Trang An Landscape Complex

 Viet Nam
N20 15 24 E105 53 47
Date of Inscription: 2014
Minor boundary modification inscribed year: 2016
Criteria: (v)(vii)(viii)
Property : 6,226 ha
Buffer zone: 6,026 ha
Ref: 1438bis
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Situated near the southern margin of the Red River Delta, the Trang An Landscape Complex is a spectacular landscape of limestone karst peaks permeated with valleys, many of them partly submerged and surrounded by steep, almost vertical cliffs. Exploration of caves at different altitudes has revealed archaeological traces of human activity over a continuous period of more than 30,000 years. They illustrate the occupation of these mountains by seasonal hunter-gatherers and how they adapted to major climatic and environmental changes, especially the repeated inundation of the landscape by the sea after the last ice age. The story of human occupation continues through the Neolithic and Bronze Ages to the historical era. Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Viet Nam, was strategically established here in the 10th and 11th centuries AD. The property also contains temples, pagodas, paddy-fields and small villages.

Brief synthesis

Located within Ninh Binh Province of North Vietnam near the southern margin of the Red River Delta, the Trang An Landscape Complex (Trang An) is a mixed cultural and natural property contained mostly within three protected areas; the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, the Trang An-Tam Coc-Bich Dong Scenic Landscape, and the Hoa Lu Special-Use Forest. The property covers 6,226 hectares within the Trang An limestone massif, and is surrounded by a buffer zone of 6,026 hectares, mostly rural land with rice paddy fields. There are about 14,000 residents, the majority of whom are families involved in subsistence agriculture, but much of the property is uninhabited and in a natural state.

Trang An is of global significance as an outstanding humid tropical tower-karst landscape in the final stages of geomorphic evolution. It is composed of a variety of classical karst cones and towers and a network of enclosed depressions connected by an intricate system of subterranean waterways, some of which are navigable by small boats. The area is unique in having been invaded by the sea several times in the recent geological past but is now emergent on land. The blend of towering mountains draped in natural rain forest, with large internal basins and narrow cave passages containing quietly flowing waters, creates an extraordinarily beautiful and tranquil landscape.

Archaeological deposits in caves reveal a regionally significant, continuous sequence of human occupation and utilization spanning more than 30,000 years. There is convincing evidence showing how early human groups adapted to changing landscapes in the massif, including some of the most extreme climatic and environmental changes in the planet’s recent history.

Criterion (v): Trang An is an outstanding locale within Southeast Asia, for demonstrating the way early humans interacted with the natural landscape and adapted to major changes in climatic, geographical and environmental conditions over a period of more than 30,000 years. The long cultural history is closely associated with geological evolution of the Trang An limestone massif in late Pleistocene and early Holocene times, when the inhabitants endured some of the most turbulent climatic and environmental changes in Earth history, including repeated submergence of the landscape due to oscillating sea levels. Within the one compact landscape there are many sites covering multiple periods and functions, comprising early human settlement systems.

Criterion (vii): The exceptionally beautiful tower-karst landscape of Trang An is dominated by a spectacular array of forest-mantled limestone rock towers up to 200m high, which are linked in places by sharp ridges enclosing deep depressions filled by waterways that are inter-connected by a myriad of subterranean cave passages.  These features all contribute to a multi-sensory visitor experience that is heightened by contrasting and ever-changing colours – the deep green tropical rainforests, grey limestone rocks and cliffs, blue-green waters and the brilliant blue of the sky, and areas of human use including the green and yellow rice paddies. Visitors, conveyed in traditional sampans rowed by local guides, experience an intimate connection with the natural environment and a relaxing sense of serenity and security. The dramatic mountains, secretive caves and sacred places in Trang An have inspired people through countless generations.

Criterion (viii): Trang An is a superb geological property that displays, in a globally exceptional way, the final stages of tower-karst landscape evolution in a humid tropical environment. Deep dissection of an uplifted limestone massif over a period of five million years has produced a series of classical karst landforms, including cones, towers, enclosed depressions (cockpits), interior-draining valleys (poljes), foot- caves and subterranean cave passages decorated with speleothems. The presence of transitional forms between ‘fengcong’ karst with ridges connecting towers, and ‘fenglin’ karst where towers stand isolated on alluvial plains, is an extremely significant feature of the property. Trang An is an unusual autogenic karst system, being rain-fed only and hydrologically isolated from rivers in the surrounding terrain.  Former inundation by the sea transformed the massif into an archipelago for some periods, though it is fully emergent on land today. Fluctuations of sea level are evidenced by an altitudinal series of erosion notches in cliffs, with associated caves, wave-cut platforms, beach deposits and marine shell layers.

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2 replies »

  1. Trang An in Ninh Binh is where endless rice paddies, limestone towers, and the Ngo Dong River await you. It is commonly labeled as ‘Halong Bay on land’ – which I finally understood when I saw the giant limestone karsts towering above the river and rice fields for myself. It is, no doubt, a sight to behold! On day one we recommend hiring a bike and cycling around to get your bearings. This gives you the freedom to explore the fields and back roads around Tam Coc as Vietnamese farming life happens around you. Your hard work will be rewarded with stunning scenery and you may even catch the wonderful sight of the sun setting over the fields.

    The next day, we suggest taking a boat trip in the morning. Local men and women will take you on a lovely journey along the river, passing through caves and temples, some of which can only be reached by boat. It was amazing to see how the people here are so accustomed to the water that they row the oars with their feet, leaving their hands free to peel fruit to sell. At the end of the boat trip, if eco-tourism is your thing, you won’t want to miss Thung Nham. Also known as Bird Valley, it’s a bicycle ride away from the boat jetty to a beautiful park with lakes, caves, mangroves, a 1,000-year-old tree and over 40 species of bird.


  2. Our Trang An boat tour was one of our best memories in Vietnam. This almost two-hour boat tour took us down a river surrounded by limestone mountains and lush scenery. It was a peaceful ride through this stunning landscape also known as “Halong Bay on Land”. We were with a group of other boats, all being rowed by women. Seeing all of them maneuver the river was quite impressive. We passed by a few pagodas including one with a small band and a singer. My kids’ favorite part was going through the four natural limestone caves. A couple of them were quite long and we had to bend down in some areas. The stalactites were amazing. Overall, it was quite an adventure.


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