We initially heard about Van Long from a TV show; ‘Life Without Limits: Vietnam‘, that was on the BBC before we set off on our travels. When we started planning our rough route through Vietnam we were too intrigued not to have it on our list as Van Long is a relatively undiscovered gem in the Ninh Binh Province that is also known as ‘Ha Long Bay on land’ to most. After the super-touristy (but breathtaking) trip to Ha Long Bay we wanted to opt for something different than Tam Coc and the other well known Ninh Binh locations. It was refreshing to go on a tour where we were almost the only other visitors.
We didn’t think we would have time to fit Ninh Binh in to our already busy trip and so instead opted for a day trip. We booked the tour pretty last minute but Day Tours Hanoi were very quick at responding to our enquiry and soon had us booked. Our experience with them was GREAT – like literally 5*s! They picked us up from our hotel in Old Town and drove us around in a lovely air conditioned car, gave us bottled water and gave us one of the best tour guides we could have asked for; Doan. He was SO amazing. His knowledge and English were impeccable and his kindness to us on our tour made it that much better.
In order to reach Van Long we started our day with a 2 hour drive to Ninh Ninh Province and into the Van Long Nature Park. It was here that we made our first stop of the day; a ride around Van Long an the eco-friendly boats that are made of bamboo and rowed effortlessly by hand by local residents. The ride was so peaceful we could hear the water rippling around us and the birds and animals rustling in the foliage around us. The water was also crystal clear which meant we could see the plants and fish in the water below us. We only saw four other groups during our hour long ride and we often felt like we had the whole place to ourselves, adding to our amazing experience.
Van Long is well known, like Ha Long Bay, for its limestone structures that tower over the water below them and the boat tour takes you in and around these structures with the guides occasionally pointing out things of interest such as animals, fish and rock formations that look like elephants. On our ride we were lucky enough to spot some rare Delacour Langur Monkeys that call Van Long home. We couldn’t thank our guide enough for stopping and pointing them out to us as they jumped from tree to tree. Seeing such rare animals in the wild was amazing and a highlight of this day!
After an hour on the bamboo boat we went for lunch at a local restaurant where we were given practically a 7 course meal (spring rolls, chicken, goat (which is their speciality), vegetables, rice, something with noodles and to finish it all off; some fresh fruit) which we were very grateful for, even if we didn’t manage to eat it all. We did however then proceed the tour using some bikes that were rented from the restaurant.
Our guide Doan led us through the back streets of the village of Van Long, past rice fields, local farms with cows, houses and right past the magnificent Van Long landscapes. He would point out things to us on the ride; like the rice fields and the ducks that reside in them and told us how the ducks are introduced to hep eat down the left over crop after the rice has been harvested. We can’t say that it was the most comfortable bike journey (but when is it in Vietnam?) but the views were stunning and it was great to ride through the village to get a closer look at local life.
Our final stop of the day was Mua Caves which is well known in Ninh Binh for its incredible views. The cave itself at the bottom of the stairs is nothing special but it is well worth the climb up the 500 steps to reach the view. Whilst we were extremely worn out once we had reached the top the views of Ninh Binh with the sunset backdrop made it all worth while. As far as the eye can see are rolling rice fields and green countryside. It really was a magical end to an amazing day.
We can’t recommend Day Tours Hanoi enough for such an amazing trip. If you are in Ninh Binh you should take a visit, and if you are planning to go to Vietnam in the future GET IT ON YOUR LIST!