One of our favourite Vietnam destinations, the so-called ‘Halong Bay in the paddy-fields’ – Trang An in Ninh Binh Province – lies just a couple of hour’s drive south of the capital Hanoi. It features similar landscapes to World Heritage Halong Bay, albeit on a smaller scale, with dramatic limestone outcrops scattered across a wide area. The difference here, of course, is that instead of being situated in the South China Sea the spectacular karst formations – also World Heritage-listed, are set among the verdant paddy-fields of Ninh Binh.
The paddy-fields can’t be verdant at all times of year – that’s a bit of poetic license – but whether they are that wonderful shade of emerald green, a ready to harvest golden colour or freshly planted water-filled paddies the effects at pretty much any time of year ought to be spectacular. Furthermore though as we mentioned, on a smaller scale than Halong, lying inland it isn’t at the mercy of the South China Sea weather conditions as the better-known site is.
Easy access means weekends can get busy with local visitors but fortunately, the site is so large that with a bit of time and location planning, it’s easy enough to avoid the crowds. Our visit involves a boat trip through the picturesque channels and lakes that interconnect the outcrops including passing right through certain limestone hills by way of underground streams.
Thankfully there’s no motors involved and a tranquil row through these serene landscapes is the ideal way to visit though to mix things up a bit certain of the sites and viewpoints will be visited by a hike or cycle.
There’ll be stops along the way to visit some of the picturesque small shrines hidden away among the rocks and cliffs as well as, of course, to sample the famous local coffee.
All in all, an excellent and unusual way to spend a half-day! Trang An features as a morning tour on both our World Heritage Sites of Vietnam and Hanoi to Saigon tours before we head off in the afternoon to Ninh Binh Town to catch the night sleeper train south to Dong Ha and Hue.