Thai Vi Temple
Only a small temple but worth a look for it's authentic architecture and active use. The grounds are looking a little worse for wear and there arent many tourists who visit. Local people still actively worship there.
Bich Dong Pagoda
Arriving at the Pagoda archway on the ground floor, there is a courtyard of old, faded buildings and at first it is hard to see what the big attraction is until you begin to climb the stairs to the levels above. Here, there are various religious icons and shrines while trying to capture the real feeling of hidden beauty is diffcult in photos. It has to be seen in the flesh to be fully appreciated.
Perchedclose to the top of the cliff is Bich Dong (Jade Grotto), which can be reached by stone steps, leading to a cliff face scattered with small shrines and on to the cave entrance.
Beyond the Jade Grotto, you can climb up to the summit of the Karst cliffs although the climbing is not for the faint hearted especially if it has been raining and the sharp rocks are made slippy with mud, visitors are rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding countryside from the top of the cliffs.
- Budget Travel
Tam Coc is probably one of the most visited Limestone Karst Cliff scenic areas in Ninh Binh province and a stop for a lot of the day trips from Hanoi, thus it will usually be busy at certain times of the day when the coaches arrive. Nevertheless, the journey along rivers surrounded by towering cliffs and paddy fields, being rowed by locals is worth the few dollars price.
The cliffs are made up of jagged rocks, towering peaks and caves worn away at the base. Some of these you pass through and get to appreciate the sheer enormity of these natural phenomenon. You can see mountain goats in seemingly impossible to reach places and ducks happily swimming in penned areas of the rivers. It is clear to see that the land and the animals make the locals very self sufficient especially with the added income the tourists must bring.
Of course, due to the tourism there is food and drink available by floating shops but the hawking isn't that persistent.
Mua Cave Pagoda
Mua Cave Pagoda has a small man made lake with gardens which is rather pleasant, a cave at the foot of the steps and Pagoda at the summit.
The steps seem endless and some are not in very good condition but the views when you reach the top are worth the effort. The Pagoda itself is nothing spectacular but the sight of the endless paddy fields, villages and Ninh Binh town amidst the Limestone cliffs sprouting from all around are a sight to behold.
Hoa Lu - The ancient capital
This was the capital of the country in the 10th century supposedly because of it's central location. I would argue that it is the beauty of it's location that swayed those who were deciding. Right in the middle of the Limestone Cliffs and rice fields, the town has unmistakable beauty and a slight area of mystery.
Dinh Tien Hoang sits opposite what seems to be a kind of village green where people meet and school children play. The temple grounds house shrines and statues from the era when this area reigned. The temples seem dark and gloomy inside but local people are still actively worshipping the religious deities there.
The grounds of the temples are aged but quite well maintained. Very photogenic.
Cuc Phuong National Park
Cuc Phuong National Park is accessible on a day trip from Ninh Binh or if you must from Hanoi. The best time to visit Cuc Phuong National Park is during the dry season, from December to April. The park is surrounded by limestone cliffs, the highest being May Bac. There is a beautiful lake and you can stay in the rustic,yet comfortable park centre instilt houses. Treks are available but are usually quite short.
As well as the fauna and animals mentioned, there are caves to explore and Endangered Primates Rescue Centre to visit.
- National/State Park
Den Dinh Tien Hoang --Temple of King Dinh
Dinh Temple was built in the shape of a Chinese character.
Through the first entrance called Ngo Mon, there is a stone royal bed with Nghe(imaginary animals of the old times) standing on both sides.
Inside the temple is Khai Thanh in worship of Emperor Dinh's parents.
The temple consists of three parts...
1. Bai Duong for the community
2.Thien Huong in honour of mandarins
and 3.Chinh Cung where Dinh Tien Hoang's statue is located.
On his left is the statue of his eldest son Dinh Lien, and on his right are those of Dinh Hanh Lang and Dinh Toan. On each side of the altar, there is one stone dragon similar to the ones placed near the royal bed.
Den Le Dai Hanh --Temple of King Le
Le Temple also consists of three parts: Bai Duong, used for the community, Thien Huong, in memory of the royal mandarins of Le King, and finally, the altar in memory of the King. The statue of Le Hoan is at the centre, on the left is the statue of Queen Duong Van Nga and on his right is that of Le Ngoa Trieu, his fifth son and the third King of the First Le dynasty.
Tam Coc is the main tourist outlet in a region full of karst beauty. There is no coincidence in this state of affairs. It has a body of water flowing between majestically towering hills that suddenly opens up a cave underneath these mountains of sorts in order to deliver you to the next “gallery” of rice fields. Accordingly, this spot has been identified as the main dollar earner even though other spots have been known to generate income as well. Tam Coc’s main facility is well guarded and administratively streamlined. One has to pay for the park entrance and separately for the row boat. Only two foreigners are allowed per boat, maybe to avoid abuse or to save the rower from fat arse overload. Once in the boat there is the usual getting to know each other with the captain(ette) which does not take very long because around the corner a filming crew is waiting for your majesty the tourist to be taken pictures of as if nowadays everybody does not have cameras of their own. Anyway some price discussion takes place and “no” seems to be not accepted as an answer. After many exhilarating moments alongside this true wonder of nature, one ends up into a specifically designed trap close to the midway point. A bunch of aggressive sales ladies attack the rowing boat and thanks to your collaborative captain(ette)who would not budge a centimetre, they have you locked in till something is bought in exchange for freedom. At this point it is not very clear who the victim is though. Somehow the thought that your captain(ette) might be stripped off her tip if somebody sees her receiving it at the end of the trip settles in. How naive! When given an equivalent of 10% of the ticket price she demonstratively says “no” in her super basic French, because she is old guard and English in her prime was not fancied by the authorities. To help out the discussion she pulls out a banknote that she likes which amazingly happens to cost as much as 25% of the ticket. This little old lady is determined to be on par with America in no time. Well, in this tip casino of sorts one might lose everything due to greed.
- Adventure Travel
- National/State Park
- Budget Travel
Cam Toc Caves
Located in Ninh Binh province, the Tam Coc caves are known as the inland Ha Long bay. It is 3 hours drive out of Hanoi. At the river docks, you board an open-air sampan which you hire with a rower. The boat ride takes you through a winding waterway which passes through 3 caves (Tam Coc). You must actually duck a bit as the boat does through the caves to avoid scraping the roof. Look out also that you do not hit any of those stalactites or stalagmites!
On the last of these caves, a group of traders on sampans will try to sell you drinks and tit-bits. Some actually ask you to buy a drink or two for the rower only that the rower will not actually drink it, she'll most likely trade it back later on.
The rower will also likely try to sell you embroideries and paintings. Bargain abit, buy some if you fancy. But if they pester you too much, you can actually note down the boat number and lodge a complaint at the tourist police office at the dock. My experience was the rowers are quite nice and they don't create any trouble.
The village at the dock has many stalls selling T-shirts and other kind of hand-made linen. Prices are quite cheap. There are also restaurants and cafes. The specialty here is baked mutton wrapped in rice paper!
Temple hopping in Hoa Lu
Not a great fan of temple tours but possibly interesting for some who would like to know about the local culture. The temples are built and houses the famous emperors of Vietnam for local worshipping. It isn't particularly touristy and the scenary around the temples is pretty.
- Road Trip
Boating at Tam Coc
Yes, a tourist trap it may be, but the boat ride is rather enjoyable. Even with many other tourists boating along the river, the ride is tranquil enough along some parts. My favourite part is to boat through the dark grottoes with the limestone cliffs inches above your head and as you emerge from the dark into the light, craggy cliffs welcome you.
- Road Trip
- Sailing and Boating
Hoa Lu Ancient Temple
Just outside Ninh Binh lying this Ancient Temples, Our guide explain everything about the history of the temple, was so hot that day listening is confusing we didn't understand what he is talking about. I try to do some research about the temple ;
Hoa Lu One-Pillar Pagoda has a Pillar full of phrase by Buddha in front of it, which stands there more than 1000 years. Along with these temples and pagodas, plenty of monuments, tombs, shrines worship many other famous people and Gods are attractive places as well.
Secondly, Hoa Lu still keeps the remaining of ancients fortress built by Dinh dynasty more than 1000 years ago. The Imperial place lays under the ground for 3m and now become a very interesting place to visit
Halong on land! some people's expression about this place
Setting in a rowing boat wondering the peaceful scenery around of Tam Coc that's all you need
It’s a pleasant two-hour journey, you passed to three cave underway it's a MUST to see if you are in the area
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 table cloth
You’ll probably end up tipping your driver to whisk you off to safety.
Your Ninh Binh Home
Great rooms for 15 to 20USD with breakfast included. Kind of on the main north-south thoroughfare with a healthy distance from it separated by a pond and thus very convenient for bus pick up to Hanoi or to the south. Just never use the tour services on offer - they seem to be a bit too pricey.
- National/State Park
- Budget Travel