Ninh Binh remains one of Vietnam’s most captivating locations and an excellent day trip from Hanoi, combining stunning natural splendor with an engrossing history that spans a millennium.

Hoa Lu, established a thousand years ago, was the capital of Vietnam under the Dinh and Le dynasties. The sights and smells still evoke the atmosphere of a lost kingdom, with stunning temples and pagodas built by the different dynasties and elaborate tombs to commemorate them. You’ll also uncover evidence of ancient palaces and royal pavilions that reference an ancient era, surrounded by towering karst mountains and vivid jungle. Take a bicycle and dive into the Van Long Nature Reserve and adjacent countryside, passing small villages and bright green rice paddies along the way.

Ninh Binh is famous for its river cruises – and with good reason. Various snaking rivers meander around sky-high karst mountains covered in lush jungle. Some parts of the river are home to birds and butterflies, whereas other sections are designated spots for water farming. Swap your bicycle for a boat and hop into a small sampan rowed by a local – sometimes with their feet! Keep your head low as you pass through cave passages and keep your camera ready for riverside temples and pagodas inaccessible by road. Some temples are even large enough for you to disembark your sampan and discover them by foot.