The Van Long Nature Reserve is another opportunity to board a sampan and voyage through the incredible landscape of Ninh Binh. The large open waters are hemmed in by grand mountains creating a wildlife haven. The waters, caves and surrounding forests are home to many fascinating species including white shorts langurs, Asian black bears, Bengal slow loris and catfish. Hundreds of birds also flock to the reserve during the dry season as part of their migratory route filling the air with the sound of birds song and the flurry of feathers. The reserve also has 32 different grottoes to explore each one offering its own unique beauty.
Another stunning cave not to be missed in Ninh Binh is Hang Mua. The main attraction here is definitely the view from the top of the mountain. Next to the cave is a set of stairs which seems to climb high up into the clouds, twisting around the edge of the peak. The trek up the hundreds of stone steps is definitely worth the effort as the view from the top is truly astounding. In one direction you can see the patchwork of fields and rice paddies and in the other direction, the towering karst peaks which fade into the horizon. This view is best enjoyed at sunset when the beauty is illuminated by the glow of the sun. The majestic dragon which guards the peak creates an amazing silhouette against the changing hues of the sky as the sun dips down behind the mountains.
Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam, uncovers the rural area’s important past. During the 10th century, Ninh Binh was home to the capital of Dai Co Viet, an ancient Vietnamese Kingdom. Although once a grand citadel, time and weather have taken their tolls on the area and very little of the original structure remains. Now visitors can enjoy strolling amongst the temples that have been erected in honour of the ancient capital’s leaders. As well as offering a glimpse into Ninh Binh’s significant history, the temples also showcase some traditional architecture set against some stunning backs.
Ninh Binh has the added appeal of independent exploration. It is easy to spend an afternoon cycling along the winding roads taking in the views of the rivers and mountains which punctuate the scenery. There are plenty of small pools to stop by which often have herds of goats also stopping for a spot of refreshment. Because Ninh Binh is not as well established as a tourist destination as some of Vietnam’s other beauty spots, there are plenty of opportunities feel alone with the beauty of nature, taking a quiet moment to drink in the fresh air and feel refreshed. For those who prefer to travel with an engine, Ninh Binh is also a great place to explore by motorbike.
Culture and Arts
Bich Dong Pagoda is a complex of three structures which emerge from the cliff face. Set into the edge of a Mountain, the site is believed to have been chosen by two monks Thich Tri Kieu and Thich Tri, and it is easy to see why. Its name translates to Pagoda of the Emerald Grotto and is believed to have come from Nguyen Nghiem, the father of a famous Vietnamese poet. It is clear to see where he took his inspiration from as the greenery that clings to the mountain is reflected in the mirror-like water creating an emerald glow around the pagodas.
To be continued…