A Journey through Vietnam’s Otherworldly Sights in Ninh Binh Province
*This blog is also available in Vietnamese
UNESCO doesn’t choose its World Heritage Sites randomly. Not only does the location have to be of remarkable natural beauty or cultural significance, it also needs to represent an “outstanding value to humanity”, according to UNESCO standards. The Trang An Landscape Complex within the Ninh Binh province of North Vietnam, initiated into the hallowed World Heritage list in 2014, meets all of these guidelines.
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From Cliffs to Caves: a Journey through the Otherworldly Sights of Ninh Binh Province
From the vantage point of a sampan boat drifting lazily down the Ngo Dong River, visitors to the region can lean back and ogle the immensity of the limestone karst formations soaring above them, along with the riverbanks abounding with tropical plant and animal life.
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While many travellers to North Vietnam choose to visit only Halong Bay, a fellow UNESCO heritage site, the pristine waters and towering cliffs are just as impressive in Trang An. Some people will even prefer the area, the “Inland Halong Bay”, because it has not been plagued by the mass tourism of its more famous cousin.
Jordan Vogt-Robert, American film director, chose the region for the latest King Kong revival, Kong: Skull Island for exactly this reason. Anyone who has seen the movie will have likely marvelled in equal measures at the special effects and the otherworldly setting.
The Ninh Binh province is a short two-and-a-half-hour drive from the Sofitel Legend Metropole inthe centre of Hanoi through unblemished landscapes filled with green vistas, grazing water buffaloes and cranes wading ankle-deep through rice paddies. The first stop for history buffs should be the ancient city of Hoa Lu. Formerly known as the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries, the vestiges of the city still remain, forged in the protective valley between almost impenetrable limestone mountains.
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The Ninh Binh province also features the Tam Coc caverns, which are a major draw to the region. Boats can navigate between massive lotus flowers hovering on the water’s surface to reach the cave systems. Once inside the Hang Ca, Hang Hai and Hang Ba caves, visitors will marvel at glittering stalactites hanging from the limestone ceiling and stalagmites rising up like miniature cities from within the emerald water. Roaming into the depths of these caverns feels like an actual journey into the centre of the Earth.
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Those with an interest in Buddhist temples shouldn’t miss the Bai Dinh Temple in the Ninh Binh province. This pilgrimage site is well-known for its towering 10-metre-high statue of Buddha as well as being the largest complex of Buddhist temples in Vietnam. Newly renovated, the site features both the ancient, original pagoda as well as the contemporary addition.
In short, Ninh Binh province is an area rich in discovery. From the archaeological remnants of bygone societies to the natural marvels of the landscapes awash with ever-changing colours, the area should be added to everyone’s Vietnam bucket list.
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