Limestone Mountains in Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Ninh Binh – The Definitive Travel Guide

This post was last updated on February 22nd, 2020 at 07:03 pm


In this complete Ninh Binh travel guide you can read everything you need to know before visiting one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam. You might frown your eyebrows when you enter Ninh Binh City; the town itself is not exactly inspiring. But don’t judge too quickly. It is one of the most beautiful sights of North Vietnam.

 

Around Ninh Binh are the areas of Tam Coc and Trang An and it is these areas where you will find the most beautiful nature and sights.

 

Ninh Binh is often referred to as the Ha Long Bay on land. This is because of the beautiful rock formations that can be found in the midst of sleepy villages, waterways and rice fields.

 

Two days will suffice for most travelers, but you can also easily stay here for a week and still discover something new every day. The landscape is fascinating, mysterious and every season gives a unique appearance to the place.

 

Ninh Binh, Trang An or Tam Coc?

We have something to clear up. There’s the city of Ninh Binh and the province/region of Ninh Binh. In addition to the city of Ninh Binh, the province also includes the cities Trang An, Tam Coc, Van Long, and Cuc Phuong. In all honesty, of all these different cities in the region, Ninh Binh is the least interesting city to stay in. The rest are all nice places to stay in.

 

Most travelers stay in Trang An or Tam Coc.

 

Panoramic view of Tam Coc village in Ninh Binh province, Vietnam
Beautiful panoramic view of Tam Coc village in Ninh Binh province, Vietnam.

 

How Long Should You Stay Here?

That is up to you, but we recommend staying here for at least 2 days. Many travelers come to Ninh Binh as a day trip from Hanoi, but that is actually too short. If you want to see all the beautiful things in the region you have to count on about 2 days. And even that is quite short.

 

TIP – Although most people travel to Tam Coc you can also book tours from Ninh Binh. For example, you can book organized motorbike tours or go for a number of beautiful hikes along the Thai and Hmong homestays.

 

14 Best Things to Do in Ninh Binh

The area is magnificent and you will be spoiled with a large number of beautiful landscapes and fun activities. From a boat trip through Tam Coc or Trang An, cycling through sleepy villages among the rice fields, to a trek through the Cuc Phuong National park a little further outside the city.

 

There’s plenty to do and you will probably have to make choices. The rest of North Vietnam is so beautiful and you probably won’t have the time to see everything in one go. Below you can read which sights are really worthwhile so that you can spend your time in Ninh Binh, Tam Coc or Trang An well.

 

You will need transport to explore the area from Ninh Binh or Tam Coc. A bicycle or scooter is the best means of transport to take in the beautiful environment.

 

1. Boat trip in Trang An

For many people, this is one of the favorite things to do in Ninh Binh and perhaps of their entire journey. You board a small rowing boat and sail for 2 hours through and past caves, temples, and lakes. It’s the perfect way to enjoy the scenery. 

 

They usually wait for a group of four to fill the boat. It is a super fun trip where you sail through caves and along the most beautiful limestone rocks. The landscape is very fairy-tale like throughout the trip. Trang An is often the second choice of travelers in Ninh Binh in terms of boat trips. Most people only come to Tam Coc. Also very nice, but much busier and more touristy.

 

Take a look at our own experience with a boat trip in Trang An:

 

 

You will be surprised at the skills that the drivers of the boats possess. They can effortlessly paddle with the help of their feet. Meanwhile you will sail through overhanging caves and the river that is flanked on two sides by the characteristic karst rocks that you see so many of in North Vietnam.

 

Trang An is similar to Tam Coc in terms of landscape but sees considerably fewer tourists. If you go early in the morning or in the afternoon, you avoid the large groups of day trippers from Hanoi.

 

TIP – A trip costs around 150,000 dong (US$6.45).

 

Landscape at Trang An Resort

You can see beautiful nature and temples in Trang An

 

2. Tam Coc Boat Trip

The same kind of scenery as Trang An and the most touristy. The area is really spectacular and actually even better than Trang An. The disadvantage is that this attraction has been flattened by tour groups. There are also many pushy sellers on the water. You can somewhat prevent this by going very early in the morning.

 

3. Rent a Scooter and Explore the Area

Renting a scooter and driving around is always a good idea. Try to skip the main roads so that you can really drive through the beautiful landscape! Along the way, you can stop anywhere and walk along the beautiful rice fields and local villages.

 

It’s nice to see how people live and work here. Always pay attention to where you are going. In addition, traffic in Vietnam can be quite chaotic.

 

TIP – Count on around US$10 to $15 to rent a scooter for a day.

 

4. Explore the Temples and Pagodas

There are a number of famous pagodas in here. Most travelers come for the beautiful nature; it is mainly the locals who visit these pagodas. The most famous pagoda in the area is the old Bai Dinh pagoda. Located on the slope of Mount Dinh, it is surrounded by a peaceful forest area.

 

Bai Dinh Pagoda

Bai Dinh is the largest pagoda and temple complex in Southeast Asia. You could just spend a whole day here but I would recommend combining this attraction with a boat trip in Trang An.

 

Bich Dong Pagoda

Another well-known pagoda is the Bich Dong Pagoda. The Bich Dong Pagoda is a very photogenic attraction. The pagoda is about 3 kilometers away from Tam Coc and a visit can easily be combined on a day when you sail in Tam Coc and visit the Hang Mua Viewpoint.

 

If you have the time, be sure to check out the old capital of Vietnam; Hoa Lu. You will find the old town about 4 kilometers from Trang An.

 

TIP – Entrance fee for Bai Ding Pagoda is 50,000 dong (US$2.15), the Bich Dong Pagoda costs 20,000 dong (US$0.85).

 

Bich Dong Pagoda in Ninh Binh, Vietnam
Bich Dong Pagoda in Ninh Binh, Vietnam

 

5. Hoa Lu Ancient Capital

Hoa Lu was once the capital of the Dai Co Viet kingdom, the area that is now North and Central Vietnam. The strategic location between the mountains made this city difficult to enter by hostile forces. It is a fun trip and it gives you historic insight into the old kingdom.

 

6. Go to the Hang Mua Cave

Aerial view of Hang Mua Viewpoint

It will not be the most spectacular cave that you visit during your trip, but it is in a very nice location. The Hang Mua cave is located between many green rice fields.

 

For the best view of the landscape, go to this place. At the top you reach the Hang Mua temple after you first have to walk a large number of stairs. I climbed the stairs in the blazing sun and arrived at the top battered and broken. Don’t forget to bring water and a large hat, it’s not a luxury here.

 

The view is more than worth the climb. In the photo above you can see the white railing of the stairs and the view on the other side of the mountain.

 

TIP – Entrance fee is 30,000 dong (US$1.30) for the cave and 100,000 dong (US$4.30) for the viewpoint.

 

7. Explore the Cuc Phuong National Park

Located on the road between Hanoi and Ninh Binh is the 200 square kilometer Cuc Phuong National Park. From Ninh Binh, Tam Coc or Trang An it is about 58 kilometers. Cuc Phuong is a beautiful national park with a well-preserved rainforest.

 

The park is known for its beautiful garden and the monkeys that live in the park. The park has many caves, age-old giant trees, wild animals and dense jungle.

 

The park is also known for its impressive botanical garden and the Endangered Primate Rescue Center, which houses a large number of special primates from all over the country.

 

TIP – Admission/guide costs 20,000 Dong.

 

8. Cycling Between the Rice Fields

A Lake Between Karst Mountains in Ninh Binh

Renting a bike and just getting lost in the area is perhaps one of the nicest things you can do.

 

A private bike tour is a perfect way to explore the area. You then go out with your own guide all day and cycle about 40 kilometers through the beautiful surroundings. You also do a relaxing boat trip.

 

9. Van Long Nature Reserve

The Vanh Long Nature Reserve is just under 20 kilometers from Ninh Binh. The reserve is one of the largest wetlands in Vietnam and a unique opportunity to see special bird species. So you will have to get on the water again. Many tourists skip the place after they have already done a boat trip through Tam Coc or Trang An.

 

Go with a tour from Ninh Binh or create your own fun day with a scooter. Again it pays off to go early in the morning.

 

10. Visit the Endangered Primate Rescue Center

In Cuc Phuong National Park you will find the Endangered Primate Rescue Center. The animals here were rescued from illegal traders and the focus of the facility is to teach visitors how to protect wild animals in Vietnam.

 

11. Thung Nham Bird Garden

Thung Nham Bird Park in Ninh Binh

You can visit this bird sanctuary with a boat trip or walk nearby to see hundreds of birds, storks and herons flying around, especially in the late afternoon. Thung Nham is not only known for many species of birds but also the caves.

 

12. Kenh Ga Floating Village

Kenh Ga (Chicken Canal) is named after the wild chickens that used to live here. Nowadays you can enjoy the local life on the river in this floating village with beautiful limestone formations in the background.

 

13. Phat Diem Cathedral

The cathedral dates from 1898 and is built with a mix of Vietnamese and Western styles, including two Gothic chapels and some solid iron wooden pillars.

 

14. Hiking in the Area

Cuc Phuong offers excellent hiking opportunities. A short walk is the 220 steps to the cave of prehistoric man. Human tombs and tools found here are 7500 years old, making them one of the oldest sites of human occupation in Vietnam.

 

A popular walk is a 6 kilometer walk to the huge, 1000-year-old “old tree” (Tetrameles Nudiflora) and a longer four-hour walk to Silver Cloud Peak. There is also a longer 15 kilometer (approximately five-hour) walk to Kanh, a village in Muong. You can spend the night here with local families and go rafting on the Buoi River.

 

Tam Coc and Environment

For many, Tam Coc is the highlight of their trip to Ninh Binh. The area is beautiful and a visit to Tam Coc is a unique experience. You can compare it with a land version of Ha Long Bay. Here, you can find immense rock formations that rise from the ground. You can also find the Bich Dong Pagoda in Tam Coc.

 

The best way to view this miracle is by boat trip. You can book a boat trip that will take you over the Ngo Dong river along the most beautiful spots in two hours. Also, try to go to Hoa Lu. This was the capital of Vietnam for more than 1,000 years.

 

Tam coc in the rice harvest season

One of our best experiences is following this river in Tam Coc with a boat

 

How to Get to Ninh Binh

Ninh Binh and Tam Coc are located about 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) south of the capital Hanoi. Minibuses and the train are the best forms of transportation.

 

It is also a popular destination for a day trip. But believe me, it is worth it to stay there longer and avoid the tourist crowds. The city is also very convenient on the route from other places in North and Central Vietnam.

 

From – ToTravel TimeTypes of Transport
Hanoi – Ninh Binh2 – 3 hours
  • Limousine Train
  • Day Tour
  • Train
Ha Long Bay – Ninh Binh4 hours
  • Bus
  • Private Transport
Mai Chau – Ninh Binh4 hours
  • Bus
  • Private Transport
Ninh Binh – Dong Hoi10 hours
  • Night Train
Ninh Binh – Hue12 hours
  • Night Train

 

From Hanoi to Ninh Binh

Buses to Ninh Binh run every day until 19:00 from the Giap Bat and Luong Yen bus station in Hanoi. They leave about every 15 minutes. Prices start from 70,000 dong (US$3), but we do not recommend taking the cheapest bus. These are not exactly comfortable. Tickets can be booked at any travel agency or accommodation.

 

The train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh takes about 2.5 hours and goes 3 times a day. Tickets can be easily booked online. Traveling by train is slightly more expensive than the bus but is certainly more comfortable.

 

Mini vans regularly depart from Hanoi’s old quarter. You book this at almost any hotel or travel agency. Another option is to go to Giap Bat bus station and catch one of the minibuses there.

 

To Ninh Binh From Other Places

You can also come here from Ha Long City (115,000 Dong, about US$4.95, takes 4 hours) or with a tour bus from Hue. That will cost you around 320,000 Dong ($13.75) and takes 10 hours. The train from Hue takes 13 hours and costs 290,000 Dong (US$12.50).

 

If you are coming south from Phong Nha or Dong Hoi, you can choose from the bus or train. It is a long drive so the night train is the most comfortable in this case. In the case of Phong Nha you will first have to go to the nearby Dong Hoi to catch the train. Buses are best booked at your hotel, hostel or guesthouse.

 

Buses also depart from Mai Chau (4 hours) and Ha Long Bay (4 hours).

 

If you want to find more cities to depart from and check all routes and prices yourself, check here!

 

Best Time to Visit Ninh Binh

Ninh Binh, Tam Coc and Trang An are excellent to visit all year round. Even with bad weather the surroundings are beautiful and the rainy season ensures that the rice fields turn beautifully green.

 

The best time to visit Ninh Binh is between November and April. This is the dry season. The temperature is pleasant and the humidity drops. This is the ideal time to explore the area by bicycle. In the months of June to August the temperature rises and the high humidity makes it feel very hot. We suggest getting up very early, do fun activities, have a midday siesta, and continue again in the afternoon.

 

The region can suffer from hurricanes in September. Although the dry months seem more attractive, but the rainy season has an advantage; the rice fields are at their best (green and lush). You can really visit Ninh Binh all year round.

 

Average temperature and rainfall in Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Average temperature and rainfall in Ninh Binh, Vietnam

 

Local Event Dates

  • Phong Sinh: The date for Phong Sinh is on the 15th day of the 4th lunar month. This is an important festival for Buddhist so you will see many decorated Buddhist temples, beautiful parades and lanterns. You can find the biggest spectacle near Chua Bai Dinh.

 

Food, Drinks and Money in Ninh Binh

You are probably not staying in Ninh Binh city but in the nearby Tam Coc or Trang An. Most tourists eat in the restaurant of the homestay or the resort where they stay, but with increasing tourism, more and more great places to eat are appearing.

 

The local specialty is goat meat and that is surprisingly tasty. Look for the word ”Con De” which means goat. Variants are ”Lau De” which is a hotpot with goat meat. The grilled version listens to the name ”De Nuong” and is generally better appreciated by tourists.

 

You can use your credit card in Ninh Binh City but you will probably book a hotel in the countryside so bring enough cash with you.

 

The Best Hotels in Ninh Binh

To fully enjoy the landscape and the beautiful surroundings, one or even two nights is recommended. You won’t find the most beautiful places in the city itself, but just outside of it around Tam Coc and the Trang An Landscape Complex.

 

Except for a very early departure to your next destination or if you want to be close to the train station, there is little reason to stay in Ninh Binh city.

 

The hotels and homestays that you can see below are all in the beautiful surroundings just outside the city.

 

  1. Emeralda Resort: A beautiful resort for those who want to be pampered. Located in a beautiful location adjacent to the Van Long Nature Park.
  2. Tam Coc Garden Resort: Located between the rice fields, river and mountains. Close to all sights and excellent facilities. Best choice in the luxury segment. It is advisable to make a reservation well in advance.
  3. Quoc Khanh Bamboo Homestay: Beautiful bungalows made of bamboo in a beautiful location between the mountains and on the water. It is also possible to sleep in a bunk bed for only US $6.
  4. Chez Beo Homestay: This is the place to be if you want to stay in a beautiful location at a low price. Bicycles can be borrowed free of charge and the family dinner is a must.
  5. La Belle Vie Tam Coc Homestay: A brand new homestay in a perfect location. Very nice and spacious rooms situated in a beautiful garden. Breakfast is included.
  6. Nguyen Shack: Our personal favorite in Tam Coc. Really a wonderful place to spend the night.

 

Akisoto’s 3-Day Ninh Binh Tour

Looking for a fun 3-day tour that you can do all by yourself without needing a tourguide or a big group of tourists? We’ve made a tour schedule for you so you don’t have to think about anything. Try it out when you’re in Ninh Binh!

 

Day 1

The first day you start early and you will immediately see the most famous sights of Ninh Binh: Tam Coc and Trang An. The distance between these sights is around 12 kilometers, which you can do well with a bike.

 

If your hotel is in Ninh Binh, count on a total of 30 kilometers by bike. Another option is to rent a scooter. Between these two sights there’s the Mua Cave, where you have a beautiful view of Ninh Binh.

 

Day 2

Explore the Long Van Nature Reserve and visit the floating village of Kenh Ga.

In the afternoon you visit the old capital Hoa Lu and the Bai Dinh Pagoda.

 

Day 3

Go for a day trip to the Cuc Phuong National Park. Make a trek through the park and visit the Endangered Primate Rescue Center.

 

No matter which sights you’re going to visit, enjoy your trip!

 

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