Just a few hours South of Hanoi, Ninh Binh is fast becoming one of the best loved destinations in Northern Vietnam. If you’ve seen the most recent rendition of Kong – Skull Island – you’ll have glimpsed some of the epic landscapes around this area. In real life it is just as beautiful, minus any oversized angry creatures.
There are so many places to explore and things to do in Ninh Binh that you could spend a week here and not do it all. Especially, as you’ll also want plenty of time to simply relax and take in the scenery. So, let us take you through all that Ninh Binh has to offer so you can create your perfect itinerary.
Cycle around the rice paddies
The best way to see Ninh Binh is from the seat of a bicycle. Many hotels will have free bicycles or ones to rent for a few dollars. If yours doesn’t, check at nearby hotels and shops. Getting around the central main attractions near Tam Coc is really easy and it is always nice to simply go where the wind takes you. The paths between the rice paddies are especially pretty.
Take a Tam Coc Boat Trip
A boat trip through the rice paddies, between the karst hills is a must-do in Ninh Binh. The ladies row the boats with their feet which makes for a slow and relaxing journey. The scenery is absolutely beautiful and the journey will take you beneath 3 caves carved into the rock by the river. Make sure to go in the early morning or late afternoon for the best light and to escape the crowds of day-trippers from Hanoi.
Be aware that the ladies selling crafts and snacks inside the caves can be rather boisterous. Be polite and smile if you are going to let them down.
Visit Bich Dong Pagoda
One of the most photographed areas of Ninh Binh after Tam Coc, the Bich Dong pagoda is a beautiful ancient temple from the 15th century. The are various shrines and pagodas on different levels, climbing up the hillside and into a cave so make sure to spend some time exploring them all.
Peak at Thai Vi Temple
Another temple close by Bich Dong and Tam Coc is the Thai Vi temple. Surrounded by those iconic mountains, it is an impressive sight and a peaceful place to wander.
Explore Hang Mua Cave
This is one of our favourite areas in Ninh Ninh with plenty to see. Make sure to head as far as you can into the Spring Cave. You’ll have to take off your shoes and bring your own torch to find your way on the watery path! Through another cave, you can meander beside the rice paddies all the way out to near the Tam Coc river route.
Hike to Tam Coc Viewpoint
From Hang Mua, you can also hike up to a viewpoint over Tam Coc. It’s a sweaty, steep hike but there is a pagoda at the top to offer you some shade while you take in the spectacular view.
Cruise further on a Trang An Boat Trip
An alternative to Tam Coc is a boat trip through the Trang An grottoes. This is a longer trip that passes through many river caves and takes around 3 hours with stops at some of the riverside temples.
Day trip to Hoa Lu
Hoa Lu, the ancient capital, is 15 km from Ninh Binh and a worthy day trip if you have more time in the area or are particularly fond of ancient ruins. You can also hop on a boat trip around this area which will be far less busy than Tam Coc or Trang An.
Wander through the Bai Dinh Temple Complex
Bai Dinh is the largest temple complex in Vietnam and continues to be developed over a grand 700 hectares. Temples, shrines and pagodas are spread out over the hillside with fantastic views over the surrounding countryside. As it’s been recently built, it has a much different feel to the other spiritual places in Ninh Binh and is an interesting look into modern day faith of the Vietnamese people.
Swing in a hammock with mountain views
Our final piece of advice is one you should consider whatever else you do… Make sure to save some time for relaxing and taking in the beautiful scenery. Hopefully, you have booked a hotel with a few well placed hammocks, so simply order a drink and soak it all in.
Lily’s Travel Agency has two fantastic options for trips to Ninh Binh that include many of the sites above. Check them out here or contact us to arrange your own perfect itinerary. We can also arrange a private tour of Ninh Binh, with a private guide, driver and a buffet lunch!
Hey, thanks for all the information! I tried to do most of what you recommend. But I didn’t do Hoa Lu, how is it?
If some of you guys want to see further details about this beautiful place, take a look at the following article. It helped me a lot for choosing housing but also experiencing local dishes:
Can you shed more light on how you traveled to and from each place?
Hi Jaclyn, you can travel to many places here by bicycle or scooter and you can rent these from most guesthouses. For the places further away, you can again rent a scooter or take a driver organised by your hotel. Hope that helps!