Are you looking for the best things to do in Ninh Binh? But not really sure where to start? No need to worry cause this Ninh Binh travel guide will cover everything!
From the best places to visit in Ninh Binh, where to eat, where to stay, how to get around and also how to get there.
The province of Ninh Binh is often overlooked when visitors are figuring out their Vietnam itinerary. They’ll often start by visiting the city of Hanoi and then make their way towards Halong Bay before traveling more South. But honestly, Ninh Binh was one of my favorite places in Vietnam to explore.
If you have to make a choice between either Ninh Binh or Halong Bay I highly recommend skipping the latter.
The province is home to breathtaking limestone formations that shoot up out of rice paddies and broad rivers. They don’t call it the Halong Bay on land for no reason. And the biggest plus is that you won’t have to deal with the hordes of tourists!
- A brief history of Ninh Binh
- How to reach Ninh Binh
- Why you should visit Ninh Binh
- When is the best time to visit Ninh Binh
- Where to stay in Ninh Binh
- The 9 Best Things to do in Ninh Binh
- 1. Visit the Big Dong Pagoda
- 2. Go on a boat ride in Tam Coc
- 3. Go on a boat ride through the Van Long Nature Reserve
- 4. Visit the Mua Caves and the famous Hang Mua viewpoints
- 5. Visit the Bai Dinh Pagoda
- 6. Eat at a snail restaurant
- 7. Explore Am Tien Pagoda and Cave
- 8. Wander through the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
- 9. Take the Trang An boat ride
- How to get around Ninh Binh
- How many days do you need in Ninh Binh
9 Spectacular Things To Do In Ninh Binh Vietnam
Imagine beautiful limestone karsts surrounded by rice paddies, rivers, lakes and lotus ponds. The province of Ninh Binh truly is nature at its best and that’s why it’s one of the best places to visit in Vietnam.
There are two places in Ninh Binh that you absolutely have to see and those are Tam Coc and Trang An. Here you’ll find paradise on earth when it comes to nature and you’ll be able to do a bunch of active and outdoor activities.
If you’re getting a little confused by now that’s completely normal cause so was I when I was trying to figure out my itinerary.
So there’s the province of Ninh Binh and there is also the city of Ninh Binh. And it’s around this particular city that you’ll find the areas of Tam Coc and Trang An.
A brief history of Ninh Binh
The old city of Ninh Binh is a very important historical site in Vietnam. Located near the town of Ninh Binh, Hoa Lu Ancient Capital is the capital of an ancient Vietnamese Kingdom called Dai Co Viet in the 10th century.
This small Kingdom covered an area of only 300 hectares, and reigned from the 10th century, during the Dinh and Le dynasties, to the 11th century, during the Ly Dynasty. The Kingdom was enclosed by a citadel. The citadel and the Yen Ngua limestone hills provided a good defence for this kingdom against the Chinese.
Hoa Lu is an ancient city surrounded by the Trang An limestone mountains. Its northwest is bordered by the Hoang Long River.
Nowadays, Hoa Lu ancient capital plays an important role in architectural and historical complex of Viet Nam. It was also recognized as one of the 4 cores forming of the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Trang An Complex.
How to reach Ninh Binh
The province is surrounded by Hoa Binh and Ha Nam to the North; Nam Dinh to the East and Thanh Hoa to the West and South.
From Hanoi to Ninh Binh
The northern province of Ninh Binh is located about 93km from Vietnam’s capitol Hanoi. If you’re traveling to Ninh Binh straight from Noi Bai International Airport (HAN), you have 3 transportation options:
By private taxi (recommended) – The easiest and only direct way to travel is to take a Hanoi airport taxi or private shuttle as they take only 2 hours to reach Ninh Bing from Hanoi airport. You can also book a private taxi from Hanoi to Ninh Binh if you would first like to stay in Hanoi for a couple of days. You can already book an SUV taxi for 5 persons for 1,600,000 VND ($68). The advantage is that you don’t have to wait for other pick-ups and you can travel door-to-door in only 2 hours.
By train – You can take the train to Ninh Binh railway station. This station is located in the center of Ninh Binh. Bear in mind that you still need to add a 15min taxi ride if you want to stay in Tam Coc. There is one type of train service running the route Hanoi to Ninh Binh that is managed by Vietnam Railways. The train ticket with Vietnam Railways costs from 76,000 VND for a Hard seat, 101,000 VNĐ for Soft seat, 109,000 VND for Soft seat Premium, 166,000 VND for Sleeper-6 Berth, and 179,000 VND for Sleeper 4-Berth.
By bus – Let me just say, taking a bus in Vietnam is an experience on a whole other level. There are two types of buses running the route Hanoi to Ninh Binh.
Sleeper Bus: Double-deck coaches equipped with fixed berths and capacity for 40–46 passengers. These are quite comfortable so you can sleep during most part of the journey. For transport through Asia I always relied on 12GOAsia.
Limousine Van: minivans that have the interior refurbished with three rows of seats accommodating 9 passengers, or one row of seats at the back and four individual seats in the center accommodating up to 7 passengers. Additionally, there is space for 1 extra passenger in the front of the van, seating next to the driver.
The price of the bus ticket from Hanoi to Ninh Binh varies depending on the type of vehicle that you choose. It ranges from 165,000 VND to 320,000 VND.
In contrary to the train, the bus usually takes you directly to the tourist spots like Tam Coc, Trang An, Hoa Lu Ancient Capital or Bai Dinh Pagoda.
There’s no airport close to Ninh Binh, so checking for flights is completely useless.
IF YOU DON’T WANT TO ARRANGE YOUR OWN TRIP & TRANSPORT I HIGHLY RECOMMEND JOINING THIS TOUR – AN ALL INCLUSIVE TOUR FROM HANOI TO NINH BINH
From Halong Bay to Ninh Binh
This was our travel route because we spent a couple of nights in Halong Bay before making our way down to Ninh Binh.
By private car (recommend) – From Halong City to Ninh Binh city, it will take you around 3.5 – 4 hours when taking a private taxi ride. We always recommend booking drivers in advance using the 12GOIAsia website.
Typically, a van which fits up to 9 people, will cost you $137 (USD) but 2-3 person cars will cost around $100. Remember, you can always split the cost with other travelers you meet on your trip.
By bus – You can take a bus from Halong City to Ninh Binh for just $13. However, these journeys take around 4 hours because they have designated stops en route. These are comfortable buses with plenty of room. This is the option that we went with and it honestly took a lot longer than 4 hours. They had even overbooked the bus so a bunch of travelers even lost their ticket for that day.
Why you should visit Ninh Binh
Even that a lot of people skip Ninh Binh, it’s definitely a place worth visiting! Ninh Binh is a fascinating place where besides the spectacular scenery, you also have access to the most rural and authentic side of Vietnam.
If you’re still in doubt about visiting Ninh Binh please stop! I can’t recommend this place enough! Out of all the places that I visited in Vietnam this was really my absolute favorite spot!
And okay, there are a lot of places in Vietnam where you can admire the rice fields such as Sapa, but none of them do it like Ninh Binh. Here the rice paddies are flat but they are surrounded by limestone mountains creating a picture perfect background like you’ve never seen before.
When is the best time to visit Ninh Binh
This place has such a picturesque landscape that you can visit here at any time of the year and still enjoy your trip. However, the best months that you should visit Ninh Binh are from late May to early July which is harvest season in summer, or from September to October, which is also the time for locals to reap the wet rice.
Apart from the harvest season with the beautiful golden paddle fields, another advantage of visiting Ninh Binh in June is that you can see the lotus in Tam Coc.
Other months that are worth visiting Ninh Binh are February and March. This is right after the Lunar New Year so you can enjoy the solemn atmosphere in the pagodas. In this time, thousands of people from all over the country will visit the Bai Dinh pagoda to burn the incense and wish a new year full of luck, happiness, and prosperity for their family.
Additionally, an important event called Hoa Lu ancient capital traditional festival is held on March 6th, 7th, and 8th every year. This festival is to celebrate the recognition of noble heroes who built the Hoa Lu Kingdom and Dai Co Viet State.
You should avoid travel in August because there is a lot of rainfall, so it makes traveling difficult and uncomfortable.
Where to stay in Ninh Binh
Emeralda Resort Ninh Binh (recommended) – Me and my mom had a fabulous stay at this beautiful hotel! It’s located on the edge of the Van Long Nature Reserve and Emeralda Ninh Binh Resort offers spacious, villa-style rooms. It’s a 30-minute drive from the Tam Coc-Bich Dong caves and Cuc Phuong National Park is 30 km away.
Mua Caves Ecolodge – This hotel is located within the Hang Mua complex which means that if you stay here your entrance to the Mua Caves is free of charge and you can visit the viewpoints as many times as you want. This would definitely have been convenient during our trip cause when we visited both viewpoints were completely surrounded by fog.
The 9 Best Things to do in Ninh Binh
The first thing to know is that most of the attractions are found in four main areas in Ninh Binh.
Tam Cốc/Bích Động (Ninh Hai)
- Bich Dong Pagoda
- Tam Coc boat ride
- Thung Nham Bird Garden
- Trang An boat ride
- Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
- Hang Mua Caves
- Am Tien Cave
- Van Long Nature Reserve
- Bai Dinh Pagoda
- Cuc Phuong National Park
- Endangered Primate Rescue Center
💡 TIP – The locals in Ninh Binh rely heavily on tourist activities to make a living. By taking a boat tour for instance, you are contributing to the local economy. Don’t forget to leave a tip for these hard working people (anything between 20.000 VND and 40.000 VND would be great).
1. Visit the Big Dong Pagoda
The Big Dong Pagoda is probably the most famous pagoda in entire Ninh Binh. Especially its entrance is a favorite among photographers. However, don’t just stop there!
The Bich Dong complex has three pagodas named after their positioning on the mountain. There are the Ha Pagoda (lower one), Trung Pagoda (middle one), and Thuong Pagoda (upper one).
The cluster of cave temples is surrounded by a bed of water and impressive water lilies that will have you in awe as soon as you arrive.
How to get there – Big Dong Pagoda is located 2km west of Tam Coc town in the Ninh Binh region. It’s approximately a 5-minute ride on a scooter from the town center to reach Bich Dong Pagoda.
Entrance fee – Free. There’s a parking fee of 10.000 VND.
Opening hours – The Big Dong Pagoda is open all the time but the best time to visit is during sunrise. That’s when the light in the mountains is at its most magical.
💡 TIP – As a woman you need to cover your shoulders when you visit the Big Dong Pagoda.
2. Go on a boat ride in Tam Coc
Tam Coc when translated, means ‘three grottoes’. Which means that this place is named after the spectacular caves that you can visit here. The boat ride in Tam Coc will take you along the Ngo Dong river and through the 3 Tam Coc caves.
Taking a boat ride in Tam Coc is a unique experience in Ninh Binh cause the locals actually use their feet to row the boat. They have mastered the art of rowing with their feet, that allows them to not only be faster at rowing but also run longer shifts.
The ticket price for a Tam Coc boat tour is as followed:
- The Tam Coc Boat ticket Fee – 150.000 VND per boat (It is 2 persons per boat)
- Adults – 150.000 VND per person (You pay this on top of the boat fee)
- Children – 60.000 VND per person
- Duration – 2 hours
Opening hours – From 8 am until 6pm
💡 TIP – If you’re limited on time I would skip this boat ride and instead opt for the ones at the Van Long Nature Reserve or in Trang An. The downside of the Tam Coc boat ride is that it’s very touristic and people will haggle you for buying stuff left and right pretty much the entire time.
3. Go on a boat ride through the Van Long Nature Reserve
Welcome to the quiet and peaceful side of Ninh Binh and if you’re staying at the Emeralda Resort Ninh Binh this beautiful place is only 15 minutes walking!
Van Long is the largest waterlogged nature reserve of Northern Delta, belonging to Gia Vien district and has a very diversified and unique ecological system.
The ticket price for a boat ride through the Van Long Nature Reserve is 70.000 VND per person and it lasts around 1.5 hour.
The best time to go for a boat ride is during the afternoon so you can be on the water for sunset.
4. Visit the Mua Caves and the famous Hang Mua viewpoints
Are you ready to climb up a flight of 500 stairs? No? Well that would be a shame cause the Mua caves and its two viewpoints are one of the most beautiful places to visit in Ninh Binh.
Located on one of the highest points in Ninh Binh the Hang Mua viewpoints will grant you a fantastic panoramic view over the area. There are about 500 steep steps which split half way and then either lead to the pagoda or the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva statue on dragon mountain.
And yes, even nearly 3 years later I am still bumped out that this fabulous place was compeltely covered in fog during our visit.
How to get there – It’s approximately a 10-minute ride on a scooter from the town center to reach the entrance to Mua Cave.
Opening hours – Monday to Friday from 6 am to 7 pm
Entrance fee – 100.000 VND
💡 TIP – If you’re staying at the Mua Caves Ecolodge you don’t need to pay the entrance fee since you’re already on the property and you can visit anytime you want.
💡 TIP – Make sure to bring enough water with you cause the temperatures can get scorching hot. During our visit it was already 30°C at 6am in the morning!
5. Visit the Bai Dinh Pagoda
Bai Dinh Pagoda is Southeast Asia’s largest Buddhist complex. It consists of several temples and over 500 intricately carved statues of Buddha, including one that’s made of bronze and is 10 metres in height.
Built in 2003, it’s made with materials that are sourced from local handicraft villages within the Ninh Binh Province, including Bat Trang ceramic tiles, Y Yen bronze casts, and embroidery from Ninh Hai Village.
Not only does the temple offer breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, you can also enjoy a variety of events and activities during your visit. On the sixth day of the Lunar New Year the temple hosts a vibrant festival during springtime, usually between February and March.
How to get there – To get to the central part of the complex, you can either walk about a kilometer or pay 30.000 VND for a buggy ride per person each way.
Entrance fee – Free but there is a 30.000 VND parking fee. If you would like to go up the pagodo itself you’ll need to pay an additional 50.000 VND to use the elevator.
💡 TIP – In the evening the entire complex gets lit up.
💡 TIP – This place has a less authentic feeling compared to the others in Ninh Binh.
6. Eat at a snail restaurant
This might not be everyone’s cup of tea but if you really want to try out some of the local food you need to head to the lane next to D Luong Van Tuy where you will find a ton of snail restaurants.
These eateries are known for serving oc luoc xa which is the Vietnamese for snails which are then cooked with a mix of aromatic lemongrass and hot chilies.
7. Explore Am Tien Pagoda and Cave
Am Tien Cave is one of those places in Ninh Binh that hasn’t been discovered yet by the big public. I have no idea why cause this place truly feels like paradise.
Am Tien cave is located in a valley surrounded by rocky cliffs, has a lake in the middle, a rock pagoda on the mountains, a tunnel through the mountains, and a majestic gate.
To reach the actual cave you’ll need to climb 205 stairs. In the distance, the cave has the shape looking like the dragon mouth, so it is also known as the dragon cave.
The scenery Am Tien is majestic and poetic, but haunting and mysterious at the same time as if it still saves the remnant of the old Place of Execution. History and legend says that Am Tien Cave was used by the Dinh Dynasty as a dungeon where tigers and panthers were places to torture prisoners who comitted serious crimes.
How to get there – Am Tien Cave is only 12km from the center of Ninh Binh city.
Opening hours – Monday to Sunday from 8am until 6pm
Entrance fee – 40.000 VND and a parking fee of 10.000 VND.
8. Wander through the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
Hoa Lu Ancient Capital is the capital of an ancient Vietnamese Kingdom called Dai Co Viet in the 10th century. This small Kingdom covered an area of only 300 hectares, and reigned from the 10th century, during the Dinh and Le dynasties, to the 11th century, during the Ly Dynasty.
Opening hours – From 7am until 5pm
Entrance fee – 20.000 VND
9. Take the Trang An boat ride
The Trang An bot tour is probably one of the most touristic activities in the province of Ninh Binh and there are 3 tour options to choose from. Each tour has a different route and it will take you to different caves and temples. However, no matter which route you choose, the tour price and duration are the same.
I recommend rout number 3 which includes the sightseeing of 3 temples and 3 caves and which will be mostly in open air so you can admire the beautiful scenery around you.
Ticket Price – 200.000 VND per person but one boat sits 4 people. If you’re a group of 2 people you’ll need to find 2 more to join your boat, otherwise you’ll need to pay the full price of 800.000 VND (€30).
💡 TIP – Bring water and food with you cause the boat tour will last 3 hours.
💡 TIP – Each boat has an extra pair of paddles. If you want, you can use them and help your guide. I can imagine that paddling for that many hours per day can get pretty tiring for the guides.
How to get around Ninh Binh
Getting around Tam Coc is really simple as it’s very easy to rent a bicycle or a scooter from your choice of half a dozen rental shops in the center of Ninh Binh town.
Scooter rental costs around 100,000 VND per day and bicycle costs half the price.
If you’re staying a little outside of the town you can always ask your hotel for transport to the centre if you wish to rent a scooter or bicycle.
You can also take a local taxi which costs about 15.000 VND per kilometer.
How many days do you need in Ninh Binh
I recommend staying at least 4 days in Ninh Binh. This will give you enough time to visit all the main attractions and to go on a couple of boat tours through the limestone mountains.
Also take into account that it can get very hot and humid in the middle of the day and that you’ll travel at a much slower pace because of this.
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