The province of Ninh Binh is located 100km south of Hanoi in the North of Vietnam. Millions of visitors are drawn to the province every year for it’s iconic and stunning natural beauty. The province of Ninh Binh itself consists of vast open rice paddies and limestone mountains covered in lush jungle. All of which are broken up by a fascinating and complex river system.
Home to Hoa Lu, once the capital of Vietnam, the province is also known for its impressive caves and ancient temples. Here, visitors are given an opportunity to feel a million miles away from the chaotic city streets of Hanoi. Ninh Binh offers a slice of peace and tranquility that can be enjoyed over a short trip from the capital city.
In this post, we will begin by listing the best things to do whilst visiting Ninh Binh. It will include ways in which you can avoid the main tourist hot spots and enjoy the countryside. Finally, we will explore the best options for travel, including a basic route map for arriving by motorbike, how to book trains and, travel costs.
Top 5 Things to Do While Staying in Ninh Binh
Due to it’s popularity and closeness to Hanoi, the main tourist attractions in Ninh Binh are heavily attended and so some of the attractions can become slightly overcrowded. However, you should not let this put you off. Ninh Binh is extremely popular for a reason, and it shouldn’t be missed!
Below we will highlight our top 5 things to do in the area and also including ways to avoid the tourist crowds.
1. Ninh Binh Boat Tours
Ninh Binh is most famous for its boat tours as the limestone mountains and vast river systems offer an extremely unique boating experience.
Many refer to Ninh Binh as Ha Long Bay on land. It was given this name because it somewhat resembles the many islands that cluster the northeast coast. And of course, the best way to experience this is by a tiny tin boat rowed by a local Viet!
Boat tours usually last between 1 to 3 hours. It makes for an ideal morning or afternoon activity to do whilst staying in Ninh Binh.
Ninh Binh Boat Tours include different stops, views, and tiny caves. Because the rivers have formed caves beneath the Limestone Mountains, these boats squeeze beneath the cave ceilings. Once again creating a truly fascinating, nerve-racking and unique experience.
There are a number of different boat tours to choose from in Ninh Binh. All of which come at different prices and popularity. Due to their varied locations, they offer different experiences of the rivers and caves.
Trang An Grottoes Boat Tour
The most famous and popular boat tour in Ninh Binh is the Trang An Grottoes boat tour. Located 7km from Ninh Binh city, Trang An is a beautiful UNESCO protected heritage site. With many hidden scenic lakes and swamps, it should only be experienced by boat.
Because of its popularity, Trang An Grottoes run hundreds of boats every day from a large boat station for both Foreigner and Vietnamese tourists. We do suggest that you arrive early to avoid peak times and overcrowding. Tours cost between 100,000VND and 200,000VND ($4-8) for children and adults.
This is the most professional boat tour organized in the region and all tourists are required to wear a life jacket to ensure their safety. Visitors are also split off to ensure boasts aren’t overcrowded. And to add to this, visitors have three different routes to choose from. All of which have different stops and caves!
Kong Skull Island Film Set: Trang An Grottoes Boat Tour
The impressive district of Trang An is home to one of the filming locations for Kong Skull Island. One of the three routes offered by the Trang An Grottoes tour actually stops at the film set!
Because of it claims to fame, visitors are given the opportunity to wander around the island film set, which is located within lush jungle scenery. This is the only tour in Ninh Binh province to offer this experience! Making it somewhat unique compared to the others.
Tam Coc Boat Tour
The most popular destination in Ninh Binh province, Tam Coc, is home to a number of homestays, restaurants, and hostels. Many tourists opt to stay in Tam Coc over Ninh Binh city because it’s more remote and a relaxed atmosphere.
Boat tours run from the centre of the small town and offer a similar experience to the Trang An Grottes boat tour. Tours from the centre of Tam Coc are slightly less expensive. However, they only last for two hours and do not have any stops.
Despite this, boat tours from Tam Coc still offer tourists incredible views of the stunning scenery in Ninh Binh.
2. Hoa Lu: Ancient Capital of Vietnam
The district of Hoa Lu was once recognized as the capital of Vietnam during the 10th and 11th centuries. As a result, the district is now home to a number of peaceful and beautiful ancient pagodas and temples. All of which are dotted between Ninh Binh’s impressive limestone mountains.
There are various different pagodas and temples to visit, plus they are signposted from the road. Often signposts have not been translated but, we suggest exploring these hidden locations, as you may stumble on something beautiful.
Located 12kms from Ninh Binh City, the district of Hoa Lu is best explored by motorbike or bicycle. This is due to the fact that many of the temples are spread across the area and too far apart to walk to.
Temple of King Dinh Tien Hoang
One of the main attractions in Hoa Lu is the Temple of King Dinh Tien Hoang. Here visitors are given the opportunity to wander around what was once the centre of the capital city. It is evident that a city once stood here and the impressive temple still stands today.
Tourists have the option to wander alone or pay for a local guide to give them information about the area. The information has been made available to visitors, however, a lot of it is not translated to English. If you’re particularly interested in the history of the region, a tour guide may be beneficial.
Entrance is free and visitors are free to roam as they feel but it is best to visit in the morning to avoid busy periods.
Tuyet Tinh Coc Lake
Located 15 minutes from the Temple of King Dinh Tien Huong by motorbike, visitors can find the tranquil Tuyet Tinh Coc lake. This hidden lake is signposted from the roadside between Tam Coc and Hoa Lu. The lake is untouched by tourism and so it’s a less popular option.
Surrounded by towering limestone mountains, the lake feels a million miles away from the rest of the world. It makes for the ideal afternoon stroll or if you’re feeling the Vietnamese culture, an afternoon nap. A couple of pagodas overlook the lake and are perfect for exploring. As a result, it is the perfect opportunity to escape tourists looking to get their perfect Instagram shot.
3. Hang Mua Cave Ecolodge
Hang Mua Cave Ecolodge is located a short 5km ride from Ninh Binh City. The ecolodge has recently been developed into a tourist attraction, second to the Trang An. Visit during the morning to avoid peak times.
The entrance to the ecolodge costs 50,000VND ($3). You are required to pay this fee to access the famous Hang Mua viewpoint at the top of Lying Dragon Mountain.
Hang Mua Cave Ecolodge is merely a tourist site put together to manage visitors passing through to summit Lying Dragon Mountain and take in the view. However, if you do wish to grab some slightly overpriced grub for lunch, you can.
Hang Mua Viewpoint and Lying Dragon Mountain
Made famous by social media, the view from the top of Lying Dragon Mountain is the best in Ninh Binh and possibly one of the best in Vietnam. Hundreds of visitors, both foreign and Viet, climb the 450 steps every day to take in the jaw-dropping view at the top. It is not uncommon to spot Viet’s having their wedding shoot taken in front of the stunning scenery!
The iconic view is easily one of the best things to do in Ninh Binh. The view across the rivers that weave between the limestone mountains is unforgettable. Visitors find themselves sitting for hours watching the small boats of the Trang An Grottoes boat tour pass through the valley.
If you’re lucky enough to catch the view on a clear day, you should head to the viewpoint at sunset. It may be heavily overcrowded at this time, but we promise it will not disappoint.
4. Bich Dong Pagoda in Tam Coc
The iconic Bich Dong Pagoda is nestled within caves only 9km from Ninh Binh City in the neighboring Tam Coc. This beautiful pagoda is one of our top things to do whilst in Ninh Binh. Less popular with tourists, this religious site feels somewhat untouched.
The entrance to the pagoda is free. However, you may be required to pay for parking by local opportunists. To avoid this, leave your motorbike up the road and walk the last few hundred metres. Although it’s unlikely your motorbike will be stolen, you can ensure its safety by leaving it with a parking attendant.
The entrance to Bich Dong Pagoda is over a lily covered lake. The entrance gate stands out of the mountainside and is a sight to behold in itself. Once you are through the entrance, you will climb through three caves with shrines hidden inside to reach the pagoda at the top.
One of the caves has a particularly high ceiling and it is possible to hear the bats living at the top. As a result, the Bich Dong Pagoda is a religious site that is truly unique. And one we love!
Tip: Visitors should be respectful when visiting religious sites anywhere in Asia. Bich Dong Pagoda is no exception. Both men and women are expected to cover their shoulders and knees.
5. Tam Coc
As we have previously mentioned, Tam Coc is a small village located close to Ninh Binh City. This sleepy village has recently become very popular with tourists visiting Ninh Binh. Recently it has come alive with hostels, hotels, bars, and eateries. In fact, it is possible to get some of the best wood-fired pizza in Vietnam at one of its restaurants, Chookies.
This is all down to the fact that Tam Coc is now the number one destination on the backpacker trail through Vietnam. Despite the fact this small village has been overwhelmed with tourism, it still offers a more peaceful and tranquil experience than Ninh Binh City itself.
The village is still set amongst vast rice paddies within the beautiful setting of the Ninh Binh mountains. Known for its location, it is a prime place to stay when visiting Ninh Binh’s top attractions!
Ride Bicycles Through The Rice Paddies
Almost every form of accommodation in Tam Coc will offer you the opportunity to explore Ninh Binh by bicycle. Most have bicycles available for free use and it is a fantastic way to see the area. Cruising through the rice paddies on a bicycle is easily one of the best things to do in Ninh Binh.
If you’re feeling pretty energetic and your bicycle is in decent shape, it is even possible to reach all of the top attractions. A great alternative for those who do not feel comfortable on the back of a motorbike.
There are various different roads to explore by bicycle. Travel tip: explore with no particular endpoint in goal and take in the dramatic scenery of Ninh Binh!
6. Cuc Phuong National Park
For those who have more time to experience the area, you should consider visiting Cuc Phuong National Park, located in Ninh Binh Province. As an off-the-beaten-path option, The park itself is best explored by motorbike or on foot.
You can go biking along the scenic view of the limestone mountains and the beautiful rice paddy fields. Here visitors have the opportunity to visit the primate sanctuary and some of the most remote ethnic villages. It is also considered one of the best places for bird watching in Vietnam. Ideal for an additional two day trip from Ninh Binh.
7. Kenh Ga Hot Springs
If you are looking for less walking and more relaxing, then you can go the opposite way to Kenh Ga Hot springs, just 15km North of Ninh Binh, it is located in the Kenh Ga Villiage, Gia Thinh Commune. Kenh Ga emerges as a small island, separated from the mainland.
Not only can you enjoy the mountain hot spring water, but you are also able to take in the daily life of the Vietnamese along the rivers. You can explore the floating fisherman villages, try some of Kenh Ga specialties and, have access to popular Ninh Binh attractions in the area. If floating in natural minerals is more your thing, then read our detailed blog on the Khenh Ga Hot springs.
Ninh Binh: Travel From Hanoi
Ninh Binh is only 100kms from Hanoi and possible to complete as part of a day tour. Despite the fact that the attractions in Ninh Binh are spread out, you can see it all in one day trip. There are different ways in which you can make this possible.
Below you will find some of the best ways to travel to Ninh Binh from Hanoi and how to best suit your timeframe.
Hanoi to Ninh Binh By Motorbike
The best way to make the most of Ninh Binh in one day is arriving by motorbike. If you choose to arrive by motorbike, you will have the freedom to explore as you wish.
Not only does it give you the opportunity to explore in your own time, but a motorbike also allows you to stay a little longer if you find yourself loving the area. Which we think is highly possible! Exploring the area by motorbike is one of the best things you can do while in Ninh Binh. In fact, it is your cheapest option in terms of travel costs. You won’t be paying any tour operator or high taxi fees!
Ninh Binh is also one of the number one stops on the backpacker trail. So if you’re heading south from Hanoi or vice versa, make sure you add Ninh Binh to your trail.
The drive from the center of Hanoi to Ninh Binh is straight forward and will take no longer than 2 hours. There are a few different routes to choose from. Read more on our routes blog about traveling to Ninh Binh from Hanoi by motorbike.
If you choose to rent from our shop in Hanoi, we will ensure that you’re given the utmost support and advice before your journey. Our team will provide you with a map, necessary protection, and ongoing support if required.
Train From Hanoi To Ninh Binh
There are daily trains from Hanoi to Ninh Binh City all of which cost between $12-25 for a return. Trains run at different times throughout the day, from 6 AM through till 7 PM. The schedule changes regularly and trains become fully booked quickly, so make sure you plan your journey well in advance.
The train to Ninh Binh from Hanoi takes approximately 2-3 hours. Although the train may be your cheapest option for travel, it is not your best in terms of efficiency for a day trip.
However, this being said, getting a train in Vietnam is a real experience and one that feels very authentic. Squeezed onto a wooden seat between two locals might be the culture shock you’re after!
Bus From Hanoi to Ninh Binh
Buses in Vietnam run regularly and they are one of the countries’ most affordable and efficient ways to travel. Local buses are run from Hanoi city centre throughout the day. There are a number of different bus stations where you can catch a bus to Ninh Binh and finding the right one for you is confusing, to say the least.
Much like trains, the bus will take anywhere between 2 to 3 hours.
Booking online in advance will save any of the confusion and chaos that ensues when arriving at a bus station without a ticket. You can book bus tickets online or through a tour operator.
Taxi From Hanoi to Ninh Binh
The most expensive option for travel between Hanoi and Ninh Binh is by taxi. A taxi will cost anywhere between $60-90 and will take between 1.5 to 2 hours.
Why Ninh Binh Is One of Vietnam’s Best Destinations
We can think of a few reasons: it’s a prime location, under two hours from Vietnam’s capital city, Hanoi, and one of the most visited destinations. Many visitors arrive in Vietnam with a short amount of time making the most by including Ninh Binh. It is easily one of their best ways to make the most of the countries beauty.
With a wide variety of things to do, Ninh Binh makes for an ideal 1-2 day trip from Hanoi for visitors hoping to experience Vietnam’s iconic scenery and on a timeframe.
Ninh Binh can also be done at very little cost. Depending on your choice of travel and accommodation, it is possible to spend as little as $50 visiting the area. As we mentioned previously, those who wish to make the most of the region should travel by motorbike and have the freedom to roam as they please.
At Rentabike, we feel that Ninh Binh serves as a perfect short escape from the polluted streets of Hanoi. It is a destination in North Vietnam that should not be missed!