Our year end family trip to Vietnam this time took us to the province of Ninh Binh, which is roughly about a 2.5 hour car ride from Hanoi about 90km away. After spending a night getting settled in Hanoi, on the very next day in the early morning we were shuttled to Ninh Binh after breakfast by our tour guide with a private car. One of the highlights of the trip to Ninh Binh would be the visit to the Trang An grottoes. A huge complex roughly spanning an area of 1500 hectares dotted with caves, limestone peaks, caverns and rivers which is also a certified UNESCO site. It was so huge, that even with my drone I couldn’t capture the vastness of the entire area. Oh, and the latest King Kong movie was also filmed here, not that I saw it.
Our guide ushered us to our boats upon getting our entrance tickets, the boats that would take us on our 2 hour cruise through the caves and calm waters of the grottoes. Little fact, our guide did mention that there were roughly about 6000 little tour boats, and it takes 2 weeks before it gets back to their turn again to ferry around passengers who visit the area. Tough to be able to earn that little, for 2 days worth of work in that one month. Do offer a little tip to them if possible.
Upon reaching our first cave that we had to go through, our guide did tell us to be careful of the stalactites on the ceiling of the cave, and make sure not to touch anything in case it falls on you. So, no touching! Some of the caves even required you to lay flat on your stomach on the little boats as you drift through the darkness of the caverns. That was pretty exciting and terrifying at the same time.
Our first stop where we got off was at one of the temples nestled between the large limestone cliffs. Adorned with beautiful carvings of mythical creatures, it was truly a sight to behold, and we were the only ones there in the area, which is another plus point to head there early to avoid the large groups of tourists that would come a little later in the day.
The next stop would be a little island area where our tour guide told us excitedly that’s where the 2017 King Kong movie was filmed at. I wasn’t exactly that excited, but he mentioned that all the props from the movie had been left over and weren’t dismantled, due to the demand from tourists as another drawing point to visit. Guess you could see the old and the new when you visit the grottoes. At least I got to fly my drone and capture the props that were left behind.
Halfway walking through the abandoned movie set, there were people emerging from the teepee tents dressed in war paint and caveman like clothing. I turned to our guide and asked “are they tourists cosplaying?”. He told me that they were the extras from the movie when they were filming, so they stayed on behind dressed like this on a daily basis to make a little extra money if you wanted to get a photo with them. Pretty savvy if you ask me, but please ask how much first, before striking a pose with them whilst holding their spear.
After that 2 hour adventure, it was time to make our way back to where we started. I would advise anyone heading to the grottoes to bring enough sun screen and an umbrella. The sun can get pretty intense, plus you never know when it would suddenly pour. We got caught in the rain right as we ended the tour.
If you have an extra day to spend visiting out of Hanoi, this would be my recommendation. 30000 years of history, plus you get to immerse yourself in nature without travelling too far away from the big city. Head on over to the grottoes, and make sure you get there early to avoid the crowds. Bring your drone if you have one, you’ll only get to really appreciate how immense this complex really is from above.