Nature has bestowed Vietnam’s northern province of Ninh Binh with dramatic landscapes. Sties like Tam Cac – Bich Dong and the stone cathedral of Phát Diem draw scores of visitors. Yet there are other, lesser-known sites that are worth visiting, all within an easy drive of the capital.
Less than an hour’s motorbike ride from Hanoi I entered a different world, the road passing through green hills and the virgin forests of Cuc Phuong National Park. As I drive through this mystical landscape, the words of the song (Suoi Mo” (Dream Stream), by the late composer van Cao, ran through my head Gazing at the clear Ngo Dong River running along the foot if the mountains, I could appreciate how this magnificent landscape would inspire great poetry and music.
In 986AD, the Dinh Dynasty (986-1010) chose to build it capital at Hoa Lu, in Ninh Binh. Meanwhile, the cave at Tam Coc – Bich ??ng attracts both local and international visitors to bathe its dreamy beauty.
Today, many tour companies take visitors to Bai Dinh Pagoda, which lies in the Trang An Tourist Complex. Reportedly the largest pagoda in Southeast Asia, Bai Dinh is impressive in tern of size, although, being newly built, it lacks a sense of history may be found nearby, at Hoa lu. It was here that Vietnam’s capital was founded in 986AD, after the nation regained its independence after 1000 years of Chinese occupation.
After unifying the nation, Dinh Bo Linh declared himself the first emperor of Vietnam. Under the name Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang, he found the kingdom of Dai Co Viet (Great Viet). Today, the site of the former capital is marked by some temples, pagodas and remnants of the stones. The surrounding rivers and hills remain unchanged.
When King Ly Cong Uan offered the construction of Thang Long Citadel in what is now Hanoi, stone and wood were transport down the Hoang Long and Day Rivers. These rivers still flow as they did 1000 years ago.
This forested area is Vietnam’s heartland. Taking a boats ride towards Tam Coc via the Xuyen Thuy Cave. In this beautiful landscape I felt close to nature, and appreciated the local who spend their whole lives working in the fields and streams.
Around twenty minutes out of Ninh Binh City, I boarded a boat to Tam Coc – Bich ??ng and nearly Van Long, where, during the rainy season, a large area is submerged under water. Millions of years ago, this area was ruled by the sea. Waves etched caves into the limestone mountain, the most famous of which is Tam Coc, which forms a tunnel through a mountain.
From the Van Long Resort I visited a lesser known beauty spot, Hang Bong Cave. The largest limestone and submerged land ecosystem in the red River Delta, the Van Long Kenh Ga compound attracts nature – lovers from all corners, as well as exciting boat rides through the marches, visitors have the chance to see rare and endangered animals, such as eagles, chamois, leopards, bears and monkeys. Though its fauna is not as rich as that found in Cuc Phuong National Park, the VanLong – Kenh Ga compound features magnificent rock formations surrounded by water. Small boats wind through the jagged peaks. As the sun sets, the scene is a dream for photographers.
This summer, a new international – standard hotel opened nearby. The Ana Mandara Ninh Binh features a beautiful and unique design, its main structures supported by giant wooden columns that are reminiscent of ancient Vietnamese palace palaces. Open on four sides, an impressive main hall serves as the lobby. The surrounding buildings are equally unique, being modeled after house in a 19th century Tonkin township. With wide verandas and curved roofs, these low house recall Hanoi many year ago, when the only sounds on mummer nights were the crises of cicadas.
Each group of house resembles a small village surrounding a swimming pool, a communal square and an herb garden. Bamboo hedges surround these “villages”. In between the blocks lie palm trees and fields of corn. After just a few hours I felt strangely attached to this place, as though it was actually my birth village.
The staffs at the Ana Mandara Ninh Binh were so friendly, and so professional, that I felt totally at home. This five-star hotel adds to the attractions of Ninh Binh. As I strolled beneath shady trees or sat and gazed at the clear water, I felt relaxed and grounded. Surrounded by the flowing wind and water of Ninh Binh, I felt connected to nature and to myself again.
This article is written by lan nguyen.