If you are in north Vietnam and are looking for an easy day trip or overnight stay from Hanoi, I definitely recommend Ninh Binh. In this post, I’ll share how you can get there and what to see and do while you’re there. Ninh Binh is easily accessible by bus or train. The journey from Hanoi takes around 2hrs 15 each way and tickets cost between €6 – €13, depending on the company you use. We only booked one-way bus tickets on Bookaway (€6.50 each) because we wanted to be flexible about when we left.
Our minibus departed from Hanoi’s Old Town, and a couple of hours later, we had arrived. The actual town of Ninh Binh is not very pretty so I suggest staying in the suburbs. We stayed here and it was great (one of the most comfortable beds we’ve slept on, and if you’ve been to Vietnam, you know that finding a good mattress is a rarity!). Ninh Binh is very flat, which is ideal for cycling or riding motorbikes. It’s rural and tranquil, with looming mountains surrounding lush green fields. Unfortunately when we arrived, it was absolutely tipping it down with rain. We sprawled out on our comfy bed, contemplating whether we actually wanted to go out… then we remembered that we’re British and a little rain has never stopped us before! So we dug out our waterproof jackets and headed to our first destination.
There’s a good number of things to do; you certainly won’t be bored. Having a motorbike will help you reach everything with ease, but we managed on foot and there were lots of taxis offering us their services when they saw us plodding past. One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is “Which river tour should I do”? There are two options: Tam Coc or Trang An. They are very similar and we opted for Trang An because Tam Coc is more crowded and appears on more tour company itineraries.
The Trang An boat trip costs 200,000 Vietnamese dong per person and the length varies on what route you take. We chose the 2.5 hour ride. The mountainous limestone cliffs are often compared to the very scenic Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay area. It was a bit dicey going through the caves though; our boatswoman couldn’t speak much English besides ‘Keep down!’ which was essential advice because some of the cave ceilings were reeeeeally low. Like ‘Is this legal? What about health and safety?‘-low. In some of the caves – the narrowest, most cramped ones – we had our heads between our knees, feeling the rocks brushing over our heads. The routes through the caves were around 200 – 400 metres long so it was quite a while to be hunched over, staring at your feet. It also meant that we couldn’t actually look around, take photos and appreciate the view because we were worried about being decapitated. Fun times!
Once you’re out of the caves, you can enjoy the gorgeous scenery and feel grateful that you still have a head! At points, the boats docked and we were given time to explore temples and pagodas on some of the islands.
Another attraction in Ninh Binh is the mountain Hang Mua. There are 486 steps to the top; it is quite steep and very muggy so we were very sweaty by the time we reached the top. If you’re there during a sunny period, aim to arrive early or towards the end of the day.
At the base of Hang Mua, you can find some pretty statues and fountains, along with a large lotus flower pond.
So what else is there to do in Ninh Binh? Besides Trang An, Tam Coc or Hang Mua, you can also visit Van Long Nature Reserve, Dich Long cave and pagoda or the Cuc Phuong National Park. In hindsight, we wish we’d stayed for two or three nights to really make the most of what Ninh Binh has to offer. We visited in October, the very end of the rainy season, and were just unlucky. November to April are the cooler, drier months so try to visit between then if you can.
Have you been to Ninh Binh before? If so, what did you think of it?
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow