Updated: Dec 10, 2018
Up until my first visit to Vietnam, I had a hazy image of the country in my mind which involved a great scenic view and the famous conical hat. The longer I stayed in the city center of Hanoi the image seemed to lose luster until I journeyed through the Trang An complex of Ninh Binh Province. Trang An, renowned for its countryside Boat cave tours is by far the most charming and spectacular landscapes located in the northern part of the country, a distance of 95 Kms from Hanoi.
Overlooking the landscape are the large conical hills roughly 200 m high with narrow enclosed valleys, surrounded by interconnected mountain crests. The harmonious Pagodas amidst the quietly flowing water adds to the cultural charm and tranquility of the place.
Anytime is a good time to travel here except during the scorching summer days. There are three main routes currently that can be taken to visit the valley and I fancied the route one which included 3 hours of boat tour with temple visits (Below, find all 3 route details). Booking in advance will undoubtedly save a lot of time and can be sure of your bookings with all the admitted crowd. The boat ride is time stretching and carrying of umbrellas or raincoats is a smarter thing to do.
The most remarkable experience here has to be the enchanting boat ride through the limestone tunnels and caves. It almost feels like you are playing a lead role in an adventure movie, your very own ‘Indiana Jones’ moments. Even though lights are hanging in the tunnels, the deep water beneath and the shallow boat will give you something to watch out. From invading a dark, mysterious cave into the unknown and paddling your way out to a breathtaking view is a thrilling experience.
Most people skip the pagodas that are accessible here only via boat. It can be a lot to take in, but it is odd not to explore it. I mean how often do you come across a humble abode in the midst of an enclosed forest region.The Incense burns, the hues, and the desolation all add to the mysticism of the pagoda. Make sure you carry a Sarong to be respectful of the practices.
The water isn’t sparkling clean, but it’s uncluttered and when in the middle of the valley you can notice the roots of trees and weeds, collectively looking like a whole different world underneath. The only drawback to this place is the noisy tourist, and you’d want to ’Shush’ them at some point. The good thing is that ten minutes into the boat ride you forget all about the clamor and tend to concentrate on the whispers of your heart.
The famous blockbuster movie King Kong was filmed here along with other islands of Northern Vietnam. Apart from the magnificent beauty, the archaeological deposits in caves reveal traces of human activity for a continuous period of over 30000 years and also illustrates how humans adapted to significant climatic and environmental changes. Your boat Paddler may not be able to shed light or guide you through the history of the place, but he/she will encourage you to give a hand in rowing of the boat. After 3 hours of rowing who knows you might be able to call yourself a Pro or someone who walks away with toned arms and sore muscle. Either way, it’s a Journey that you will cherish for the most extended period.
Travel Related Information How to get there: Bus, Train, Bike or Car
Distance: 1 hour 45 minutes from Hanoi (Bike/Bus/Car)
Entry Fee: 200000 VND (Approx Rs 600 per person)
Route 1: Includes 9 caves and 3 temples
Route 2: Includes 4 caves and 3 temples
Route 3: Includes 3 caves and 3 temples
Shilpa Srinivas @flohwithme