Like Ha Long Bay, but more dramatic
The “inland version of Ha Long Bay”, Trang An Grottoes is a great day trip destination from Hanoi for those who are looking for some nature. Trang An is the key tourism area in Ninh Binh province. Located in Trang An Eco-Tourism Complex, Trang An Grottoes has an area of 1,500 hectares including limestone peaks, valleys, caves, and rivers. If you think on an alternate scale (like looking at a bonsai tree), it looks like a place full of rock-sculptures on a pond. It’s one of my favorite experiences among the places I visited in Vietnam. It’s as beautiful as Ha Long Bay but less crowded and we get to see these hills and caves more up-close on a small boat.
Three to five people got on each rowboat, with a rower in the back. There are extra paddles so you are free to join in. I was wondering how could we stay still in this boat for 2.5 hours but I forgot those worries as soon as we left the dock. Soon we paddled right up to the limestone hills. The hills looked like something I saw in an ink-and-washing painting. There are some temples to visit if you want to take a small break.
We bobbed on the Sao Khe River and cruised through a series of natural limestone caves (but some were enlarged to accommodate boats) for the next two and a half hours. It was like cruising in the caves of Ha Long Bay, but a lot smaller. The formations of the cave ceiling were amazing! But remember to duck and lower your camera; some caves are quite small.
We were soaking wet from sweat, exhausted from the heat, but came back with such excitement after getting intimate with the nature of Vietnam. We didn’t go where you can see this view (photo below) but we’ve heard it was a different part of the Trang An Landscape Complex.
When you go:
- It’s better to go early in the morning or after 2pm, to avoid the direct sun. There’s no shade on the boat.
- If you didn’t bring a hat, there is a stall that sells traditional Vietnamese hat for just $1, and it makes a great souvenir.
- If you want to avoid the crowds, consider visiting in autumn or the winter months. It’s usually too cold for local travelers, we’ve heard.
Photo by Amandine