Van Long Nature Reserve – another attractive place to visit near Ninh Binh.
- Ninh Binh province is also famous for tourists from all over the world. Its popularity is mainly highlighted by the Trang An scenic complex area or nearby Tam Coc. These are the 2 main points for most tourists who go to Ninh Binh. However, that’s not all, as about 20km from the city centre, there is also the largest nature reserve at the Red River Delta (Gia Viễn District) called Van Long. Van Long Nature Reserve is a place of limestone cliffs, wetlands and swamps and also a good place for bird watching, it is an attractive spot near Ninh Binh.
- Van Long Nature Reserve in Gia Vien district (Van Long means Dragons flying in clouds) is about 3,000 hectares in size and, as it is easily accessible, has become a popular tourist spot. However, only part of the reserve is accessible for tourists by wooden boat. However, it is not as extremely visited as, for example, Trang An Scenic Complex or Tam Coc near Ninh Binh town. The wooden boat rides here are similar to those in Tam Coc, for example. In 2016, this place became one of the locations in Vietnam where the sci-fi-fantasy movie Kong: Skull Island was filmed. For those who will have more time in Ninh Binh, I recommend to visit this site.
Van Long Reserve is actually a small Halong Bay, but without the sea.
- Halong Bay in Quang Ninh province is quite similar to Van Long Reserve. However, if you don’t count the size and the sea. This area is criss-crossed with canals, rivers all around and there are a large number of wetlands, swamps, etc. and also dotted with limestone mountains. The water is therefore very calm and if you are lucky with the weather it is very clear and transparent, but this may not be the case all year round. You will see this for yourself if you go out on a boat for a shorter ride. These boat rides are very popular also in this site.
- The entire reserve is of course a protected area and was partially opened for tourists in 1998. The reserve was created by the construction of a dam on the left bank of the Đáy River, and you can drive across it yourself, for example on a motorbike, so you can see it for yourself. There are also about 32 caves in the reserve and it is the place with the largest concentration of Delacour langurs (about 100 pieces) in northern Vietnam, as well as some cultural and historical artifacts. However, on the boat ride you will probably only see a fraction of this, e.g. I only saw about five langurs, but it may be the time/season I was here, so you may have better luck than me.
The area around Van Long and nearby villages is an agricultural area.
- Van Long Nature Wetland Reserve also offers dozens of protected plants, fishes or other animal species. Perhaps it is a pity that it is next to several busy villages/towns, which also have various industrial warehouses or halls. There is also a large cement factory next to these villages, which kind of spoils the impression of this peaceful place, it is located on the right side near the reserve. Personally I can confirm that the bustle from this large cement factory was a bit more, the dust spread was also quite large. According to some information, there were even a few rocks removed from the reserve due to the increasing demand for limestone.
- Especially the northeastern part near the reserve was quite damaged, I would say – cut down, but if you go on a boat for a classic ride of about 1.5 hour, you won’t actually see it in real life. Unless you go around the reserve on a motorbike. But you can look at Google maps, for example, where you can see the encroachment (the white areas to the right of the reserve). At the reserve you can also see the large newly built Van Lang parish church in Lãng Nội village (3km from the boat wharf of Van Long), which you can visit on your trip, it can also be seen from the boat harbour itself in Gia Van village, where the rides leave from.
Van Long Nature Reserve can be reached by motorbike or private transfer.
- The vast majority of tourists and visitors come here on a trip from Ninh Binh town. However, the exceptions are various private trips from Hanoi to Ninh Binh, e.g. for 1-2 days, where this reservation is a part of this trip. From Ninh Binh you can reach the reserve by motorbike or private transport e.g. from Trang An complex / Hoa Lu or Ninh Binh town. Personally, I don’t know if any of the local buses come directly to the reserve to the boat wharf. So a suitable way may be to travel by motorbike from Trang An complex for example. If you would go by motorbike from Ninh Binh, I would recommend going via Trang An complex, which is the most interesting place at Ninh Binh.
- Travel distance from the city center of Ninh Binh to Van Long boat wharf is about 20 km, but a few kilometers via the main and busy QL1A road, connecting to Hanoi. I would recommend avoiding this road, it is really quite busy, and driving to the Van Long reserve (to the boat harbour) from Tam Coc or Trang An complex. If you leave from Trang An / Hoa Lu, the travel distance will also be about 20 km and you will also drive through a nice area, less busy roads and you will actually give „2 birds“ one stone. The route is marked on the map below in the article. If you use a private taxi from Ninh Binh to Van Long, the price should be about under 15-20 USD / car.
When to go to Van Long Nature Reserve in Ninh Binh, what is a good time?
- In reality, you can visit the Van Long reservation all year round. Ninh Binh is a lowland area with average temperatures higher than e.g. mountain provinces. However, this area also has some specifics and the weather can vary. The best time to visit Van Long is said to be from September to April. The winter months can be foggy and with lower temperatures, hence quite cold. Summer is the monsoon season with more rain, but even this can change quickly, e.g. it rains and soon the sun is beautiful, so again visibility can be better than in winter.
- If you would like to watch birds (especially storks), it is recommended in the afternoon, specifically between 3 and 5 pm, especially from November to April. May to June – the time when the Van Long reserve is dotted with pink lotus flowers, so it can be quite a romantic sight. You just have to choose what you prefer and compromise. However, Ninh Binh is more suitable to visit from September to October.
1. If you can – skip the monsoon season (summer months)
2. September > October – a good time to visit Ninh Binh
What is the accommodation Van Long Reserve? Where and what to choose?
- Van Long Nature Reserve and the surrounding area has changed a bit in recent times. And already now you can find a hotel with a swimming pool, a guesthouse or a resort and a bungalow in the vicinity. It’s estimated that in time something else may be built here and the whole boat centre will grow. Personally, I’d rather choose to stay in and around Trang An and take a trip to the reserve, but if you want to stay here (yes, it’s quieter), choose from something below. These accommodation capacities are very well rated:
Accommoation in Van Long Nature Reserve:
Practical information + questions – Van Long Nature Reserve:
1️⃣ Where is Van Long Nature Reserve?
- Van Long Nature Wetland Reserve is located 20 km north of Ninh Binh town, Gia Vien District. Travel distance from Hanoi to Van Long Nature Reserve is about 85 km.
2️⃣ How to get from Ninh Binh to Van Long Reserve?
- The best way to get from Ninh Binh to Van Long Reserve is by motorbike, scooter or private transfer, taxi. There is also a parking lot for motorbikes, cars at the boat pier. There are also some day trips from Hanoi or Ninh Binh (private tourist guides). From Hanoi to Ninh Binh there are trains, buses, minivans, as well as taxis.
3️⃣ What is the best route from Ninh Binh to Van Long?
- I recommend taking a motorbike from the Trang An scenic complex or Hoa Lu historic city and you shold avoid the main road QL1A heading to Hanoi, check the travel route in the map below.
4️⃣ What is the price of the boat tickets in Van Long Nature Reserve?
- The ticket price for a boat ride is about 70,000 – 100,000 VND/person. The ride time is about 1-1.5 hour and there can usually be a maximum of 2 people on the boat. Please note that the price may vary over time or season. Also, count on the fact that most of the time the women who row will also want a gratuity, a sort of small bribe after the ride.
5️⃣ What to see in Van Long Nature Reserve?
- Karst and limestone hill sceneries, mostly beautiful clear water and wetlands, caves, birds or the critically endangered Delacour’s langur, fishes, or other endangered animal and plant species. The area is agricultural, pity only the ugly cement factory to the east of the reserve and some of the damaged (looted for limestone) parts of the reserve in the northeastern part.
- The boat ride in Van Long is a very pleasant experience. The eco-friendly boat is made of bamboo and rowed by hand. It can go in very shallow water. The water of Van Long wetland can be very shallow, so this type of boat is perfect for this environment.
6️⃣ What is the best time to visit Van Long Nature Reserve?
- Depends on what you want to see. The recommended months to visit are from September to April, which is usually the dry season. However, in winter it can be cold and foggy. For birdwatching (especially storks), afternoon time between 3-5 pm is recommended, and especially from November to April. From May to June, the Van Long reserve is dotted with pink lotus flowers.
7️⃣ What are the opening hours for Van Long (boat trips)?
- The official opening hours of the Van Long Reserve are officially from Monday to Sunday – 8 am to 6 pm.
8️⃣ Is it possible to stay at the Van Long Nature Reserve?
9️⃣ How big is the Van Long Reserve and how to explore this site?
- The Van Long Nature Reserve covers an area of approximately 3,000 hectares. Only a small part is open to tourists. If you would like to get to know the reserve in more depth, it is advisable to choose your own guide.
🔟 Is it possible to buy food, snacks and drinks at this reserve?
- Yes, there are some restaurants and shops on the street that leads to the boat pier at the Van Long Reserve. There are also various villages nearby and also restaurants and other shops, for example east of the reserve.
➡️ What else makes the Van Long Reserve interesting?
- The Van Long area is also of interest due to the filming of Kong: Skull Island. This reserve was one of the filming locations, which took place in several areas of northern and central Vietnam. For the record: in 1998 when the reserve was opened to tourists, about 500 tourists came (in 1 year), now of course it is many times more.
Map of travel route to Van Long Reserve from Ninh Binh town:
(this route is very good, going through the Trang An complex and over less busy roads than the main QL1A).