Ninh Binh Province is a fascinating and spectacular area of around 1,330 km2 and only 100 or so kilometers from the country’s capitol of Hanoi. Much of this area falls within the Red River delta region and although it does not have a huge coastal presence, water is plentiful. The seasonal flooding replenishes the rich red soil that supports the strong farming community and gives an abundance of agricultural produce.
Like much of east North Vietnam (and particularly coastal Halong Bay), a large section of Ninh Binh province is pierced with towering limestone karsts. These geological wonders of limestone and gypsum are the remains of ancient eroded mountain ranges. Worn down with rain and the slight acidity of the limestone, they are heavily pocked with caves and underwater streams. They are also a rich source of the fundamental ingredients of cement, which forms a large significant part of the province’s economy.
Some 10 centuries ago, current day Ninh Binh was dominated by Hoa Lu Ancient City, the first capital of a united “gifted people” who were the genisis of the Republic of Vietnam. Although this capitol was eventual moved to Thang Long and the modern city of Hanoi, most Vietnamese know the history of the province and its importance in the development of the modern Vietnamese nation. A visit to places like Hoa Lu, Bai Dinh, Am Tien, Bich Dong and so on has become a pilgrimage for many Vietnamese, to pay homage and to ask blessings from those early forefathers. Hopefully these pages will give the international visitors some insight into why.
A Rural Wonderland
With a population of around 1.2m people (2019) it is relatively lightly populated in Vietnamese terms. There are two provincial cities – one of the same name as the province and the other, Tam Diep is 18km further to the south. As the rail head and the main administrative center, Ninh Binh City (TP Ninh Binh) is where most travelers will first arrive.
While Ninh Binh City has a number of interesting attractions, most visitors will converge around the rural villages of Tam Coc and Trang An. Both of these sites have become internationally famous for their unique tours of “underwater caves’ forged by streams underneath the soft limestone karsts. It is impossible to over hype the beauty, surprise and thrills of floating through such a spectacular landscape but there is much more to Ninh Binh than just the boat rides.
Here we list some of the most important and rewarding sites in Ninh Binh. If we were totally honest, the journeys through the stunning landscape to visit the famous attractions is often almost as beautiful and delightful as the sites themselves. Don’t rush yourself but take the time to soak in the atmosphere of this ancient flower of South East Asia culture and and discover the real Ninh Binh.