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Tuyet Tinh Coc, Ninh Binh Overview

The region of Ninh Binh has its fair share of scenic spots for the keen traveller, and in recent years, it has become famous for another beautiful attraction: Tuyet Tinh Coc (also known as Am Tien Pagoda). Consisting of a gorgeous temple carved in a mountain overlooking a breathtaking emerald lake, all in the middle of a lush green valley, Tuyet Tinh Coc has become a little-known gem in Ninh Binh. To reach it, you must climb over 200 stairs up into the mountain.

The scenic spot of Tuyet Tinh Coc today has won over locals and tourists alike who marvel at the calmness of the pagoda and the sheer beauty of the natural surroundings around it. Locals may call it Tuyet Tinh Coc, but the youth of the region prefer to call it Am Tien. It’s even become a famous spot for wedding photographers. With gorgeous natural surroundings that have locals travelling from all over Vietnam to be here, Tuyet Tinh Coc is a calming environment in the stillness of the mountain greens.

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Legend of Am Tien Cave

According to local legend, Am Tien cave was the punishment and execution grounds of King Dinh Tien Hoang who was known for strictness against criminals in his kingdom. The cave was once the breeding place for the king’s tigers and those found breaking the law were thrown inside. Whoever managed to escape the beasts earned a fresh slate in the eyes of King Dinh Tien Hoang.

In later years, this pagoda became the residence of Dowager Empress Duong Van Nga who sought a religious life in her final years. She was the first emperor of the Le dynasty and first woman in Vietnam to be married to two emperors. During her reign, she witnessed and participated in many important events in the country’s history. Her life has been the subject of many traditional cai luong plays and today, she is one of the rulers worshipped in temples of Vietnam.

Exploring Tuyet Tinh Coc

To reach Tuyet Tinh Coc, there is a leisurely but long walk of 200 steps up the mountain to the top. This pathway is made of stone steps, and around these stone steps are large slabs and old tree barks. Due to the growth of moss, this area can be slippery so you should be alert and cautious while climbing. Thankfully, the growth of this fauna has resulted in a year-long cool environment here.

The main entrance to the cave and pagoda is a city gate and two imposing statues of Buddhist gods. There is also a small poem carved into the rock about the life of Dowager Empress Duong Van Nga’s difficult life, a queen that the locals called “the queen of two dynasties”. Beyond this is a two-storey roof tile, a grand entrance with arches, and a large pagoda bell. There is also a large rock face in which the names of all those who built the pagoda has been carved. Despite the years and humid weather, all of these have stood the test of time and show very little signs of decay.

The cave is located halfway up the mountain. Inside it are large, mesmerizing stalactites and a large ‘viewing platform’ of sorts that overlooks the beautiful emerald lake. Called ‘Ao Giai’ which translates to ‘turtles’, this lake was once used to raise King Dinh Tien Hoang’s own turtles. According to local rumours, it housed crocodiles as well and was used by the king to punish the guilty.

From this vantage point, you get a beautiful view of what was once King Dinh’s citadel – you can almost imagine the kingdom carved into the mountain, now taken over by nature, and the fascinating lake around which local life would have thrived. To the right of the cave is the pagoda that dates back over 1,000 years. The gate of the pagoda resembles a dragon’s mouth, resulting in the name ‘Dragon Pagoda’ amongst locals. Inside, they worship Buddha and local saints, and this pagoda has become more than a beautiful attraction, but a place of pilgrimage to pray.

In 2017, two tunnels were constructed through the mountain to make the pagoda and cave more accessible. The attractions were renovated and ticket counters installed for operations. Before this, the only way to reach the cave was a gruelling trip up the whole mountain that was far more than 200 steps! As you cross these dense tunnels, there’s a sense of calming isolation from the rest of the world with no more sounds than nature itself. You’re surrounded by nothing more than limestone cliffs, a calm lake, and the sky above.

Tips

1. There is a nominal fee to be paid at the parking lot before traversing the mountain. It is VND 20,000 per person and there is an additional parking charge of VND 10,000 to leave your vehicle.
2. Wear comfortable clothes for the trip up the mountain and carry plenty of water to stay hydrated. Tuyet Tinh Coc isn’t a particularly gruelling trek, but it can be tiring and there aren’t many modern amenities in these parts such as water dispensers.
3. As the pagoda is a place of worship, it’s ideal to wear clothes that cover your shoulders and aren’t too short on the legs, to be respectful of the local culture and avoid hurting anyone’s sentiments.
4. When riding to Ninh Binh region, don’t forget to carry all your documents and obey traffic laws. These roads are less commercial than the roads in bigger cities and it’s important to follow travel rules and stay safe in these areas.
5. Do plan to arrive at Tuyet Tinh Coc by 9:00 AM to begin the journey up the mountain. As it gets dark earlier in the winter months, it’s not advisable to stay here past 4:00 PM.
6. This region is well known for its local cuisine. Don’t forget to try the mountain goat and duck grass dishes that are indigenous to Ninh Binh!

How To Reach Tuyet Tinh Coc

Tuyet Tinh Coc is located in Hoa Lu district in Ninh Binh Province, northern Vietnam. It is easily accessible by private transport, taxis, or bus. To reach Tuyet Tinh Coc by road from Hanoi, you will need to follow Highway 1A for around 85 kilometres to Cau Huyen gate in Hoa Lu. As you continue onto Highway 38B for another 5 kilometres, you’ll arrive at the pagoda. These roads are well-marked and it shouldn’t be difficult to find signs leading you to Tuyet Tinh Coc.

There are buses that left Hanoi every half hour and cross Ninh Binh. Starting as early as 6:00 AM, these buses can take you till Ninh Binh city centre and the pagoda is less than 10 kilometres from there. These buses charge around VND 50,000 for the journey. For a passenger car, you can catch the coach to Ninh Binh for around VND 90,000.

The second way to reach Tuyet Tinh Coc is to take the bus. The bus departs from the bus station south of Hanoi on Gia Phong Road, every 30 minutes will have a trip to Ninh Binh, starting from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM daily. When getting to Ninh Binh center, you can take a taxi to go to the Mua cave. It’s about 6km from center of Ninh Binh to Am Tien.

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