Ninh Binh is a rural province located around a 2 hour drive from Hanoi. It is the perfect weekend getaway for those living in the city, or a must for anyone visiting the country. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I prefer Ninh Binh to the hyped-up Halong Bay (and I’ve written about that here). Known as the ‘inland Halong Bay’, Ninh Binh’s landscape is made up of beautiful limestone karsts, just like its off-shore cousin, but it has so much more to offer you. In this Ninh Binh travel guide, I’ll share some of my favourite things to do!
I first visited Ninh Binh for a long weekend just a couple of weeks after moving to Hanoi. Since then, I’ve been back, and am still looking forward to heading there again in the future. It’s an easily reachable breath of fresh air (literally) compared to Hanoi, and there are plenty of activities to keep you busy.
Note: the city of Ninh Binh isn’t anything to shout about, I’ve heard, but Tam Coc town is a lovely and well-located place to stay in the province.
Trang An boat ride
There are two main boat rides in Ninh Binh: the Tam Coc boat ride (which, unsurprisingly, departs and arrives in the centre of the town) and the Trang An boat ride. Both are small wooden boats rowed by locals, often using their feet whilst they hold up an umbrella in one hand and phone their family with the other.
I’ve done both, and whilst I’d say the views in both are similar, I preferred the Trang An ride. There are 3 routes to choose from, all including caves, points where you can jump off and wander round pagodas and even the island where parts of King Kong were filmed. The Tam Coc ride takes you one way to a point where you’re expected to buy food/drink for yourself and/or your rower, then turns around and heads back along the same route. In Trang An, the routes take you in more of a loop.
Note: it’s highly likely you will be asked for a tip, even if you have bought the rower refreshments.
If you’re heading to Trang An or Hoa Lu, you’re going to need some transport. Cyclists can take advantage of the relatively flat roads, taxis are available, or you can cheaply hire mopeds in Tam Coc for the day. The roads around Tam Coc and Trang An are pretty quiet, and on the busier main roads there are separate lanes for bikes. Exploring the area in this way gives you more freedom to take turns and ‘see what’s down there,’ plus it’s easier to stop and take photos of the wonderful views.
Hang Mua Cave
This is what you will have seen on Instagram before. The cave is not actually the main attraction at Hang Mua – instead, it’s the two viewpoints at the top of the ~500 steps. Once you reach the top, you’ll be greeted with insane views of the Vietnam countryside: a winding river, paddy fields and layer upon layer of limestone karsts thickly covered in trees. The steps might be steep in places, but the view is worth the climb.
Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
Before Hanoi was announced the capital of Vietnam, it was Hoa Lu. Now an area with a few temples (and, to be honest, not much more), the drive out there through is lovely and the temples are worth a look at.
A few minutes walk out of the centre of Tam Coc is this laidback bar and restaurant, full of beanbags, hammocks and #goodvibes. The drinks are cheap, the food’s good and it’s a great place to just relax for a few hours (which is fortunate, as the service can be pretty slow).
Minh Town Restaurant Father Cooking
The food at this place was so delicious that we ate there twice in one weekend. Mostly Vietnamese, the fried noodles and fried rice are both super flavoursome and tasty.
Ultimately, the main draw to Ninh Binh needs to be the beautiful Vietnamese countryside. Wandering, riding or driving through some of the luscious paddies and limestone karsts is just stunning, sun or cloud.
As Ninh Binh is only a couple of hours drive from Hanoi, it’s easy to go for the day, but I’d suggest staying for 2 or 3 so that you can enjoy all the ideas in this Ninh Binh travel guide (as well as the fresh air and beautiful landscapes) feeling relaxed rather than rushed.
Thanks for reading!
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