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Thai Binh - Ninh Binh - Around Ninh Binh - Phat Dien - Cuc Phuong National Park Vinh - Around Vinh - Phong Nha Cave - Dong Hoi  

 

Remote and rarely visited north central Vietnam stretches from Ninh Binh in the north, across more than 186 miles to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at its southern border. Although it does not have much to offer in the way of attractions, it is a beautiful part of the world and is home to many hospitable and inquisitive people who are unaccustomed to seeing foreigners.

Most travelers see the region as simply a blur through the bus window, as they tortuously make their way the 16 hours between Hanoi and Hue. However, it can make a nice change to stop here after the noise of the city. North central Vietnam is on an overland route from Laos to Vietnam, and this is the first part of Vietnam that intrepid travelers will see.

Tam Coc, with its incredible limestone karst formations, can be reached from Ninh Binh, a rather uneventful place. A trip down the Ngo Dong River will take you to three giant caves that provide shelter from the intense sun, and along the way you will pass fishermen in traditional villages.

The magnificent Phong Nha Cave in Quang Binh has to be seen to be believed. It is an extraordinary sight even for jaded travelers who have already seen enough caves to last them a while.

In Ha Tinh, Vinh, or Thanh Hoa, a bicycle ride around the ubiquitous rice paddies and green countryside is a highlight for many visitors, although less intrepid travelers may wish to take a motorcycle taxi instead. Water buffalo graze and children stop to wave, or ride along beside you with big smiles, adding to the idyllic atmosphere.

Good food can be found in Thanh Hoa, an interesting little town containing a decent market, hot springs and National Gardens. There is a good selection of accommodations, and the place has an abundance of kind and generous people eager to share your adventures.

Phat Diem, described by Graham Greene in his novel The Quiet American, is unchanged, though without the corpses buoyant in the canals. The Phat Diem-Cau Cathedral is an impressive architectural site worth a visit.