The Tam Diep Mountain Range separates northern and central Vietnam and in this region you also find the vast Red River Delta and Ninh Binh. Think picture-postcard-perfect rice paddy fields, with gentle streams meandering through ancient caves. Many travel brochures describe the area as “Halong Bay on land” as the huge limestone karst monoliths are the dominant feature. But its not just (arguably) the most beautiful landscapes in Vietnam, as the region also has plenty of historic sites, most notably Hoa Lu which was once the capital of Vietnam. Phat Diem, a centuries old flourishing Catholic enclave and home to Vietnam’s most interesting Catholic Cathedral is also worth a visit.
Cuc Phoung National Park is Vietnam’s largest nature reserve and inhabitants include 97 species of mammals. It is one of the few remaining tropical rain forests left in the country. They have an interesting Visitors Centre and excellent Endangered Primate Rescue Centre which homes species like the Delacour’s Langur, Golden-headed Langur, Tonkin Snub-nosed Langur and the Black Crested Gibbon. Nearby is the Van Long Nature Reserve, best explored by sampan.
Day trips from Hanoi to Ninh Binh are popular but are a very poor second to spending a couple of nights here – exploring Ninh Binh in your own time and out of sync with the day tripping masses will do far more justice to this spectacular region