It’s known as the Ha Long Bay of the land. About 150 kilometres from the famous Vietnamese bay where hundreds of islands form a natural wonder is another equally as impressive landscape. This one, known as Trang An, is nowhere near the coast, though. The mountains are connected by rice paddies, not water. You can cycle to them, not sail. And – best of all – they are not full of foreign tourists. Such is the joy of a Trang An boat tour.
The Trang An Landscape Complex is dominated by the large limestone karst peaks which create steep vertical cliffs covered in plants. Unlike a traditional mountain range where the slopes connect to each other in a long undulating stretch, most of these peaks stand in isolation – making them even more dramatic in appearance.
The stretches of flat land surrounding them look like valleys but, in reality, they are not the space between mountains but what the area would look like without mountains. Fields fill many of them and the fertile grounds are perfect for agriculture and settlements.
There are sections that are submerged under water, though, and this is what has been claimed by the tourism industry as the best way to explore the Trang An area. While it is possible to cycle, drive – or even walk – around the mountains, most people choose to use boats to travel through some of the most scenic parts of the region.
I board one of these small boats myself and it waits at the dock until all six seats are taken. It doesn’t take long because there is a steady stream of visitors coming here to take a ride. Interestingly, most of them seem to be locals on holiday in large groups. For foreigners, Trang An is not nearly as well known as Ha Long Bay and most people who do visit come on day trips from Hanoi that leave early in the morning.
The boat driver sits at the back with two large oars. She paddles down the large river towards some of the impressive limestone karst peaks. I realise that I have no idea how long we are heading out for – it’s probably something I should have asked – but I sit back and enjoy the view.
It turns out the boat trip is much longer than I expected. For almost two hours we explore the area. The large river appears to come to an abrupt end after about thirty minutes but then I notice a small cave. We row into it and it turns out it is a tunnel that we emerge from on the other side of a mountain. The waterway is much narrower here and the boat comes close to the shore of reeds. Mountains surround us in almost every direction and, if it wasn’t for the tunnel, it would feel like we were in a lake. At the other end there’s another tunnel and we go through it and emerge in another part of the landscape.
It’s a long hard trip for the driver, I imagine, and there are a few points where I pick up one of the spare oars and help out. I’m not sure how much of a token effort it is, though. It does make me feel a bit better about being rowed around for hours.
CONTACT HOALU HOTEL’S TOUR GUIDE
Address: Ky Lan Mountain – Tran Hung Dao – Ninh Binh City
Hotline: +84 981 357 005 | +84 981 357 011
Tel: +84 229 3871 217