Often referred to as Halong Bay on land, Ninh Binh Vietnam’s unique views include farmland dotted with Catholic churches against a backdrop of dramatic limestone cliffs. Head to the Van Long Nautre Reserve to see the rich and well protected biodiversity of the region.
Hoa Lu Ninh Binh served as the country’s capital until 1010 AD. Located about 12km from the centre of Ninh Binh, it now contains two small temple complexes and approximately eight million stands selling tourist trinkets. Watch your step entering and exiting the ancient gates as the bottom half of the gate is raised to keep out evil spirits.
Tam Coc and its less frequented twin Trang An are not to be missed. You should leave at least two hours for the trip up and down the river at Hoa Lu Tam Coc, most likely propelled by a pair of feet.
The peaceful trip in the wooden rowboat in the shadow of limestone karsts, through dark grottoes and fields of pond lilies, is quite pleasant. At the end, serenity shatter as you have to fight off hawkers trying to convince you to buy just one more embroidered tablecloth. You’ll probably end up tipping your driver to whisk you off to safety.
The seat of Catholicism in the north, Phat Diem is Vietnam’s most impressive cathedral. At 20km, it is a bit of a drive from Ninh Binh centre, but its massive dimensions make it worth the trip.