Testimony of an amazed traveller
I was invited to take part in an excursion to the Hanoi countryside, specifically to Ninh Binh and Trang An, otherwise known as Halong Bay on land. I knew it by name, and already heard several rumours about it but nothing was up to what I discovered.
Leaving the incessant noise of Hanoi to find yourself a hundred kilometres away, in absolute calm, surrounded by majestic karstic mountains, navigating the canals and crossing mountains through several hundred-meter-long caves. And of course singing birds are part of the journey! What else?
The morning began with a visit of Vietnam's largest religious complex, Bai Dinh Pagoda. The complex extends over 3 hectares and includes several temples more majestic as you continue the tour.
Along the corridors, the walls contain hundreds of cavities all containing a precious Buddha. In front of them, the statues of Buddha's disciples salute you!
The temples contain the largest Buddha statues of Vietnam, some in bronze, others covered with gold. Their splendour is worth the trip without any hesitation.
After lunch, we went cycling in the middle of rice fields. The sun set, the majestic green rice fields and the steep peaks of the mountains around us, the region continued to really blow our minds away the closer we got to our final destination: Trang An.
The name "Halong Bay on land" here makes total sense. Imagine a captivating landscape of steep rocks escaping from the haze of forests and rivers, rice fields and caves travelled by boat to the slow rhythm of the rowers. A serene calm prevailed during the crossing, you feel cut off from the outside world, trapped in the middle of these mountains.
The boat ride continues for two hours in landscapes punctuated by rocky peaks and caves to reach another valley. It's pretty magical. You never know what to expect once the cave is crossed. Silence, slow pace, lush vegetation. We go up the river in search for… King Kong. Yes this is where the last movie "Kong: Skull Island" was shot. The local village created for the movie has stayed and you can visit it, allowing you to take a break on the island before taking the boat to the other side.
Remember to bring a few thousand dongs for the rower, she/he manages the boat brilliantly, without the slightest hitch in tunnels under the mountain which are sometimes tight and especially very low.
A word of advice: remember to take a hat and sunscreen. You may get burned!
In conclusion, I am more than satisfied with this tour that made me see so many greatness at so little distance from Hanoi. A big thank you to our guide who gave life to the Bai Dinh pagoda with his dynamism.
Ninh Binh and Trang An will remain wonderful memories. Cannot wait to see what comes next!