Tràng An – Ninh Bình
This UNESCO World Heritage site is positioned in Ninh Binh Province, roughly 100 km south of Hanoi. This makes it a great stopping point for any motorbike tour heading to the south or heading north towards the Vietnamese capital. It’s an idyllic location of nature’s greenery, steep karst mountains cut with waterways and caves that are loaded with history.
Boat Tours in Trang An
Trang An has 3 different boat tour routes all at the same cost of 200 00 VND. Each route takes around 2-3 hours to complete depending on your speed of sightseeing and boat drivers are happy to wait patiently at stops whilst you do so. The short trip times make it a worthwhile break to rest your bones if you are passing through on a motorbike tour.
All of the three itineraries have their own merits –they go through different caves, visit different temples, historical places and offer unique scenery. A few of the temples are tucked in the mountain elevations and once the boat stops – you need to climb a lot of stairs if you want to reach them.
The caves themselves all differ in heights and lengths. Occasionally you’ll find yourself ducking and weaving the ceilings as the oarsman (usually oarswoman) navigates the passages. During wet season some caves are not accessible due to their low heights.
Each boat has a capacity of 4 people, if you come with fewer people you will be paired up with other visitors for the trip. You can just sit back and enjoy the tranquil passage or if you feel like paddling yourself there are always extra oars on board.
The whole operation is extremely well run in Trang An – you won’t be asked for tips or gratuities and at the end of the journey you are asked to fill in an evaluation form to assess your boat drivers performance. The boat drivers here are happy in their jobs, having moved up from lower earning agricultural work to the higher paying tourism sector. They earn more money than before and work less hours.
Biodiversity of Trang An
The geography of Trang An contains limestone forest and lowland evergreen forest. It is also home to aquatic life in its caves, rivers and swampland. A home to nearly 600 plant and 200 animal species, Trang An has many life forms which are endangered and are listed in the Vietnam’s Red Book.
History in Trang An
Trang An has proven to be a rich source of interest for Archeologist and scientists. Traces of prehistoric civilization have been found in caves dating from 5000 to 30 000 years ago. Some of the waterways have also been dredged, uncovering ancient pottery and tools.
It was also the southern part of a capital during Vietnam’s feudal state years at around 1000 AD. During these times caves were used for numerous purposes such as winemaking or religious worship. The terrain also made for good strategic defense.
When visiting Trang An on a boat tour you will encounter many temples, each has their own story to tell from a different period of time in Vietnamese history.
Things to see Nearby Trang An
The surrounding area offers plenty to see if you are motorbike touring. You could easily spend a few days just riding around, visiting the nearby attractions and burning down country roads.
Just around the corner you can visit Tam Cốc which is also popular for boat tours down the Ngo Dong River. These boat tours have a different setting although they are equally beautiful as you float by mountains and rice fields. You are commonly asked by the driver to buy products or tip which here- it is not as relaxing as Trang An for some. Interestingly most of the boat drivers row the oars with their feet.
At only a 4km ride north you can visit Hoa Lư, an ancient capital of Vietnam during the 10th and 11th centuries. 12 km to the northwest of Trang An is Bai Dinh Temple one of the largest Buddhist complexes in South East Asia. Going 26 km to the east takes you to Cúc Phương National Park, the oldest such nature reserve in Vietnam.
Special Cuisine of Trang An
The Ninh Binh Region is famed nationwide for its goats. They feed on the nutritious foliage of the local mountains and said to produce the most delicious meat in Vietnam. Touring the area you will see herds of goats wandering along the roadside and if you possess keen eyesight they can be spotted in the forested mountains above.
Goat is cooked in all manner of ways and there are said to be 20 different styles of cooking it in Ninh Binh – steamed, boiled, fried, grilled or barbecued among them. We personally think the barbecue or roast goat that you make into a fresh spring roll is the best. It’s commonly served with green bananas, star fruit, figs and forest herbs. The popular dipping sauce is a chilli and ginger mix with salt. It makes for a great meal to end a good day of motorbike riding if you end your day here.
Other local specialties include – Mountain snails that inhabit the local caves and mountain crevices, burnt rice with soy sauce (it doesn’t translate well but tastes good!), ant egg sticky rice as well as eel vermicelli soup.