Ninh Binh encapsulates so many aspects of the beautiful Vietnamese scenery in one place. It has the stunning karst peaks which rear up out of the land surrounded by flat, sprawling rice paddies and winding glassy rivers. The area itself is small, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in beauty. Located at the tail end of the Red River Delta Region, Ninh Binh features many rivers and tributaries which stray through the land collecting in lakes and pools. The still water acts as a mirror, duplicating the incredible images of the imposing peaks and dramatic skies. Although Hanoi is merely a 3-hour drive away, it is a peaceful yet powerful place far from the noise and distraction of the cities.
Although Ninh Binh now feels to be a haven of leisure and relaxation, it was once home to the capital of Vietnam. During the 10th and 11th centuries, Hoa Lu was the political, cultural and economic centre and had a large citadel which was surrounded by the towering mountains. Although very little of the citadel remains, there are still a number of temples dedicated to the rulers of the time and their stories are still told in the historic sites throughout the area.
Although long popular with Vietnamese tourists who visit to discover the ancient capital, Ninh Binh is growing in popularity with foreign tourists as well. The quiet, unimposing guest houses offer a good base from which to explore the rich and captivating landscape. The magical caves and sprawling views are an invigorating wake-up call to the power of nature’s beauty.
Best time to visit
The summer in Ninh Binh lasts from May to September. This time is hot and humid and makes up for approximately 85% of the yearly rainfall. In contrast the winters there are cool and dry, lasting from October to April. As the weather changes, Ninh Binh’s beauty changes too; the rice paddies changing from vibrant green to straw yellow and full circle again. Although Ninh Binh can be enjoyed in any season, the best time to visit is between November to April as these are the driest months.
See and Do
Enjoying the tranquillity of nature is by far the biggest appeal of visiting Ninh Binh. A boat trip through Trang An Grottoes allows you to experience all of the elements together. The picturesque cave and river complex was awarded the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014 not only for its outstanding beauty but also its cultural and historical significance. The journey on the small sampan takes you along the still waterways lined with lotus and waterlily. As the boats approach the rock face, they disappear into tiny openings into the water-worn caves that cut through the rock. The journey takes in rivers, caves and beautiful temples, and you are sure to feel weightless as you float along in the afternoon sun.
Tam Coc is another area of stunning beauty that takes in all the elements of the environment but this time with the added bonus of the ever evolving rice paddies. The river Ngo Dong, flanked by the fertile rice paddies whose patchwork of greens change with the seasons, slips between the imposing peaks and through the low-lying caves. Here the boats that meander along the silky river appear tiny, the skyline dominated by tremendous peaks which echo into the horizon.
To be continued…