Landscape of Van Long Nature Reserve in Vietnam
Landscape of Van Long Nature Reserve in Vietnam

Van Long Nature Reserve (Ninh Binh) Breathtaking boat ride

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Table of Contents
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About Van Long Nature Reserve

Van Long Nature Reserve is one of the largest wetlands of the Red River Delta in northern Vietnam. The protected nature reserve has a diverse and unique ecological system that is very rare. 

The best way to explore Van Long Nature Reserve is by taking a boat ride through the unique scenery.

Van Long is most known for Delacour’s langurs, an endangered species of monkeys that can be seen here. There are around 200 Delacour’s langur left globally, and 120 of them are in Van Long Nature Reserve. And it’s also a heaven for bird watchers as many bird species, such as storks and herons, live here.

Van Long Nature Reserve is a less touristic area of the highly famous Ninh Binh. The area has only been open to tourists since 1998. If you’re interested in an equally beautiful, more affordable, and more peaceful boat ride than Trang An or Tam Coc, then Van Long is the place for you!

Exploring caves in Van Long Nature Reserve in Ninh Binh

Boat ride in Van Long Nature Reserve

The boat ride in Van Long Nature Reserve was the first boat ride we did in Ninh Binh. And it’s our favorite one. The boat ride takes you through beautiful limestone mountains and narrow dark caves. And if you’re lucky, maybe even see an endangered species of monkeys.

Our rower was a kind older man, and even though he didn’t speak much English, he tried to tell us a bit more about the area. And he offered to take photos of us without asking for anything.

The boats in Van Long Nature Reserve are made of bamboo, and they look a bit different than the ones in Trang An and Tam Coc. They’re made for shallow water, but we still managed to get stuck twice due to very low water levels during our visit. Nonetheless, we had a fantastic time, even though we couldn’t do the entire route. 

Caves of Van Long Nature Reserve in Ninh Binh

Price and duration of a boat ride in Van Long Nature Reserve

The boat ride in Van Long Nature Reserve lasts 1 to 1.5 hours, and the price is around 70,000 VND or $3 per person.

You’ll get two tickets, one is for the nature park, and the other for the boat ride. If you only want to visit the Van Long Nature Reserve area without taking a boat ride, there’s no need to buy any tickets.

Arijana Tkalčec and Matej Špan on a boat ride in Van Long Nature Reserve in Ninh Binh

Best time to do the Van Long boat ride

You can visit Van Long Nature Reserve year-round, but the best time to do a boat ride is during the rainy season, from May to October. 

Visiting Van Long Nature Reserve in May and June will reward you with the whole area filled with beautiful pink lotus.

The water levels during the wetter months are higher, making it easier to pass through narrow caves and shallow passageways. Otherwise, there’s a possibility you will get stuck as we did!

But no worries if you get stuck in any of the shallow water, as the rowers are professionals. They might have to turn around at one point and not get through one of the caves. But it’s still very much worth it!

Passing through a dark cave in Van Long Nature Reserve in Ninh Binh

The best time of the day to visit Van Long Nature Reserve is towards the sunset, as it looks incredible. And sunset time is also when the wildlife is the most active, especially birds that are returning to their nests.

Arijana Tkalčec enjoying a sunset boat ride in Van Long in Vietnam

Do you need to book in advance to visit Van Long Nature Reserve?

You don’t have to book in advance to visit Van Long Nature Reserve on your own but definitely do so if you’re planning to visit on tour.

How to get to Van Long Nature Reserve?

The best way to get to Van Long Nature Reserve is to rent a bike in Ninh Binh and drive there yourself. That way, you’ll have the most flexibility.

Matej Špan driving a motorbike in Van Long in Vietnam

Van Long Nature Reserve is located about 85km away from Hanoi and 20km away from Ninh Binh. It’s the easiest to go to Van Long from Ninh Binh, which you can reach easily with daily buses, trains, and private cars.

Frequent tours visit Ninh Binh, and some also include Van Long Nature Reserve. Some tours combine it with a visit to Cuc Phuong National Park and some with a visit to Kenh Ga village.

Where to stay in Van Long Nature Reserve?

The best option for staying close to Van Long Nature Reserve is Emeralda Resort Ninh Binh, just a few minutes away. Otherwise, staying in Trang An, Tam Coc, or any other part of Ninh Binh is fine also. It’s only about 30 minutes drive away.

The difference between Trang An, Tam Coc, and Van Long boat rides

The Van Long Nature Reserve boat ride is definitely much more peaceful, as it’s still not in every guidebook and tour itinerary, unlike the Trang An and Tam Coc ones.

The Trang An and Tam Coc boat rides are longer, and there’s more sightseeing included. Therefore, the price is also higher. But, Van Long, on the other hand, is a better choice for seeing some wildlife.

Busy

Because of the significant demand for boat rides in Trang An and Tam Coc, you might need to wait in line and share a boat with other tourists. There are four or five people per boat. And if you want to do a private boat ride, you’ll need to pay the same price as for the entire boat. 

In Van Long, there’s usually no waiting in a line, and there are usually only two people in a boat, so it’s a more private experience. Families of 3 to 4 can also go in one boat in Van Long, but it’s a bit more cramped then.

Matej Špan on a boat ride Van Long Nature Reserve in Ninh Binh

Landscapes

The scenery and landscape are beautiful in all areas of Ninh Binh, where the boat rides occur, and they are pretty similar. However, we have to admit that the Trang An landscape was a bit more majestic as limestone mountains are much higher there. And you do get the chance to pass through a 1-km long cave.

Note: “Kong: Skull Island” movie was filmed in both Van Long and Trang An areas. There was also a movie set in Trang An until the end of 2020, but it’s since been removed and you can’t see it anymore, unfortunately. 

No hassling

The boat rides at Trang An, and Van Long are both free from hassle and begging for tips and selling all kinds of stuff, unlike the Tam Coc boat ride. We’ve heard from friends that went on a boat ride in Tam Coc that it was pretty overwhelming.

Overall experience

As for the overall experience, we enjoyed the Van Long boat ride a bit more than the one in Trang An as our rower was a lovely guy, the atmosphere was super nice, and he made us feel completely comfortable. However, while the Trang An boat ride was excellent, our rower there wasn’t really in the mood, making our experience less memorable.  

In conclusion, we’d recommend boat rides in both Van Long and Trang An if you have the time.

Boat dock for Van Long boat ride in Ninh Binh, Vietnam

What else to do in Van Long Nature Reserve?

You can drive around the Van Long embankment/ridge, as there’s a nice path going all around the water and behind the mountains on the edge of the reserve with amazing views. 

Van Long Nature Reserve scenic road during the sunset

We drove all around, taking some random roads, and ended up at a random lake where we got a chance to see Delacour’s langurs, an endangered species of monkeys. We were so lucky to see them on both of our visits, two days in a row! 

Delacour's langur monkey in Ninh Binh, Vietnam

If you drive around a bit, you may notice a big church that stands out in the area. That’s the newly built Van Lang parish church in Lang Noi village. It’s about 3 km away from the boat harbor. We didn’t visit but took a few photos from a distance instead. It looked incredible during sunset.

We also met many friendly locals and just enjoyed the beautiful scenery. Other than that, there’s not much else to do around here.

Buffalo in Van Long, Ninh Binh

Where to eat in Van Long Nature Reserve?

There are a few well-reviewed restaurants on the road leading to the boat harbor at Van Long, where you can have some delicious food based on the reviews.

Boat dock for Van Long boat ride in Ninh Binh

Is Van Long Nature Reserve worth visiting?

Van Long Nature Reserve is definitely worth visiting, as it offers a great insight into the nature of wetland areas that are not so common. And even more so if you get a chance to see the Delacour’s langur monkeys.

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