VAN LONG: Ninh Binh’s Beautiful Illusion

/////VAN LONG: Ninh Binh’s Beautiful Illusion

We have never been people to waste a day when we have a precious few of them. That’s why we combined our visit to the Bai Ding temple with an excursion to the Van Long Nature reserve in Ninh Binh Vietnam.

At first it looked like a short distance away from the Bai Dinh temple but after a day of wandering in the sweltering sun, the distance felt like a zillion miles. Needless to say when I look back I am glad that we did go all the way up to the Van Long Nature reserve. It was a cool boat ride in the latter half of the evening. Most importantly Van Long Nature reserve was calming, relatively quiet and peaceful.


I don’t remember how much we paid for our boat ride through the wetlands but it wasn’t much in comparison to what people pay at the other sites. The Van Long Nature reserve is a good drive away from the city of Ninh Binh. That is probably why it attracts less tourists that it ordinarily should. The lack of large caves to meander through also acts as a deterrent.


Van Long Nature Reserve in Ninh Binh Vietnam

Just look at that boat!

The length of the Van Long Nature Reserve is bordered by a road. It is a nice straight road and you can walk along it as you gaze at the wetlands. This is a great option if you don’t want to get into the actual boat and float around. If you’ve got a cycle or a motorbike then riding up and down the road is a great way to see the vast expanse of protected land.

We chose to take the boat. Why? It was one of those traditional boats that were woven together. I think the experience itself was calling our name so we decided to go ahead. I mean look at the boat! Why wouldn’t we?

Getting into the boat always takes a great deal of balance from my end. Not something that I have been blessed with. Let’s face it. Once a klutz always a klutz! Luckily I made my way to the sweet spot of the boat without throwing us over.

Van Long Nature Reserve in Ninh Binh Vietnam

The illusion!

At first glance I was almost mistaken. Anything that rocks on water feels like it is floating on the depth of a river if not an ocean. The Van Long Nature reserve builds that illusion up. The water should appear stagnant but it doesn’t. Tiny ripples caused by the evening breeze mimic a tide or a flow.

The calm of the evening is often interrupted by the rustle of the leaves and the flight of birds. Did I mention that the best time to sight a variety of the avian species is in the early morning or in the evening? I’m not sure what the early morning timings of Van Long Nature reserve are but since I am not an early bird I tend to choose the evening.

Sometimes hard work will get you nowhere!

One of the constant sounds that I remember was the rhythmic splash of the oars. The lady who guided our boat through the backwaters was an expert. It takes skill to navigate through those waters. Shawn tried his hand at it and soon came to realize just how strong the Vietnamese women are. Me? I preferred to be perched on a safe spot.

Tourists lounge locals work! I think this man was catching snails.

The tour of the Van Long Nature reserve came to a stop and we saw a group of tourists watching a nearby hill intently. It took us a while to understand what our guide was telling us. She spoke no English and us no Vietnamese. Eventually we figured out that there were monkeys in the distance.

Van Long Nature Reserve in Ninh Binh Vietnam

We were trying to spot monkeys in those hills!

Eyesight is always a bone of contention when you are trying to spot something. We spent over half an hour looking at the mountain in the distance. The seconds ticked away and the minutes passed us by but we could see nothing! There were people getting excited all around us and yet neither Shawn nor I had spotted the elusive creature.

Shawn used his DSLR as a telescope but not luck. I tried the idea and failed. Just as we were about to leave I saw a spot dart across the landscape. It moved ever so fast that I wasn’t even sure if I saw what I saw. It was only when the incident recurred seconds later that I understood what everyone had seen and interpreted was more like a Rorschach’s test without my glasses.

And so they take flight!

Shawn was really miffed that he didn’t spot the monkeys but the flocks of birds eventually pacified him. You never realize how difficult capturing the perfect photograph is when you are balancing on a rocking surface and the birds refuse to cooperate! That being said it sure was fun trying to get the perfect shot was fun.


Van Long Nature Reserve in Ninh Binh Vietnam

The gorgeous view at sunset!

The sun was waving bye to the horizon as we wound off our trip. We however were not done with the day. The weather had turned pleasant and we were no longer hot and sweaty. Taking our rented moped we decided to head down the road and take in the native Vietnamese scenery.

At the end of our entire evening in Van Long Nature reserve we found ourselves content. The excitement of the day had wound down in to a peaceful buzz. If you know what I mean that is… I would recommend Van Long Nature reserve to all those people who want to unwind and relax. It is a little out of the way but oh! It is so worth it!
2018-06-13T13:57:52+00:00 April 22nd, 2017|Asia, Destinations, Ninh Binh, Vietnam|12 Comments


  1. Alison - Up&AtEm Travel April 23, 2017 at 8:18 am - Reply

    I love hearing about beautiful and uncrowded scenic places, which sounds like the Van Long Nature reserve in a nutshell. 🙂 Too bad you couldn’t see the monkeys clearly, but that photo of the birds is amazing! Looks like a great day trip!

    • Penny April 23, 2017 at 8:49 am - Reply

      It was a really fun trip. Peaceful and calm. Just what we needed.

  2. Jen April 23, 2017 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    What a great adventure! I love nature reserves and live right by the Florida Everglades. Never seen anyone catching snails though, and definitely no monkeys! Haha seems like a great way to spend a day, thank you for letting us in on the secret!

    • Penny April 23, 2017 at 8:26 pm - Reply

      Thanks for dropping by Jen. I’ve never been to the US but the Florida Everglades does sound like my kind of place. Every country has its own best kept secrets I guess. 🙂

  3. Sara April 23, 2017 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    This is a gorgeous place, it looks like a peaceful place that is worth heading to. Will definitely be saving this for trip planning.

  4. Jeannie April 24, 2017 at 1:19 am - Reply

    This place looks great! I’ve been wanting to travel to SE Asia for a while, I’ll have to add this to the list!

  5. Steph April 24, 2017 at 2:46 pm - Reply

    The main photo immediately makes me want to go there. Nice to see somewhere different to the usual recommendations. And I wouldn’t be able to resist a boat like that! It doesn’t look too perilous 😉

    • Penny April 24, 2017 at 8:21 pm - Reply

      Off the beaten path destinations are the best. Lest polluted, less noisy and more often than not very beautiful. The boat was a clincher for me too!

  6. Rohan Cahill-Fleury April 29, 2017 at 2:16 am - Reply

    Looks absolutely stunning. Love finding hidden gems. This looks like a great place to relax and see a bit of local life 🙂

  7. Jacky April 30, 2017 at 3:22 am - Reply

    I’ve read countless of articles on nature reserves and national parks in Asia, but I had never heard of this one. Will be saving this as I love beating the crowds 🙂 Shame it’s a bit out of the way, but I bet the peace and quiet is worth it! Better luck with the monkeys next time 😉

  8. Iza Abao May 3, 2017 at 5:40 am - Reply

    That was a great experience! The boat is so narrow and thin. I’m not completely sure if I’d want to bring my camera on this boat. The monkeys were probably somewhere else. The birds look fantastic. I like your photo of the sunset. It was the perfect ending to your adventure.

    • Penny May 3, 2017 at 10:24 am - Reply

      The sunset definitely made a perfect ending to our adventure. It was so serene and peaceful. We went back home feeling really calm.

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