So if you’ve found this post, I suspect you are either: (a) working in Hanoi and looking for something to do on your free time. Or, (b) thinking about a road trip to Ha Long Bay from Hanoi. Whatever your reason is, this post will help you discover that Bac Ninh has much more to offer than sprawling factories.
This province is right next to Hanoi, on the east side. And its capital, Bac Ninh City, is about 38km from Hanoi, which turns out to be about 1 hour by motorbike. If you want to drive there from Hanoi, I highly recommend taking the QL1A, and avoid the AH14 highway, is it is only limited to cars.
Below I’ve compiled a list of 5 things you can do in this province, and if you’re a savvy trip planner, you might be able to do them all in one day. At the end of this post, I’ll share my recommended route to have the smoothest trip. So let’s get started!
In this Article
1. Phat Tich Pagoda
The original pagoda dates back over 1,000 years on this site and holds significant historical value – as it was often visited by kings of the Ly dynasty in the 11th century. It also once contained precious relics of buddha including a precious stone.
Today, the pagoda has expanded to include one of Bac Ninh’s more modern attractions – a huge statue of Buddha sitting on top of the mounting behind the pagoda. Built in 2007, the 27-meter statue overlooks much of Bac Ninh’s farmland and recent urban development. It’s worth the hike up and see one of the largest Buddha statues in Vietnam, and take in the view. But warning – it might be a bit busy on weekends and special holidays.
2. Bac Ninh Citadel
The Bac Ninh Citadel (Thành cổ Bắc Ninh in Vietnamese) is located in the Northern part of Bac Ninh City. It is an old fortress, whos current structure can be dated back to 1841, when it received a brick-and-mortar renovation. The citadel was the site of a battle between French and Chinese soldiers in the late 19th century, in which the French decisively won and took control of the area and the fortress.
Today, it’s quite a different story, from the air you can clearly see the hexagonal shape with a surrounding moat and as you approach you can still see the original gate, only now you cannot enter as it is a military college. You can, however, cross onto the citadel because a portion of it has been filled in with homes and small streets. It’s a bit surreal because the pace feels slow and island-y although far from any ocean. Feel free to walk around this area and find a café or enjoy a view of the fisherman. I came across an old military bunker next to someone’s house who seems to have just turned this historical piece into personal storage. Definitely an interesting drive.
3. Go For a Swim
Bac Ninh City is up and coming, as you’ll find lots of new and modern construction projects underway. One place you might notice this is along the main street – Đường Lý Thái Tổ. It’s filled with roundabouts and new apartments and shops.
Well right at foot of the biggest roundabout, there is public rooftop café, bar, and pool! Yes, that’s right. Visit Sky Garden Coffee on a good day you could relax by the water and gaze down upon this growing city.. I was in the city in the winter, so the pool wasn’t quite open, however the café/bar is up and running and offers great views over the downtown.
4. Bo Da Pagoda
This pagoda, which goes by the name Chùa Bổ Đà in Vietnamese, is located a just few kilometers east of Bac Ninh city. This pagoda is well over 300 years old and has had many renovations throughout its life. You can experience several styles of temple in this one area due to its constant expansion. In my time there, I was even able to find a brand new pagoda built on top of the small mountain behind the original structures. There is no entrance fee, although as of this writing you must pay 5,000 VND for parking. After that, you’ll walk past merchants and through a very ancient looking gate with trees creeping over the walls.
I have been to many pagodas, but this one is unique enough that it’s worth a visit. As you wind your way through the main structures, you’ll come out to a field filled with tombs both old and new. It’s a striking site since there are so many dotting this hillside. A walk among them will show you the age of some, others are already too weathered by time. You can continue up the hillside to a several areas of prayer at the top, all of which are worth a visit if you’ve got the time.
But be aware – as of March 2020 the bridge to go there was only partially complete – yet still open – so proceed at your own risk. My friends and I went over it before it was paved, and construction still ongoing. Only in Vietnam!
5. Dau Pagoda
The Dau pagoda (Chùa Dâu) is one of the most famous Buddhist pagodas in Vietnam, and the oldest in the country – dating back to the 2nd century CE. It’s located a bit south of the other attractions, near route QL17.
This pagoda was built in the ancient settlement of Luy Lau and was a stopping point of Buddhist pilgrims between East Asia and South Asia. It soon expanded and become quite popular with traveling scholars. Over time much of its structures have been destroyed, rebuilt, and added onto. But the main temple still original style with a simple structure. As Vietnam’s oldest Buddhist pagoda, expect this to be a bit busy as well. Otherwise take time to explore the historical site and try to imagine people have been gathering, doing the same thing here fore almost 2,000 years.
If you are eager to get everything in, you can do it in one day but I recommend starting early to make it home before it’s too dark. You might consider cutting out Dau Pagoda or Bo Da Pagoda and taking your time with the other places. I’ve made a recommended route here leaving from the Old Quarter, and be sure to check again on your phone using motorbike directions.
So here is the itinerary for the day:
- @ 7:30 – Drive from Hanoi to Phat Tich Pagoda – 27km, 1 hour
- @ 10:30 – Drive from Phat Tich to the Citadel – 15km, 30 minutes
- @ 11:30 – Get some lunch in the city while you’re there
- @ 12:30 – Relax with a fresh drink and dip in the pool – just 2km away from the Citadel
- @ 2:00 – Drive from the pool to Bo Da Pagoda – 15km, 30 minutes
- @ 4:00 – Drive from Bo Da Pagoda to Dau Pagoda – 35km, 1 hour 10 minutes
- @ 6:00 – Begin to come back to Hanoi for some damn good pho – 26km, 1 hour
Anything I missed? Where have you been in Bac Ninh because it’s so close to Hanoi that I definitely plan on exploring this province again.