Van Long Nature Reserve Guide – Hidden Gem in Ninh Binh

things to do ninh binh, vietnam

After spending two weeks exploring Tam Coc and Ninh Binh and seeing almost everything the area has to offer in terms of nature, we discovered a hidden gem worth ranking as the number one best thing to do in Ninh Binh: the Van Long Nature Reserve.

Ninh Binh is known for its beautiful boat tours among limestone mountains and lush greenery. You can choose between three boat trips: Trang An, Tam Coc, and Van Long. All three places are breathtaking, but only the Van Long Wetland Nature Reserve boat trip offers a non-touristy, peaceful, and authentic experience. Unfortunately, the other two are more crowded.

If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam and seeking a unique experience off the beaten path, Van Long should definitely be on your itinerary. Let’s dive into this complete travel guide to help you make the most of your visit.

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Why You Should Visit Van Long Nature Reserve

Van Long Nature Reserve is an ecotourism destination famous for its rich ecosystem. This natural wonder is surreal and peaceful, surrounded by limestone mountains, with clear water where you can see the lake plants beneath the surface.

Van Long Nature Reserve is the largest wetland area in North Vietnam and is home to many rare animals and  primate species, including the endangered Delacour’s langur, as well as numerous bird species, making it ideal for bird watchers.

It’s the perfect destination for nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts. Let our cinematic YouTube video convince you of the natural beauty of Ninh Binh.

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  • Ha Giang: Connect with adventurous travelers at the Lotus Hostel

Where is Van Long Nature Reserve Located?

Van Long Nature Reserve is situated in Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam, covering an area of over 35,000 hectares. It is located 80 kilometers south of the capital city, Hanoi, and 17 kilometers northeast of Ninh Binh city center.

Van Long Nature Reserve is the most remote option of all the boat tours in Ninh Binh, located just 30 minutes from the city and Tam Coc. It’s perfect for those seeking an untouched and relaxed vibe.

5 BEST Tours in North Vietnam

Check out our handpicked tours in North Vietnam and tick off some must-see attractions.

  • Ban Gioc Waterfall: Explore Ban Gioc Waterfall and more in Cao Bang with this 2D/1N Tour
  • Hanoi Streetfood: Join a local Food Tour in Hanoi with visit to Train Street
  • Ninh Binh: Discover Ninh Binh on this small-group guided Full Day Tour from Hanoi

Van Long Nature Reserve on Map

Best Time to Visit Van Long Nature Reserve

Firstly, it’s better to avoid the rainy season from May to October, except in one exceptional case, which is explained below. The wet season has the warmest days and the highest humidity.

The best time to visit Van Long Nature Reserve is during the dry season, which typically spans from November to April. During this period, the weather is relatively pleasant, with lower chances of rainfall and clearer skies, providing optimal conditions for outdoor activities and sightseeing. Additionally, the dry season offers the best chances to spot birds.

However, do keep in mind that December and January can be quite cold. The optimal months to visit during the dry season are November, February, March, and April, with February and March being the peak months in Ninh Binh.

To experience the most vibrant rice fields and the blooming pink lotus flowers, you’ll need to visit during the rainy season, from May to June.

Best Time of the Day to Visit Van Long Nature Reserve

van long wetland nature reserve drone view

The best time of day to visit Van Long Nature Reserve is typically in the early morning or late afternoon. During these times, you can avoid the intense midday heat, enjoy the place with fewer visitors, and observe peak wildlife activity.

Additionally, the soft lighting conditions during sunrise or sunset create stunning views of the limestone karsts reflecting on the water, making it a magical experience.

Late afternoon is the best time to spot birds and enjoy the golden hour.

How to Get to Van Long Nature Reserve?

It is possible to visit Van Long Nature Reserve as a day trip from Hanoi, for example with this guided tour. Choose this option only if you have limited time.

We highly recommend basing yourself in Ninh Binh or even better in Tam Coc, which can be reached by train, bus, or minivan from Hanoi, and visiting from there. There are many best things to do in Ninh Binh, so we suggest planning a couple of days in this area.

tour boats at van long wetland nature reserve

When visiting Ninh Binh, you can either book a tour through your accommodation with everything arranged and included, or rent a motorbike and drive 30 minutes to the Nature Reserve.

Best Things to Do in Van Long Nature Reserve

fisherman standing one boat in ninh binh

Once you arrive at Van Long, prepare to be mesmerized by stunning landscapes and a diverse ecosystem. Here are some highlights you won’t want to miss:

Boat Tours

Boat Tour in Van Long, Vietnam

Embark on the best boat tour in Ninh Binh at Van Long Nature Reserve. Here, you’ll understand why Ninh Binh is often called “The Ha Long Bay on land”.

Glide through calm waters surrounded by towering limestone cliffs while local boatwomen skillfully navigate narrow caves and tranquil waterways.

The boat tour costs 100k VND (≈ 3.80€) per person, with two people per boat, and the trip takes about 1.5 hours, passing through caves. A small tip of about 50,000 VND per boat is recommended if you’re satisfied with the experience.

Caving Adventures

mountains at van long wetland nature reserve

Explore mystical caves, each with its unique formations and natural beauty. The most famous caves in Van Long Nature Reserve are Hang Bong Cave, Hang Ca Cave, and Hang Rua Cave. Take a guided tour to learn more about these ancient formations.

Wildlife Spotting

Van Long Nature Reserve is home to a rich diversity of flora and fauna, including several endangered species. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears tuned for bird sounds. Binoculars can enhance your chances of spotting wildlife. If you’re lucky, you might even encounter the Delacour’s langur, one of the world’s rarest primates.

Local Food

Don’t miss the opportunity to savor delicious local food at nearby eateries. Some traditional specialties worth trying are com chay (burnt rice), de nui (barbecued goat meat) and banh cuon (steamed rice rolls).

Some food places we can recommend in Van Long are:

Help preserve Van Long’s environment by respecting nature and being a responsible tourist. To minimize your footprint, avoid littering and don’t feed the wildlife.

Best Tours for Van Long Nature Reserve

Smiling Women on Van Long Boat, vietnam motorbike trip

Don’t want to plan and arrange everything by yourself?

Organized tours always ensure a stress-free and enjoyable experience. Some tours even combine must-see places, such as Van Long, Hoa Lu, and the Mua Cave, making it possible to explore more attractions in one day.

Discover top-rated and handpicked Van Long Nature Reserve tour:

Where to Stay in Ninh Binh?

You need to decide where to base yourself during your time in Ninh Binh. Typically, people choose between Ninh Binh City and Tam Coc. Find out here the difference between staying in Ninh Binh City versus staying in Tam Coc, and see our recommendations for you.

Check out top-rated and handpicked accommodations in Tam Coc, Ninh Binh, and near Van Long Nature Reserve in different price ranges.

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Best Hotels in Ninh Binh

Best Hotels in Van Long

What to Bring to Van Long Nature Reserve?

When going for a boat trip in Van Long Nature Reserve, bringing the right essentials ensures having the best experience possible. Here’s a packing checklist:

  • Light, breathable, quick-drying clothing suitable for the tropical climate.
  • Shield yourself with sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat against the sun’s rays, as well as insect repellent.
  • A lightweight day backpack to carry everything.
  • A waterproof bag to safeguard your electronics during the boat tour or in case of rain.
  • Bring a camera to capture the reserve’s beauty.
  • Have cash handy, as you won’t be able to pay by card.
  • Bring binoculars to spot wildlife, especially if you’re a bird enthusiast.

Also, if you’re wondering what to pack for your Vietnam trip, after 2 months and 4000 km on a North Vietnam Motorbike Trip, we’ve put together the ultimate packing list, tips, and costs to help you plan your trip.

Where to Go After Van Long Nature Reserve?

As mentioned above, we can’t stress enough the importance of planning sufficient time in Ninh Binh, as there is a lot to see and do. Check out the 9 best things to do in Ninh Binh to plan an unforgettable trip.

After Ninh Binh, consider returning to Hanoi and visiting the 7 best places in North Vietnam, such as Cat Ba, Cao Bang, or depending on the season, Mu Cang Chai. Northern Vietnam is one of our favorite places in the world, and we hope more people get to experience the surreal places we had the chance to explore in Vietnam.


woman paddling through van long wetland reserve in ninh binh

Van Long Nature Reserve is one of the three places where you can explore nature on a boat in Ninh Binh. For us, it was definitely the best one.

If there is one place in Ninh Binh you can’t miss, congratulations, you’ve found it. Van Long Nature Reserve is the most authentic and off-the-beaten-path place we’ve experienced in Ninh Binh. We’ve already visited twice in our lives and can’t wait for our readers to discover it too.

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