Ninh Binh; Halong Bay on land
Ninh Binh is sometimes called ‘Halong Bay on land’. That comparison is actually not a bad one, because here you can find thousands of rocky islands that are overgrown with hundreds of shades of green as well. However, the special thing about this place is that you don’t find these unusual islands on water, but on land.
Along these rough landscapes flow vast and winding rivers on which inhabitants row and paddle non-stop. During these boat tours they show the beautiful landscapes to tourists or just because they want to reach their destination faster. It doesn’t take long before the water also show you the gigantic rice fields.
The city itself is fun to walk around in, but you should really come to Ninh Binh to enjoy the beautiful nature. Or maybe it’s the temples that are more fascinating to you? You just have to discover it for yourself!
In the vicinity of Ninh Binh you’ll find some small (and very large) temples or other impressive buildings. The beauty of these constructions is that they are often located in the midst of all this wonderful nature and it looks as if they’re fused into it as a whole.
In Ninh Binh you can even find the largest Buddhist temple complex in Vietnam! And of course the views from here are also phenomenal!
From Hanoi to Ninh Binh
From the bustling capital of Vietnam you can drive to the natural beauty of Ninh Binh in about two hours. After a crazy ride where traffic rules seem almost non-existent, you’ll be dropped off in the center of Ninh Binh and you can immediately start to explore the impressive landscapes.
There are different ways to travel from Hanoi to Ninh Binh. I’ll tell you all about them:
Bus from Hanoi to Ninh Binh
Personally, I think it’s the easiest and most convenient way to commute from Hanoi to Ninh Binh by bus. After all, during a bus transfer you’re picked up from your accommodation and also dropped off in the center of Ninh Binh.
From there you can easily take a taxi (or walk) to your accommodation in Ninh Binh. If you only go for one day, you can also rent a scooter at this very same bus station.
Train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh
I chose the bus myself because you’re dropped off in the center of Ninh Binh and from there you can easily start your visit. Getting to Ninh Binh with the train from Hanoi can be a bit of a hassle and you’re also dropped a bit outside the center.
However, it’s possible that the trains are slightly more comfortable to travel with and that you’ll also see beautiful landscapes along the way.
For a train ticket from Hanoi to Ninh Binh you pay between €10 and €15. You can purchase the tickets online or in the train station of Hanoi.
With a tour from Hanoi to Ninh Binh
If you prefer to see everything during a guided tour or if you only have little time, then a tour from Hanoi to Ninh Binh isn’t a bad idea either.
Early in the morning you’ll be picked up at your hotel and from there you are guided around all day along the most beautiful sights of Ninh Binh.
Along the way you get lunch and (depending on which tour you book) there are also boat trips and entrance fees for some temples included.
A day tour from Hanoi to Ninh Binh isn’t that expensive. For +/- €30 ($33 or £26) per person you can already book a tour online.
One day or two days?
I myself chose a two day trip because there are quite some things to see and I didn’t want to rush through these beautiful landscapes.
I think it’s certainly possible to see everything in one day, but then I recommend to already plan everything so that you don’t lose time there anymore. A day tour might also be a useful solution in this case.
During a two-day stay in Ninh Binh you can take it easy and at the same time see some of the sights that are less frequented by tourists. Waking up in the beautiful nature of Ninh Binh in the morning and taking the bike or scooter to see the surroundings is highly recommended!
Things to do in Ninh Binh
I think that nature has the strongest assets in Ninh Binh, but still there are also some other things to do in in Ninh Binh that you shouldn’t miss.
If you don’t have that much time, I recommend to definitely not skip the Hang Mua Caves and a boat trip on the river. For me personally, those were the best things to do in Ninh Binh.
Hang Mua Caves
This place was without doubt the highlight of my visit to Ninh Binh.
These caves are located close to the vast rice fields of Tam Coc (where the nicest accommodations can be found). To get in, you need to pay 20,000 Vietnamese dong (about 75 euro cents or one dollar). The entrance might look a bit weird at first glance. You walk past landscaped gardens that don’t really seem to fit here (according to me). Fortunately you forget about that soon once you start with the steep climb up. In total you’ll need to conquer about 400 steps before you can enjoy the best views of Ninh Binh.
Don’t forget to stop now and then, because the panoramas are constantly changing.
Right at the top, a (second) dragon statue awaits you and from here you get the most beautiful vantage points of the whole area. To the right, rice fields stretch as far as you can see, and on the left it looks like you have landed in a Norwegian fjord landscape. You also behold the river that sways between gigantic rock formations on which you see dozens of tiny boats slowly moving further away.
You can also explore the actual caves of Hang Mua, but I don’t think that’s actually worth the trouble. There isn’t much to see and the view from the top is definitely the most beautiful sight in Ninh Binh.
Boat trip along the river
Another thing that you shouldn’t miss is a boat trip on one of the rivers of Ninh Binh. You can rent a boat (including rower) in the center of Ninh Binh or at the caves of Trang An.
The boat trips departing from the center seem less impressive at first sight, but after five minutes of paddling you are already far away from the city and this river is also surrounded by fantastic landscapes.
On both boat trips you sail along vast rice fields, beautiful caves (you also sail underneath them!) and all kinds of other beautiful creations from Mother Nature. In total you pay 300,000 Vietnamese dong and in the end the rower also asks you for a tip. But believe me: they definitely deserve some gratuity! Because they take you on the water for no less than two hours. Along the way, they’re not only rowing with their arms. Most of the boat trip is powered by their leg muscles and that’s quite a peculiar sight to behold…
This is of course a tourist attraction and therefore you’ll never be completely alone on the river. There are even boats that sell drinks or other goodies to tourists (or perhaps a drink for your rower) and photographers who take a picture of you. Afterwards you can buy the (not very nice) photo for 10,000 dong.
All in all, this is really one of the best things to do in Ninh Binh and so I recommend not to skip this.
Rice fields of Tam Coc
Tam Coc is located near the small center of Ninh Binh. Take your scooter (or bicycle) and explore the vast rice fields with your camera at the ready, because there’s always something beautiful or unique to see here. The hard workers with their typical Vietnamese hats that are planting rice, with or without the help of a buffalo, or perhaps the many beautiful birds that try to find some food here. The sunrise or sunset is also magical at this location!
Bich Dong Pagoda
Did you know that the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia can be found in Ninh Binh?
To visit this sight you should definitely rent a scooter, because this place is about fifteen kilometers away from the city center. Once you’ve parked your scooter, I recommend to take the electric car to the entrance, otherwise it’ll be a very long walk.
The entire domain is almost 540 hectares and during your visit you can greet over 5000 bronze Buddha statues or be amazed by the opulence (so much gold!!!) of the temples. For me it’s mainly the beautiful views that make a visit to the Bich Dong Pagoda worthwhile. Once you have climbed all the way to the top you get a fantastic overview of the entire temple complex and the surrounding area.
Bai Dinh Pagoda
The Bai Dinh Pagoda is a lot smaller than Bich Dong! Several small temples here seem to have merged with the caves. Before you reach the upper temple, you have to go through a dark cave full of bats.
This place is nice to visit but if your schedule is rather tight then you can safely skip this part of your trip.
Thung Nham Bird Park
A little further than the Bai Dinh Pagoda lies is a large nature reserve. It’s located a little outside Ninh Binh and so I also recommend to rent a scooter if you want to explore this place.
In the park you can find lots of water and trees, some underground caves that you can discover and of course there are also a lot of birds in this area.
It’s especially those last creatures that make a visit to Thung Nham worthwhile. Hundreds of storks and herons live in this swampy park and from a viewing platform you can watch these feathered animals undisturbed.
Nature is beautiful here, but if you don’t have enough time you can also skip this place without missing out on a lot. Personally, I found the nature around Tam Coc even more impressive (and free).
On the way to the observation platform you can also view a landscaped garden.
Renting a scooter in Ninh Binh
If you don’t book a tour to Ninh Binh, you’ll of course have to make sure that you get everywhere.
The best way to explore Ninh Binh on your own is by renting a scooter.
They are cheap (often less than €5 / $5 per day) and with a bit of agility you can get everywhere. You can of course also rent a bike, but some of the sights are located a few miles away and since it can get very hot here this might not be the best idea. The refreshing scooters and the ease of use is definitely more enjoyable if you ask me!
Don’t forget that you have to pay everywhere to park your scooter. Usually it costs 5000 to 10,000 Vietnamese dong. Converted that is about 20 to 40 cents.
Recommended accommodation in Ninh Binh
If you plan to go to Ninh Binh, then you are probably interested in its beautiful nature. It would be a shame not to stay overnight in such a gorgeous environment.
That’s why I advise you to avoid the (small) city center and search for accommodation in the vicinity of ‘Tam Coc‘.
I myself stayed in ‘Ham Rong Homestay‘ and I was very satisfied with this accommodation. The place is located near the rice fields and you get a bamboo hut to sleep in. Moreover, the food here is delicious and the staff is very helpful. You pay just over ten euros or dollars per night.
If you really want a luxurious holiday in a beautiful setting, I would consider booking at the Emeralda Resort (€75 / $80 per night). Here you stay on a rice field in a very luxurious suite.
Tours to Ninh Binh
You don’t want the hassle of arranging everything yourself? Or would you like an informative guide around? Then a day tour is definitely something for you.
Moreover, these day trips are very cheap and you can book them online and in advance. A tour to Ninh Binh from Hanoi can already be booked for €30 / $33 per person.
Always check carefully what is included in the price. For example, on some tours you also get lunch and a boat trip.
Look at these excursions to get an idea:
Flights to Hanoi
Are you fond of good food, exceptionally beautiful nature and friendly people? Then Vietnam is a country that you will really like!
To fly to this beautiful country, you might need to take a very long flight first. For this reason a little extra luxury and comfort is not a bad idea. I flew from Brussels to Hong Kong in Premium Economy Class with Cathay Pacific (you can read more about that here) and from there I flew to Hanoi in two hours.
Champagne, seats that you can tilt back further and much more comfort: it really makes twelve hours on a plane a lot more pleasant. Moreover, you start (and end) your journey without stress and isn’t that the intention of going on a holiday?
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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.