The reserve in Ninh Bình Province is a primeval tropical forest with spectacularly shaped limestone mountains surrounding the north’s largest wetland, an area described as an “inland Hạ Long Bay”.
Instead of western style resort rooms, Emeralda’s have traditional Vietnamese timber materials and furnishings, plus a private courtyard and outdoor shower.
But the highlight of the place was the warm-hearted staff who cared for my family.
They did their best to help us enjoy our stay.
All of them were gracious and smiling.
One of my friends said they had the character of rural residents:
Plain, helpful and enthusiastic.
Following information on a leaflet left in our room, we decided to take a tour to the Vân Long Reserve.
About five minutes walk from the resort is a dyke from where we boarded a boat for a 45- minute tour around the reserve.
We admired the wild beauty while our boatwoman, Vũ Thị Tâm, gave us a commentary.
The reserve is home to more than 450 plant species and nearly 40 animal species, including the rare Delacour’s langur and the belostoma, a nearly extinct insect species.
The water surface is dotted with wild flowers of different colours.
When I tried to take a water lily, Tâm stopped me.
She said the area had remained beautiful because of a united effort of local people and tourists.
Since it became a tourist destination in 1998 people quickly learnt how to protect it and popularise conservation among all visitors, she said.
Suddenly Tâm pointed towards a high promontory where some Delacour’s langurs sat on the peak.
They looked tiny from a distance but Tâm said we were lucky because the primate did not appear often and there were very few of them left.
Next to our boat, some South Korean tourists were even luckier, because they had a digital single-lens reflex camera that helped them watch the langurs clearly before taking photos.
One of them said happily:
“I took pictures, they are beautiful.”
The cruise took us past ranges of splendid rocky mountains and such was the peaceful, tranquil atmosphere that we could hear the sounds of whisking fish, flying birds and moving oars.
Tâm steered us to a beautiful cave which she said was about 250m depth.
Though we couldn’t get more than several metres into the cave because it was half submerged and the water-plants were too thick, we could see many magnificent stalactites and stalagmites inside.
This was only one of several caves in the area surrounded by walls of mountains.
Back to the dyke, we borrowed two bicycles from the resort to take a short tour, passing between towering limestone peaks, rice fields, lotus flower ponds and local villages.
We paused for a rest under the shade of a banyan tree where three old men were playing Chinese chess.
They offered us cups of tea and talked with us and one teased my five-year-old son, like a grandfather.
Later we saw a family bailing out water from their fish pond and my son jumped into the mud to catch some.
He came out dirty, but all the better for the experience he would never get in the city.
We ended our tour at the indoor swimming pool of the resort, tired but relaxed, and looking forward to more of the same the next day.