Ninh Binh called “Halong Bay on land” is one of the 4 major destinations in Northern Vietnam, with Hanoi, Sapa and Halong Bay. Ninh Binh is a province in the Red River Delta which is located 100km south of Hanoi (a 2-hour drive). The population of Ninh Binh is estimated almost one million inhabitants.
A trip to Ninh Binh is advisable even if you have already visited the Halong Bay because the landscapes and the atmosphere are very different. You will find beautiful natural landscapes, cultural sites and historical sites. Tam Coc is the most tourist attraction in Ninh Binh.
This province was the capital of the Dai Co Viet’s kingdom in the Xth century (Dai Co Viet is the name that was used to refer to territory of Vietnam under the Dinh Dynasty). As you can see, the sights of Ninh Binh scatter everywhere. There is not much to see in the city of Ninh Binh. It’s just the place for transit of buses and trains.
- 1 Top 9 things to do in Ninh Binh
- 1.1 Rowing boat trip
- 1.2 Bicycle ride
- 1.3 Visiting the Thung Nham Bird Garden
- 1.4 Visiting Bich Dong Pagoda
- 1.5 Visiting Phat Diem Stone Cathedral
- 1.6 Discovering Cuc Phuong National Park
- 1.7 Tasting the specialties of Ninh Binh
- 1.8 Visiting the Hoa Lu temples of the Dinh & Le Dynasties
- 1.9 Visiting Bai Dinh Pagoda
Top 9 things to do in Ninh Binh
Rowing boat trip
A boat trip in Ninh Binh in general is a must-do experience. If you only have one day in Ninh Binh, you have to choose a single site; and a boat trip is perfect because the options between the sites: Tam Coc, Trang An, Van Long or Thung Nang is not easy (all are worth the journey). If you have more time, you can visit 2, 3 sites as you want. Here are some general facts about the sites:
Tam Coc is located in the embroidery village of Ninh Binh, in a quiet and beautiful setting. From Tam Coc pier, you can walk to Tam Coc Market, which is busier in the morning. It is on the path that takes us to Bich Dong Pagoda. I sometimes eat “bun rieu cua” (rice vermicelli soup with crab revisited) in this market.
At Tam Coc pier, there are about a hundred rowing boats waiting for visitors for an excursion that lasts more than 2 hours (round trip) on the Ngo Dong River. During the walk, you will cross 3 natural caves: Hang Ca, Hang Hai, Hang Ba.
Entry fee: 120 000vnd / person
Rowing boat trip: 150 000vnd / boat for 2 people
If you travel alone, you can share the boat with another person. And do not forget to bring a hat or umbrella!
You will see everywhere karstic rocks emerging from the water of the river, swimming ducks, lotus flowers (in June, July), small temples, and beautiful rice fields on the banks of the river (between February and early May). It’s good if you can visit Tam Coc during these periods when the landscapes are more beautiful. There is no rice in Trang An or Van Long.
Some suggestions of accommodation at Tam Coc:
The best hotel at Tam Coc is Tam Coc Garden Resort, a small charming resort with a few bungalows located around a small pool. The resort is in the middle of rice fields. In addition, the journey to Ninh Binh will be great to stay at the eco-homestays set amidst nature. These homestays are La Belle Vie Tam Coc Homestay, Tam Coc Homestay, Tam Coc Mountain View Homestay…
Trang An – UNESCO World Heritage Site
Trang An is 11km from Tam Coc. Trang An is the new eco tourism complex, where the authorities have spent a lot of money to create a “pretty artificial” beauty and for marketing. Trang An is where the scenes of the famous Hollywood movie “Kong: Skull island” were shot.
The waters at Trang An are turquoise and the scenery is beautiful.
The rowing boat trip at Trang An lasts longer than the boat trip at Tam Coc, about 3 hours for the round trip. On he way, the boat will stop at some points for visiors to visit the temples and pagodas.
Visitors also cross some caverns that look artificial. Trang An is quite well-managed, you will not find anyone following you to sell a drink.
Entrance fee + boat trip: 200 000vnd / person
There are several restaurants around the site but the hotels are a few miles from Trang An.
The Van Long Nature Reserve
The Van Long Nature Reserve is a bit isolated, with few restaurants and hotels around. It is less touristy and quite natural.
It is about 20km from the north of the city of Ninh Binh. If you leave Hanoi, you will reach Van Long before Trang An and Tam Coc.
Around Van Long, there are some typical villages of the North Delta of Vietnam, where visitors can go for a buffalo cart ride. The rowboats at Van Long are a rustic which are made of braided bamboo on which visitors can enjoy a quiet boat trip to discover the wild beauty of this place.
The almost 2-hour boat trip at Van Long allows you to discover an array of great poetic landscapes with karstic rocks emerging from the water, plants everywhere and animals. If you go boating around 16-17h you will see many birds, especially during the months of July, August.
Emeralda Resort Ninh Binh is the best accommodation in the Van Long Nature Reserve. Besides this resort, it is difficult to find a good hotel.
Thung Nang “the valley of the sun”
This is another destination for the boat trip to admire the “Halong Bay on land”.
Thung Nang is on the path between Tam Coc and the Bich Dong Pagoda. This site is less touristy but also beautiful.
Ninh Binh is an excellent destination for a bike trip because the tourist attractions are not far from each other. It is very pleasant to cycle through rice fields, small villages surrounded by karstic mountains and immerse yourself in the Vietnamese countryside.
You will see paddy fields, ducks swimming in ponds, buffaloes, chickens, roosters, dogs … It is also an opportunity to discover the everyday rural life of the Vietnamese. There are several options for cycling in Ninh Binh:
- From Tam Coc to Bich Dong Pagoda: the road is flat, lined with green trees. On the way, you’ll see many beautiful landscapes and animals from the countryside.
- From Tam Coc to Hoa Lu (temples of Dinh and Le Dynasties): you will get there through small villages, stony track but the landscapes are authentic and beautiful. On the way, you can make a stop at Hang Mua cave, climb to the top and enjoy a panoramic view of Tam Coc and its surroundings.
- From Tam Coc to Thung Nham (Bird Garden): the road is quite hard with several climbs and descents, which is not suitable for people with knee problems. From Tam Coc, go straight to the Bich Dong Pagoda and then turn left, you will reach the Thung Nham Bird Garden. Tam Coc Garden Resort is on this path.
- From downtown / Tam Coc / Trang An to Phat Diem Cathedral: about 30km / direction.
- From Tam Coc to Cuc Phuong National Park: about 40km / direction.
Note: Almost all hotels in Tam Coc offer bike rental with different rates of 50,000, 70,000, 100,000 / one night stay… The price depends on the types of bike and the distance you want to perform with.
If you do not want to pedal, you can rent a motorbike in your hotel.
Visiting the Thung Nham Bird Garden
Thung Nham is a new popular tourist attraction in Ninh Binh.
The visit to the bird garden on a boat tour is well appreciated. Besides the bird garden, you can also visit a fruit garden, a farm where you feed pigs, caves, trees of thousand years …
To observe the birds, it is best to visit at sunset (around 17h-18h) when the birds return to their nest. It’s a magical moment. Unfortunately, the construction of a resort in Thung Nham made it lose much of its charm.
To go to Thung Nham, you can rent a bike at the hotel Nam Hoa, take a bike ride from Tam Coc to Bich Dong Pagoda (2km), on the left there is a sign indicating the way to Thung Nham, you turn left and go straight 5km. You will pass by Tam Coc Garden Resort on the way.
Visiting Bich Dong Pagoda
These are the small pagodas that are in a very beautiful setting, in Bich Dong Mountain. They are located 2km from Tam Coc pier. They consist of 3 pagodas: lower, middle and upper pagoda. Visitors reach the upper pagoda after a hundred steps and enjoy fresh air and a beautiful view of the surroundings.
Visiting Phat Diem Stone Cathedral
Phat Diem Stone Cathedral is located in Kim Son District. The peculiarity of Phat Diem cathedral is that it is a perfect combination between the architecture of oriental pagodas / temples and that of western cathedrals.
Along with the Diocese of Bui Chu, Phat Diem forms the heart of the Catholic faith of North Vietnam, being the seat of the first bishopric of the country. Built in 1891 under the impulse of Father Six, the Phat Diem Cathedral, with a dozen stone and wooden monuments, forms a unique architectural ensemble.
The most used material for the construction of the cathedral is the stone with arched entrances, high towers, sanctuaries, pillars, walls, balustrades … The visit to Phat Diem will tell you the history of Catholicism in Vietnam. It is divided into two sectors: the cathedral and the convent. While visiting Phat Diem, do not forget to visit the mats workshops nearby. In addition to the famous Phat Diem Cathedral, Kim Son District is also known for the craft of sedge weaving.
Phat Diem Cathedral is 30km from the city of Ninh Binh.
Discovering Cuc Phuong National Park
If you want to discover a national park of Vietnam, Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park (in the center) and Nam Cat Tien National Park (in the south) may offer you the more exciting discoveries.
If you have time in Ninh Binh and want to explore the forest, you can rent bicycles and a local guide at the hotel Nam Hoa (200m from Tam Coc pier) and pedal from the park to the Dong Giao Pineapple Farm. This road is beautiful.
Moreover, a 3-hour trekking in the park will allow you to discover some species of plants and monkeys in the Endangered Primate Rescue Center.
The park is 40km from the city of Ninh Binh
Accommodation nearby: The Cuc Phuong Hotel is the best hotel in the area (5km from the national park).
Tasting the specialties of Ninh Binh
Goat meat: grilled goat, steamed goat …
Burned rice (com chay): crunchy dish with the enchanting scent.
Visiting the Hoa Lu temples of the Dinh & Le Dynasties
The ancient capital of Hoa Lu did not leave many traces. The visit to the King Dinh Tien Hoang Temple and King Le Dai Hanh Temple (King Dinh and King Le’s temples) in Hoa Lu only takes about 30 to 45 minutes.
Visiting Bai Dinh Pagoda
Bai Dinh is the largest pagoda in Southeast Asia and travelers can come here to further understand Buddhism.
Though it’s the largest pagoda, Bai Dinh Pagoda is not the most beautiful nor the most typical in Vietnam.
The Bai Dinh Pagoda and the Trang An Complex are two of the most visited tourist attractions in Ninh Binh by Vietnamese travelers.