Ninh Binh best things to do & travel guide
Famous for its beautiful scenery and incredible landscapes, from ancient temples to hidden caves and green rice fields, Ninh Binh is one of the top destinations in Vietnam. It is also called the Halong Bay on land. Some of the best things to do in Ninh Binh consist of boat trips on the rivers, cycling through the countryside and visiting ancient temples and pagodas.
5 reasons to visit Ninh Binh
- Take a rowing boat trip on the river at Tam Coc and Trang An.
- Enjoy a panoramic view at Mua Cave.
- Learn about the century-old dynasties at the ruins of the ancient capital Hoa Lu.
- Explore the beautiful landscape of Ninh Binh in one of the National Parks.
- Go wildlife and bird watching
What is in this Ninh Binh travel guide
Book your local Ninh Binh experience
Recommended days to stay
Ninh Binh is a great place to stay a bit longer. If you just want to visit some of the highlights then two or 3 days can be enough. But this area is also perfect for a longer stop to recover from traveling around. Enjoy a day sitting at the pool or in a hammock overlooks the rice fields, lotus lakes and mountains
ATM's & money exchange
In the city Ninh Binh there are plenty of ATM’s, but in the countryside such as Tam Coc and Hoa Lu there are non. Resorts accept credit cards, but most local restaurants in Ninh Binh don’t.
Local events and holidays
- Phong Sinh: a big festival in Buddhist temples with lively street processions and lanterns used to decorate pagodas. Complexes such as Chua Bai Dinh near Ninh Binh host lavish parties. Fifteenth day of the fourth lunar month.
Best time to visit
- Rice fields season: There are two periods to see the green rice fields. This is from May to early July, when the locals harvest the rice, and from September to October.
- Dry season: From November to April you can enjoy quite cool and dry weather, but bring something warm.
- Rainy season: From May to October the weather is warmer, more humid and the chance of rain is higher.
10 best things to do in Ninh Binh
This province has many sights and things to do, including boat rides, cycling between the rice fields, visiting ancient temples, bird watching or exploring a national park. To help you out we made a list of 10 best things to do in Ninh Binh.
1. Boat trip on Tam Coc river
Tam Coc is also called the Halong Bay of the Vietnamese inlands. The mountains here are not surrounded by ocean, but by green rice fields and wild nature. By far the best activity you can undertake in Tam Coc is taking a boat trip. Board a rowboat and let the locals paddle you through the green area. Karst mountains, caves and beautiful views pass you by, and in roughly 2 hours you will close this region to your heart.
2. Boat trip in Trang An
The landscape of Trang An has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is certainly no exaggeration. The detached mountains are formed from slate that is richly overgrown and the steep cliffs in relation to the mirror-smooth clear water give it an extra dramatic effect. You get on a small rowboat with which you sail for 2 hours through and along caves, temples and lakes.
3. Enjoy the viewpoint at Mua Cave
As the name suggests there is a cave to be found, but the highlight of the Mua Cave is the panoramic view from the top. At the viewpoint you can enjoy stunning views over the Tam Coc river, with mountains around you and the rice fields below. It is only a short 15-minute walk of 500 steps, so it is definitely one of the best things to do in Ninh Binh.
4. Cuc Phuong National Park
Cuc Phuong National Park is one of the most important places of biodiversity in Vietnam. As the largest nature reserve in the country, the preserved rainforest houses more than 300 species of rare birds and 2000 species of plants that are well protected to preserve the unspoilt nature of Ninh Binh. You can even stay a night or two in the park grounds with local Muong people, an ethnic group living in the mountainous regions of northern Vietnam.
You can also visit the Endangered Primate Rescue Center. This sanctuary is dedicated to the rescue and conservation of the most endangered primate species in Vietnam.
5. Cycling through countryside of Ninh Binh
The best way to see Ninh Binh is from the saddle of a bicycle. Many hotels lent bicycles for free or rent bicycles for just a dollar. If your accommodation doesn’t do that, check out the nearby hotels and shops. The most important sights in Ninh Binh can easily be explored by bicycle.
Cycling around the area is rewarding. The roads along the rice fields are especially beautiful. There are also some lotus lakes and small villages where yo can stop of a drink. On the way you might have to evade a a stray goat or water buffalo.
6. Van Long Nature Reserve
The Van Long Nature Reserve is the largest wetland area in North Vietnam. With peaks of limestone mountains and paddy fields reaching the horizon, it is certainly a memorable place to visit. The nature reserve is also home to many primate species, including the endangered Langur. Rehabilitation of animals takes place here and they are released back into the wild after treatment.
7. Hoa Lu
Nestled between two towering limestone mountains you will find Hoa Lu. The city was the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries. Today Hoa Lu is a cultural center full of ancient pagodas and citadels. Most of these were built in honor of the Dinh dynasty royalty. A visit to this place is one of the best things to do in Ninh Binh.
8. Bai Dinh Pagoda
The Bai Dinh temple complex is the largest complex of temples in Vietnam. It is a major destination for religious pilgrimages and an even more popular Ninh Binh landmark for tourists interested in spirituality and Buddhist art.
9. Bich Dong Pagoda
Bich Dong Pagoda is a cluster of majestic mountain cave temples that gracefully line the area. These ancient shrines and historic pagodas are scattered along the hill, some dating back to the 15th century. You have to walk and climb to get to every monument, but the route along the way is totally worth it. The bridge entrance is a well known spot for instagrammers.
10. Thung Nham Bird Garden
Thung Nham Park is a relatively new attraction in Ninh Binh, but it is a nice place to visit without too many tourists. The park is particularly known for the many birds that live here. The best time to go is late afternoon or early morning before the birds leave. The birds return home from about 4pm, but the park is large so there is plenty to do before you look at the birds. Boat trips are available to take you to the forest where the birds return every evening.
Best hotels & hostels in Ninh Binh
Best area to stay
Ninh Binh is not lacking in reasonably priced accommodation options. There are several places in the region where you can stay overnight. The largest city in the region is Ninh Binh. Almost all buses also arrive here. However, we do not recommend staying here because it is the least pleasant place.
It is best to stay outside the city, such as in Tam Coc, Trang An or somewhere in the countryside. In Tam Coc you will also find some restaurants, but of course not in the countryside. However, this is often a more special experience, because you stay directly in the beautiful landscape for which Ninh Binh is so famous for.
Best hotels in Ninh Binh
- Ninh Binh Hidden Charm Hotel & Resort (from $ 85) – Quite stylish resort with modern rooms.
- Bai Dinh Garden Resort (from $ 70) – Beautiful resort with bungalow style rooms. Good restaurant and pool.
- Trang An Retreat (from $ 36) – Top rated accommodation. Good and beautiful location, with restaurant and
- Tam Coc Holiday Hotel & Villa (from $ 34) – Good location, nice bed, spacious bathroom with rain shower, nice pool.
- Tam Coc Sunshine Homestay (from $ 22) – A very helpful family with a homestay in a good location.
- Trang An River View Homestay (from $ 8) – Beautiful homestay with pool. Popular among backpackers.
- For You Homestay (from $ 6) – Beautiful location, great views, and great pool.
Food & drinking
Restaurant options in Ninh Binh city are few, but you can still enjoy plenty of good food from northern Vietnam here. Eat early as many restaurants close at about 8pm.
If you are out and about during the day, you will see many local restaurants serving Ninh Binh’s signature dish “De Nui” – mountain goat. This is definitely recommended.
You will probably also eat at your hotel, especially if you are staying in remote places.
Recommended restaurants in Ninh Binh
- Trung Tuyet – The most popular restaurant in Ninh Binh, with possibly the best food. Prices
from 40,000 VND.
- Bamboo Bar and Restaurant – Cozy restaurant and good service with typical Vietnamese
- Chookies – Good value Vietnamese and Western meals and cheap beer.
- Family Restaurant – Popular place for real local and good Vietnamese food.
- Bao Anh Restaurant – Another popular place with tasty meals and cheap beers. There
is also a separate vegetarian menu.
How to get there
With its location close to Hanoi and rail and highway connections, it is not hard to get to Ninh Binh.
Flights to Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh does not have an airport, but 120 km further is Hanoi’s airport Noi Bai international airport. There are direct buses and minivans traveling between the airport and Ninh Binh and takes about 2 hour.
The closest airport to Ninh Binh is Tho Xuan Airport in Than Hoa province. It is located 100 km from Ninh Binh, but it will also take 2 hours. Another drawback is that it is not an international airport and does not serve many domestic flight either.
Busses to Ninh Binh
There are plenty of buses to and from Ninh Binh: Hanoi (2 hours), Halong City (4 hours), Hue (10 hours), Phong Nha (8 hours). Ninh Binh is also a stop for open tour buses between Hanoi and Hue.
Between Hanoi and Ninh Binh are also comfortable minivans including pick up and drop off at your hotel.
Trains to Ninh Binh
There is also a train station in Ninh Binh. You can reach from both Hanoi in the north and Hue, Dong Hoi and Da Nang in the south. There are at least 4 trains a day for both directions. To Hanoi takes around 3 hours.
How to get around
The most recommend way to get around Ninh Binh is by bicycle. Cycling is fun and easy and most sights in Ninh Binh are not too far from each other. The roads in the area are flat so it’s not exhausting and there is almost no traffic. Bicycles are often free at the accommodation.
You can also use motorbikes/scooters instead of bikes. You can rent them almost anywhere, including directly at your accommodation. The prices for renting a motorbike in Ninh Binh start from 100,000 VND.
As an alternative you can rent a car with driver to drive yo to the sights. It is very comfortable and makes it easier to go to the more further sights, such as Cuc Phuong National Park and the wetlands of Van Long.
For short distances between your accommodation and the train station you can take a taxi.
Itinerary 2 days in Ninh Binh
Below you can see an example 2 day in Ninh Binh itinerary.
- Morning: Boatride in Trang An (start early to avoid the crowds)
- Late morning/Early afternoon: Cycle from Trang an to Hoa Lu and visit the ancients buildings.
- Late afternoon: Take a taxi to Van Long in the late afternoon so you can see the storks flying back to their nests.
- Morning: Enjoy a boat ride in Tam Coc (also start early to avoid the crowds).
- Afternoon: Cycle along the rice fields and visit Bich Dong Pagoda
- Late afternoon: When the heat is getting less, climb up to the viewpoint at Mua Cave.
More tips for traveling in Ninh Binh
Read some of the usefull Ninh Binh tips below.
How to dress
Some of the attractions in Ninh Binh are pagoda’s and temples. Please keep in mind that you dress appropriate when entering this areas; such as no short skirts and tank tops. You can also bring a sarong to cover yourself when you visit these areas.
Where to go next?
If you are heading from north to south, your next stop after Ninh Binh will Phong Nha or Hue in central Vietnam. In Phong Nha you can visit the stunning national park with some of the biggest caves in the world. There is a train going from Ninh Binh to Dong Hoi and from here you can take a bus or taxi to Phong Nha.
Ninh Binh with kids
Ninh Binh is one of the best destinations to travel to in Vietnam with kids. The area is safe and quite enough to bike around with childeren. Many accommodations in Ninh Binh have pools. In addition they can enjoy beautiful nature and learn more about the culture and history.
The area has been developed in such a way that it is not difficult to pass by in English. Most of the people working in the accommodation can speak English. You have less change at the local restaurant, but they always have an English menu.