An ideal base from which to explore the southern part of the Red River Delta, Ninh Binh is becoming a popular tourist des tination. While the town itself is not remarkable, it does feature several interesting attractions in its vicinity.
The historic site of Hoa Lu, 7 miles (12 km) north west of Ninh Binh, was estab lished as a royal capital in AD 968 by Emperor Tien Hoang De, the founder of the Dinh Dynasty (r.968–980). A massive palace and citadel constructed by him, though now mostly in ruins, is still impres sive.
A second royal temple in the vicinity is dedicated to Le Dai Hanh, founder of the Early Le Dynasty (r.980–1009), which suc ceeded the Dinh Dynasty. They are credited with replac ing Chinese curren cy with Vietnamese coinage. Just 7 miles (12 km) northwest of Hoa Lu, is the country’s biggest temple complex, Bai Dinh Temple. It opened in 2010 and features statues of 500 arhats (enlightened Buddha) and a 100-ton (91 tonnes) bronze Buddha image. To the southwest of Hoa Lu in the Thanh Hoa Province is the Ho Citadel, a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO in 2011. Established by the Ho Dynasty in the early 15th century, all that remains of the citadel are four walls made of massive stones and four arched gateways.
Tam Coc or Three Caves at 6 miles (10 km) southwest of Ninh Binh town is often promoted as Vietnam’s “Halong Bay on Land.” It also features karst outcrops, but while those at Halong Bay thrust upwards from the waves, at Tam Coc they rise majestically from a sea of green rice fields. It takes about three hours to visit Tam Coc, rowed in metal boats along the watery landscape and through three long caves. Trang An, just 4 miles (7 km) west of Ninh Binh, offers a similar experience to Tam Coc, and is also explored by boat. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014 for its cultural and natural heritage. Located 13 miles (21 km) northwest of Ninh Binh, the idyllic fishing village of Kenh Ga is also worth a visit. Centered on a small island and surrounded by stark karst formations, it features fish farms, herds of ducks and all things aquatic. It takes three hours or so to tour Kenh Ga, and it is wonderfully relaxing to chug slowly along to Van Trinh Grotto observing tranquil rural scenery en route. Kenh Ga is accessed via the town of Tran Me, as are the reed-filled marshes of Van Long Nature Reserve, where a small community of the rare Delacour’s langur lives, secure among the inaccessible lime- stone outcrops.
Around 19 miles (30 km) southeast of Ninh Binh, Phat Diem town is home to Phat Diem Cathedral, one of the most well-known churches in Vietnam. Alexandre de Rhodes, a French Jesuit priest who developed the nation’s Romanized writing system, preached here in 1627, but it was Tran Luc, a Vietna- mese priest, who organized the construction of this unique cathedral. It was com- pleted in 1898, and combines European Gothic church archi- tecture with Sino-Vietnamese temple tradition.