Ninh Binh Travel Guide
Ninh Binh is a small riverside town located 2 hours south of Hanoi in North Vietnam. Vietnam’s ancient first capital, Hoa Lu, was situated in this area in the 10th century. The town itself isn’t anything too spectacular, but if you wander just outside the urban sprawl and into the countryside, you will find something truly special. It is an area of stunning natural scenery and historical sites. Ninh Binh is a very popular domestic tourist attraction. However, many international tourists question whether to include Ninh Binh in their tour of Vietnam, but this dreamy, limestone karst ridden landscape is definitely worth the time and effort.
Hostels – You will find the typical cheap South East Asian backpacker hostels in the city centre and the Tam Coc area. A dorm bed will set you back around $5-7USD. Tam Coc may be the better option than the city centre as you will be closer to the main sites, not to mention its much more scenic. Try Tam Coc Backpacker Hostel.
Homestays – Ninh Binh is brimming with beautiful homestays set amongst rice fields and limestone peaks, so these are arguably the better option. Many homestays offer dorm beds for around $5-7, and private rooms from $16-40. Check out Tam Coc Rice Fields Resort for quaint bamboo huts set in pretty gardens. It’s a great chance to escape the noise and traffic jams of Vietnam’s cities!
Things to see and do
1) Tam Coc and Trang An Boat Tours
Ninh Binh is called ‘Halong Bay on land’, and with the impressive limestone karsts, it’s easy to see why. There are a series of waterways and caves around Ninh Binh, so taking a boat tour is a great way to soak up the atmosphere of this gorgeous place. There are 2 main options, Tam Coc or Trang An. Tam Coc is a shorter ride, around an hour. Trang An is longer at around 3 hours but has several stops where you can leave the boat and explore temples that are only accessible by water. Both trips take you through dark caves and past stunning scenery. A Vietnamese lady will row the boat for you, sometimes with their feet, which is a feat to wonder at in itself! Expect to pay a small tip at the end.
2) Mua Caves
A good work out and a great way to see the area from above. The name is slightly deceiving. Although there is a cave, Mua Cave is more about the amazing stone stairway strapped to the mountainside. At around 500 (steep) steps, it is a sweaty endeavour, but one that is definitely worth it. The top will reward you with 360° views of the paddy fields, stone outcrops and waterways. There’s a small shrine and a large stone dragon sitting atop the peak. You can also see the boats from Tam Coc floating silently up the river from here.
3) Bai Dinh Pagoda Complex
Bai Dinh is a complex of Buddhist temples built on Bai Dinh mountain. It is the largest of its kind in Vietnam, covering 539 hectares. When you arrive you will be driven to the bottom of the complex, where you will then make your own way back up through the site, exploring the different temples and halls. It is a great example of Vietnamese architecture.
4) Cuc Phuong National Park
If you are after some nature and fresh air after spending time in Vietnam’s busy cities, then this is the place to go. Cuc Phuong National Park is Vietnam’s first and largest national park. It is an important site for biodiversity, as it is home to several endangered animals. The park offers hiking trails and three conservation programs which the public can visit. These are the Endangered Primate Rescue Center, the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program and the Turtle Conservation Center. There are accommodation and restaurant options located within the park.
Best cheap activity
A relaxing and cheap option in Ninh Binh is to hire a bicycle and go discover the area on your own wheels. There is much to see and it is a great way to really get into nature here. Most hostels and homestays will have bicycles and motorbikes available for rental.
Getting there and away – There are many buses every day linking Ninh Binh and Hanoi. It is also possible to book buses travelling south from Ninh Binh. Ninh Binh is on the main train line linking Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city.
Getting around – There are many taxis and motorbike taxis available, which you might need if you don’t have your own wheels and are staying in a hostel or homestay out of the city. Once out of the city, it might be possible to get around the sites by bicycle, depending on where you are staying. Hiring bicycles and motorbikes is easy from most hostels and homestays.
You will probably have most of your meals at your hostel or homestay if you aren’t staying in the city. Food will be mostly Vietnamese rice and noodle dishes with a few Western options. It is usually of a decent standard and a reasonable price. Ninh Binh’s speciality dish is goat, so you may see this on the menu.
If you’re looking for cheap local eats, try Bao Anh Restaurant (13 Hoang Hoa Tham, Ninh Binh). Great food and gigantic portions!
If you fancy a break from Vietnamese cuisine, check out Chookie’s (17 Luong Van Tuy, Ninh Binh). They serve tasty sandwiches, burgers, fruit shakes and desserts that won’t disappoint. The little restaurant is a cool place to hang out and the staff are really friendly.