When Tom and Norma, whom I met at the Nguyen Shack homestay in the Ninh Binh area, asked me if I wanted to join them for a half day trip to Trang An I said Yes even if I had no idea what was there to see. After all I had no plans for the day.
We rode our bicycles for about 5Km on very muddy and rough terrain (Tough Mudder, here I come!) and when we arrived at the Trang An pier we paid 150,000 dong entrance fee and got on a small boat, joined by a Vietnamese men.
For the following two and a half hours, our boat woman took us around (rowing sometimes with her hands and sometimes with her feet!) amongst amazing limestone hills. We visited several grottoes, where we often had to duck down, we got off the boat to see pagodas dotted along the river, but mainly we enjoyed the fantastic scenery.
This is Ha Long Bay on land!
There were several other boats on the river, but overall it wasn’t busy. The area is mainly visited by Vietnamese tourists, while Westerners seem to go to Tam Coc instead.
After the boat tour, we cycled further to reach Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam (10th-11th century), but we decided not to visit. We had been advised that there was not much to see there. So instead we turned into a side road and through two tunnels to reach the “secret valley”. In front of us another set of limestone hills like a natural theatre. Absolutely stunning!
After this, I think I will give Ha Long Bay a miss! ;-)
Update 27 June 2014: at the 38th session of the World Heritage committee (15-25 June 2014, Doha) Trang An was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.