Trang An, which lies about 2 hours south of Hanoi, Vietnam, boasts green-covered limestone peaks and valleys. The main attraction is a 2-hour boat ride down the Sao Khe River, which costs just 150,000 VND (just under 7 USD). It has become a rather popular traveler’s destination. Surprisingly enough, more Vietnamese travelers flock here than foreigners. Although Trang An is gaining recognition, the site remains as one of Vietnam’s many wonders.
Row through limestone peaks and valleys
Local Vietnamese women escort visitors down the Sao Khe River in a sturdy canoe. The scenery is reminiscent of Halong Bay with towering limestone peaks and clear water below. The views in themselves make Trang An worthwhile, especially as a daytrip from Hanoi’s bustling city streets cramped with honking motorbikes.
The boat ride starts directly off the highway; however, as you float down the winding river, the highway and the sounds of occasional motorbikes fade away. If you close your eyes and sit in silence, you might imagine yourself completely alone, surrounded by the mountainous landscape of Vietnam, which has some of the most diverse landscapes in the world.
Stretch your legs and enter the three Vietnamese temples
There are three temples along the boat route: Trinh Temple, Tran Temple, and Khong Temple. Each temple showcases a shrine to a local hero connected to Ninh Binh’s history. The guide offers to let you exit the boat for about ten minutes at a time to walk around each temple. At the first temple, Trinh Temple, two giant fish statues will greet you at the entrance. There is incense available to burn while offering up a prayer before entering the gold encrusted interior. Trinh Temple is dedicated to two Dinh Dynasty generals: Ta Thanh Tru and Hua Thanh Tru. Each temple is a testament to how proud the Vietnamese are of their culture, history and religion.
Mind your head in the caves
Dotted along the river are a handful of small caves that must be entered in order to complete the journey on this stretch of the Sao Khe River. Some are so small that it is necessary to bend 90° at the waist in order to fit inside. The Vietnamese guide gives a warning before entering the caves with various hand signals to get the point across, and of course with a big smile on her face. The guide is so skilled navigating the narrow passages and low ceilings of the caves it’s as if she could do it blindfolded.
Furthermore, the guides strive to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. In doing so, many guides will encourage you to row with them. They will also relax themselves by reclining and using their legs and feet to row the boat. It’s quite impressive!
How to get to Trang An
Ninh Binh is the closest city to Trang An, which is located roughly 7km away. Buses run from Hanoi’s Giap Bat bus station directly to Ninh Binh. The two-hour bus ride is comfortable with air conditioning and reclining seats. Once you arrive at Ninh Binh, a motorbike is the most enjoyable way to reach Trang An. Head to a hostel where you can then rent a motorbike for 7 USD to complete the journey to Trang An. The road to Trang An is easily driven as it is paved and there is not much traffic. If you are not comfortable driving a motorbike, you can hire a motorbike taxi for about 10 USD. Alternatively, you can motorbike the 70km from Hanoi to Trang An.
Once you arrive in Trang An at the boat dock, which you will easily see from the road, buy boat ride tickets at the ticket booth! There is no need to book in advance. Pay for the ticket, get it checked at the turnstile and hop into the boat you are directed towards!
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