Day Trip at Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh is heralded as the Halong Bay on the land. It has a resemblance of the Halong Bay rock formations but they are standing on the soil. River cruising and passing subterranean passage add a sense of adventure.
Ninh Binh is just two hours away from the hustle and bustle city of Hanoi. Most of the tourist skipped this wonderful province but it started to be included in the tourist trail. Travel agencies offer a day tour in Trang an and Ba Dinh Pagoda from Hanoi which cost 40 USD.
I choose the Trang-an and Bind Dinh Temple tour. It includes a round trip transport from Hanoi to Ninh Binh, lunch and river cruising in Trang-an. I prefer to get it from the agency because I heard and read some stories from fellow travelers that some rowers of the sampan boat force you to buy their products that they sell or they will stop in the middle of the river. I do not want to suffer this, so I booked my tour through the agency. I am pretty sure that the agency will take care of me.
Trang an is nicknamed as the Halong Bay on the ground. It has colossal karts rock mountains that were erected in the river. Some of these karts have subterranean ways. This is the exciting part of the river cruise, you will maneuver the boat to pass the underground passage of this mountain.
The tourist bus picked me up at my hotel then we headed to Ninh Binh. After 2 ½ hours of a road trip, we reached the Trang-an boat station. We hopped on the sampan, and our river cruising starts.
The sun is really hot that day. It is advisable to apply a sunblock to protect your skin. The water in the river is very calm and still. You can only hear the sound of splashing water through the paddle. As you cruise the river, you can feel the serenity of the place. Actually, tourist can help the rower. There are two available paddles, the rower told us, we can row the boat if we wanted to. I grabbed one and try to row the boat.
After few minutes, the guide told us to stop rowing because we will pass through the subterranean ways, she told us to, lower our body but keep our eye on the surroundings. I am a claustrophobic person, so I must face my fears. The moment you enter the opening of the subterranean ways, you can see the stalactites and water are drippings. The rower is doing an excellent job in manoeuvring the boat. You must also be careful because some stalactites are long it might hit your face and the worst is your eyes.
After a few minutes, we came out from the subterranean passage. The rower said that is the first, seven more to go. I told myself if I had known I would not choose this tour. But sad to say, I am already there, I need to conquer my fears. To be honest, I booked this tour because of the description as “Halong Bay in the river”. It did not mention that we will pass through the subterranean river. Lol!
Some subterranean passage has a narrow way, and the roof is very low, I was lying on the boat in the fetal position while watching the stalactites pass through right above my eyes and getting wet with the drippings from the stalactites.
We manage to traverse the subterranean ways, without getting hurt. The rower did a fantastic job. On our way back, the couple who were with me in the boat, they said, we really wanted to back out the moment they knew we need to pass seven subterranean passages. But they are hesitant to say it because I might complain or won’t allow it. I told them, to be honest, it also crossed my mind but I am shy to say it because I thought you are very eager to do it. We just burst into laughter. We just said, great experience and we conquered our fears.
After the river cruise, we get on the bus and we took our lunch. Our guide brought us to a buffet restaurant. They served an excellent Vietnamese food.
After our meal, we proceeded to Ba Dinh Pagoda. Bai Dinh Pagoda is a religious complex covering a total area of 539 hectares, with both the ancient and the newly renovated Bai Dinh pagoda, parks, car parking, and lake system. The pagoda belongs to Ninh Binh province, known as the ancient capital of Vietnam. The pagoda is nestled on the slope of Dinh mountain.
The pagoda houses an ancestor-worshipping house in the centre, Bright cave on the right-hand side which worships the Buddha, the small temple worshipping Genie Cao Son. In addition, on the left-hand side of the pagoda is another temple worshipping Saint Nguyen and next to it is Dark cave which worships the Fairy. With fanciful scenery and quiet atmosphere, the pagoda will make visitors feel likely to live in fairyland and they find peace in their minds. (vietnamonline)
Due to time constraint and the enormity of the complex, you cannot explore this place in 2 hours. I just explore the place on foot, I make most of my time in my two hours here.
Around 4 PM, I headed back to the pickup point, hop on the buggy that brought us to the parking lot. We left Ninh Binh around 5 PM and reach Hanoi around 7:30 PM. It was a great tour, a mix of excitement, learning the culture and religion. And see the laidback life of Vietnamese that lives in the countryside.