Ninh Binh is a small town about 100km south of Hanoi, surrounded by a number of lesser known sites. Hoa Lu was the first capital of the independent Vietnam, under the Dinh dynasty and the early Le Dynasty (968-1009). There are two sanctuaries, each of them devoted to the emperors of one of these two dynasties, set into a landscape of limestone mountains reminiscent of some the better known sites of South China. In Tam Coc and Trang An you can take a boat tour on a river which tunnels several times into the same type of mountains. The nearby Ken Ga canal provides the opportunity to observe river life in the North, and contrast it with what you can see in the Mekong Delta. The whole area was an important center of catholicism, and you will be surprised to see churches among the rice fields. Phat Diem is known for a vast cathedral with unique Sino-Vietnamese architecture.
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