Located about 95 kilometers (about a 2-3-hour journey) south of Hanoi is the beautiful province of Ninh Binh. This province in northern Vietnam's Red River Delta is rich in history, making for abundant North Vietnam group tours potential.
Due to its strategic position in the North and South, the area has witnessed many historical events and today is home to many sites of famous battles and temples memorializing ancient kings. On your trip, you’ll be able to divulge into and reflect on the provinces 1000 years of history and development.
So, if you’re somewhat of an explorer, adventure seeker or searching for something a little different with your Vietnam tour guide, then Ninh Binh is just the place for you to immerse yourself in authentic Vietnam. The number of ancient ruins present here are plentiful, and may even overwhelm the well-travelled. The whole province is all very laid-back and serene, just how your Vietnam experience should be…
An exploration of culture
Despite its natural beauty, Ninh Binh often gets overlooked by many travellers – and this is interestingly enough part of its beauty and charm. Steeped in history and blessed with some of the most jaw-dropping scenic spots, Ninh Binh is not only stunning, it’s also diverse and extremely travellers friendly.
Home to the famous rock formations of Tam Coc, Ninh Binh offers not only hiking trails, hidden caves, but also ancient temples, and verdant rice paddies. This province really does have it all!
Ultimately, visiting Ninh Binh allows you to peek into everyday Vietnam living while allowing you the opportunity to travel back in time and learn more about how the province has evolved and become what it is today.
Top attractions for cultural explorers
Trang An Grottoes
The Trang An Complex is an impressive set of large limestone karst cliffs covered by forest and best known for its gorgeous lake and eerie grottoes. Easily one of the most beautiful spots in Ninh Binh, Trang An is also recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and a top suggestion in North Vietnam tour reviews.
The Trang An grottoes are made up of numerous caves, mountains, trees and historic relics all across about 31 valleys and 50 cross-water caves. It’s also home to 600 kinds of flora and over 200 kinds of fauna.
The best way to enjoy the scenery is to simply hop on a small boat and enjoy the ride – the only actual form of transportation through the jaw-dropping limestone hills. You’ll journey through mesmerizing scenic caves, temples, and lakes all the time surrounded by hanging stalactites overhead in almost every direction.
Traveling through the grottoes on a small sampan (a relatively flat-bottomed wooden boat) is a truly tranquil and surreal experience, allowing you to be one with nature and all the beauty Ninh Binh has to offer.
In a few words – during your North Vietnam group tours, this boat ride is simply not to be missed!
Hoa Lu: The Ancient Capital
Referred to as “the capital built of stone” by the locals, Hoa Lu dates back to more than a thousand years ago…
Hoa Lu Ancient Capital is a special cultural-historical relic complex situated in Truong Yen commune, Hoa Lu district, Ninh Binh province.
Being one of few ancient capitals left in the country, Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam during the Dinh and Le dynasty’s, is a significant historical site holding the remnants of wars against foreign invaders.
As the capital of the country for 41 years, Hoa Lu has many palaces, pagodas, and tombs built by different dynasties, which date back to the 11th century when Hoa Lư was the native land of the first two imperial dynasties of Vietnam: the Đinh founded by Đinh Tiên Hoàng, and the Early Lê founded by Lê Đại Hành.
Following the demise of the Lê Dynasty, in 1010 Lý Công Uẩn, the founder of the Lý Dynasty, transferred the capital to Thăng Long (now known as Hanoi), and Hoa Lu became known as the "ancient capital."
Unfortunately, many vestiges have been destroyed over time due to time and weather. Today, the ancient citadel no longer exists and all that remains of the ancient city is what’s left of palaces related to the three dynasties of Dinh, Le, and Ly. This includes the royal temples built in honor of the emperors Đinh Tiên Hoàng and Lê Đại Hành, their sons, and Queen Dương Vân Nga, who was married first to Đinh Tiên Hoàng and later to Lê Đại Hành.
Upon your visit to Hoa Lu, you’ll be able to attend traditional cultural festivals, including one of the most important and largest of them all - the Truong Yen Festival. This particular festival is held on the 10th day of the third lunar month in memory of the Kings of the Dinh and Le dynasties. The festival lasts for three days, with many traditional games and martial arts, reflecting local residents' legends.
Being the capital of the first fundamental Government of Vietnam, Hoa Lu witnessed many important historical events and while an ancient capital can be found in many places, here you’ll witness more about the history of the most prominent dynasty in Vietnam. This culture, while being truly Vietnamese, has been heavily influenced by China.
This is one place that history lovers should not miss, especially on their North Vietnam group tours!
Bai Dinh Pagoda
Behind a range of limestone mountains in Gia Sinh Commune sits Bai Dinh Pagoda, one of the largest pagodas in Vietnam. The pagoda is built on a historic site where more than one thousand years ago, Dinh Bo Linh’s insurgent troops gathered before and after every battle.
Bai Pagoda is Southeast Asia's largest Buddhist complex. Within the 539-hectare religious complex sits both the ancient, and the newly renovated Bai Dinh pagoda. There are also 5,000 Buddha statues, a 36-ton bronze bell and dozens of Buddhist temples. The entire area is mainly made up of a cluster of Buddhist architectural structures - each one more magnificent than the next.
The ancient Bai Dinh Pagoda is a major attraction of the province, and if you’re lucky enough to visit, be sure to climb to the very top where you can enjoy the uninterrupted breathtaking view of Ninh Binh.
Phat Diem Stone Cathedral
Ninh Binh and neighboring Nam Dinh are, in fact, where Catholicism first took root in Vietnam in the early 17th century - hence the churches in the area are without a doubt breathtaking.
While visitors flock to Ninh Binh to visit the ancient capital of Hoa Lu, and the spectacular caves and mountain scenery at Tam Coc, few explore the area’s fascinating churches.
In fact, a Cathedral in a Buddhist country means a lot, as Catholics in Vietnam make up 6.8 percent to 10 percent of the total population, making Vietnam home to the second biggest Catholic community in Southeast Asia.
About 28km from Ninh Binh city is where you’ll find Phat Diem Stone Cathedral, built in 1852 and one of the most famous churches in Vietnam and is likened to the “Catholic capital” of Vietnam.
Constructed from 1875 to 1899, it took 24 years to build the stone cathedral which today is considered the perfect blend of Vietnamese and European architectural styles, known as the "eclectic architectural style".
The Cathedral was built by a talented priest named Peter Tran Luc, and based on the concept of “water in front, mountain behind” and as its name suggests, Phat Diem church is made almost entirely of stone – from walls to floors and everything in between. The church was the last work of Luc and also the last item completed in the complex.
In 1972, 73 years after it was built, the Cathedral was bombed which resulted in the collapse of its entire west wall. Today, after much restoration there are no tell-tale marks that the bombing even took place. The fact that this particular church was destroyed and rebuilt for only a small number of Catholics speaks volumes about just how religiously open Vietnam is and even through centuries of turmoil, the area remains unwaveringly Catholic.
Apart from the cathedral, the complex consists of many Catholic works and shrines, including a stone, an elegant bell tower, and three artificial grottoes which all together make up this scenic complex. Many come here to admire the unique architecture in Vietnam, as the 100-year-old cathedral does not disappoint with its ingenious blend of religions and cultures.
Phat Diem Cathedral is another perfect “stress-free” way to spend a day and a must-see for all those who visit Ninh Binh.
Traditional arts and crafts
Temples and churches are not the only heritage exclusive to Ninh Binh, North Vietnam group tours. Many villages have retained their traditional crafts like stone carving and embroidery – both of which are steeped in history and have a unique story all of their own.
The embroidery craft appeared in Van Lam village in the 13th century in the Tran dynasty. The special craft is handed down through generations, to both men and women who usually demonstrate their embroidery craft at the Tam Coc wharf while waiting for boat customers.
The highly sought after crafts are no longer famous in only Vietnam, but overseas too. In recent years, Van Lam embroidery products have been exported to Japan, Germany, France, and the US.
As Mother Nature bestowed Ninh Binh with spectacular limestone mountains, the art of stone carving also dates back many, many years. Today, the most popular stone products are ornamental plant pots, water fountains and stone statuettes, Buddha figures, worshipping objects and graves.
The art of stone carving has also created jobs and sustainable income for residents, helping them to develop their skills for stone carving, all while preserving the traditional trade of their ancestors.
Other traditional crafts to look out for in Ninh Binh include; pottery, mat weaving, and carpentry. With each piece being unique and special to Ninh Binh these crafts make for great keepsakes or North Vietnam group tours gifts – or both!
Get off the beaten track
Cultural travel goes beyond cultural exploration or discovery and places emphasis on life within a foreign culture, and in Ninh Binh, you can do just that. Here, you can delve a little deeper into Vietnam’s heritage and culture and experience unfiltered local life by engaging with the locals, and ultimately, leave with a better understanding of the country and its people.
So, if it’s a range of meaningful cultural experiences you’re looking for, then look no further. Travel with North Vietnam group tours, we can help you get off the beaten track so you are able to experience Vietnam as a true traveller and spend time as a local - not a temporary visitor.
Visiting Ninh Binh is a chance to get back to basics, allowing you to enjoy the very best Vietnam has to offer. With something to appeal to practically every traveller traversing Vietnam, it would be hard for anyone not to fall in love with magical Ninh Binh.