Ninh Binh - A Peaceful land for a soul searching retreat

Nga Do
Ninh Binh is not an obvious first choice to spend your precious few days of travel. In fact, it’s a pretty average, non-descript northern Vietnamese town. But just a few kilometers outside the town is some of the most stunning scenery in the whole of Vietnam – and that’s a compliment not to be sniffed at. Watery paddy fields surrounded by dramatic, jagged limestone rocks and idyllic rural landscape paint perhaps the picture-perfect image of the “real Vietnam.” But then that’s only one of the many surprises up Ninh Binh's sleeve.

Only two hours south of Hanoi and it’s a world away from the somewhat manic capital; time seems to have stood still. In this tranquil rustic area, early morning “rush hour” is the steady stream of cyclist’s en-route to the fields and groups of ducks waddling in unison down dusty footpaths.  This is a land of peaceful hamlets, where ox and cart is the main form of transportation for farmers and cars are infrequently seen. Women clad with conical hats are bent over in omnipresent paddy fields, diligently planting green shoots for the next harvest. Over flooded landscapes, fisher persons cast their nets out from precarious bamboo boats and thousand-year old pagodas rub shoulders with pastel-painted Catholic churches – a legacy of the French missionaries in former Indochina days.

Ninh Binh is a fascinating place where apart from an inspiring scenery, you have easy access to the most rural and authentic side Vietnam. Explore Ninh Binh with interesting experiences:

Go on a boat ride in Trang An

This is the first thing you should do here. You basically hop on a small rowing boat and a lady rower takes you on a 2-hour journey through caves, temples and lakes. They usually wait for a group of four to assemble.The technique needed to maneuver the boat inside the underwater caves is impressive , watch your head! During the whole trip, the scenery is mesmerizing.Trang An is usually the second choice of travelers in Ninh Binh in terms of boat rides. Most people do Tam Coc only (HUGE mistake in my opinion, see below why) so you can expect fewer crowds. Still, it’s advisable that you make your way there early in the morning or late in the afternoon where most day trippers coming in gigantic bus excursions are not there.

Ride a bike

Just renting a motorbike and explore the surroundings is already a reason to visit Ninh Binh. What we did was to look in the map where the next sight was and choose a longer and more unconventional way to get there. By skipping the main roads, you’re on to enrich your travel experience much more!Wander through the tiny paths in the rice fields or the dirt roads leading to local communities and villages. Ninh Binh is one of those places where the children wave and say “Hello” to you when you pass in front of their houses. It’s fascinating to see where people live, how do they work on the fields and how do they spend their day. As a bonus, there are loads of cute animals too!

Go temple-hopping

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Photo by  Prince Roy
Scattered across the rice fields, enclosed in mountains on sitting on top of them, there is no shortage of temples in Ninh Binh.Perhaps the most dramatic is Hang Mua. Sitting on top of hill 500 steps above ground, this temple is both a challenge and a delight. While the temple is somewhat unimpressive, the views over Tam Coc are stunning.If you’re looking for something less challenging, but equally impressive, the recently built Bai Dinh Pagoda is a good option. This Buddhist temple is HUGE and is mostly visited by Vietnamese people.But there are more. Bích Động Pagoda is a set of 3 temples carved into a limestone mountain next to Tam Coc. Despite the fact it has been heavily destroyed, the ancient city of Hoa Lu, the former capital of Vietnam during the Dinh and the Le dynasties (1st century), is also worth a visit.

Visit the Thung Nham Bird Garden

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Photo by  nguyenvanson01122
We only heard this place when our lovely friend who worked as a receptionist on our hotel mentioned it. She actually took us there and offered to be our guide. Thanks so much Trang!Almost no one visits Thung Nham Bird Garden but it’s a shame because it’s a true beauty. Tucked away in the mountains, this natural park is basically where most of the birds of the region make their nest. If you visit during early morning or late afternoon, you’ll see the trees absolutely PACKED with all types of birds. It’s a true sight and a wonder of nature.The park also has several caves and hiking trails and is perfect for take a bit of fresh air and go on a relaxing walk. It’s just 5km from Tam Coc center.

Go wild in Cuc Phuong National Park

Cuc Phong is a rare well-preserved rainforest. The place is known for its Botanical Garden and the Endangered Primates Rescue Centre, which has around 150 primates from all over Vietnam.It’s a great place for biking, hiking and observe a wild range of animals, from birds to an amazing variety of colorful butterflies.The National Park sits 45km from Ninh Binh and there is a mandatory 20,000 dong fee to hire a guide.

Enjoy the specialties from goat meat

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Photo by
The locals in Northern Vietnam create amazing culinary dishes. They have special spring rolls with goat meat and lemon grass covered in a perfectly pressed rice sheet. Wrapped inside the rice sheet is also star fruit, pineapple, chilly, fresh garlic and a variety of other delicious veggies. The goat meat is steamed and then mixed with lemon grass, lime juice, ginger juice and some homemade spices that are kept a family secret, the mixture creates a beautiful and fresh flavor for the goat meat.

It is probably due to the relaxing peaceful scenery here, but the locals are so calm and one with nature, their lifestyle seems so idyllic. This lifestyle is also reflected in their foods; local food here is rustic and simple but brings a true sense of beauty to every culinary experience.

If you wish to experience true life in the asian countryside, I highly recommend that you choose a trip to Ninh Binh, Vietnam as one of your destinations.

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