide you. Often few of them do not include cycle ride which is an absolute must. You can hire a bicycle and go around the village surrounding of Tamcoc. Carry and wear mosquito repellent always.
Hope you will put this place definitely on your Vietnam itinerary. I have a short video on my experience while boating through Tamcoc caves.
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