Last Updated on December 7, 2022
Ninh Binh Province is one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam, prepare to be transported into a magical universe… I guarantee it will leave you speechless.
Only two hours away from busy Hanoi, Ninh Binh province is a heaven on earth. Imagine lush forests, green rice paddies, rivers everywhere, and amazing kart rock formations. Called the terrestrial Ha Long Bay, Ninh Binh Province will keep you busy for a couple of days.
Ninh Binh is the destination, but Tam Coc is where most of the sights are located. Located just outside of Ninh Binh City, Tam Coc is a charming village encompassing many of the best tourist attractions of Ninh Binh Province.
From Tam Coc, you can easily walk to many of the activities and sights and you can rent a scooter or car, or book a tour to explore more of the province.
Keep on reading to discover what to do in Ninh Binh, the best tourist attractions and activities, and how to organize a day trip or tour from Hanoi – as well as the best hotels and homestays to stay at, and how to plan your Ninh Binh itinerary.
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Top Things to Do in Ninh Binh and Best Tourist Attractions
Take a boat ride
If there is only one thing you need to do in Ninh Binh, then taking a boat ride on the river in Tam Coc or Trang An should be at the top of your bucket list. There, you will understand why this part of Northern Vietnam has been dubbed the terrestrial Halong Bay.
Tam Coc Boat Tour
The boat ride is just amazing, you feel like you’ve just entered some fairyland in a parallel universe. The only signs of civilization you’ll see are temples (and the King Kong movie set) and a few fishermen – apart from this it’s only nature and stunning scenery.
Depending on the water level, you might be able to go through some of the caves.
The boats will stop at some of the islets so you can visit the pagodas.
You can hire a boat pretty much everywhere on the river, just ask at your guesthouse. The boat tours in Tam Coc operate from 8 am to 6 pm and last around 2.5 hours. It costs 150,000 VND per boat for a maximum of 2 persons, plus a 120,000 VND entrance fee per person.
Trang An Boat Tour
You can also head to nearby Trang An, there you can pick between three routes that are part of the UNESCO-protected area. You can just show up at any time at one of the decks, if you are solo traveling you might have to wait a bit for more people to join. The tour usually lasts 2 to 2,5 hours and costs around 250,000 VND per person – the boats usually fit 4 to 5 persons.
Trang An is famous for its grottoes and cave system – if you have the time taking a river cruise both at Tam Coc and Trang An is recommended as both are quite unique in their own way.
Ninh Binh River Tour Tips
If you want to avoid the crowds try to go in the early morning or late afternoon – many people take a day trip to Ninh Binh from Hanoi so if you have the chance of staying in Ninh Binh make sure to go on the boat rides when most tourists aren’t there.
Make sure to watch how the women use their feet for rowing the boat, it’s quite impressive!
The boats are not covered so beware of the sun and pack some sunscreen and protective clothing.
You can tip your boatman, anything between 20,000 VND and 40,000 VND is great.
Visit the ancient capital of Hoa Lu
Hoa Lu was Vietnam’s capital from 968 until 1009 before it was moved to Hanoi. Of the ancient capital only two temples, rebuilt in the 17th century, are left standing today: Dinh Tien Hoang Temple and Le Dai Hanh Temple.
The surroundings are pretty nice, the view amazing, and the temples well preserved. Definitely worth a visit.
There you can also hike to Cot Co peak to visit the tomb of King Dinh Tien Hoang and get an impressive view over the temples and surrounding villages.
Open every day from 7 am to 5 pm – 20.000 VND per person entrance fee.
Go to Bai Dinh Pagoda
The Bai Dinh Pagoda is a brand new complex of temples (2010) and is quite impressive, probably one of the biggest pagodas in Vietnam and a top pilgrimage destination for Buddhists in the country. Visiting it is one of the best things to do in Ninh Binh.
Built on three levels, you’ll have to climb many steps to reach the top, the view from up there is breathtaking, go in the early morning for a misty vibe. At the bottom, you will find the old Bai Dinh temple, located in a series of small caves on the mountainside.
Inside the temples look for the huge statues and the thousands of small Buddhas.
Discover Phat Diem Cathedral
30 km east of Ninh Binh City, this huge cathedral is worth a stop if you have time. Built in 1891, the architecture is a mix of Catholic churches and Vietnamese pagodas, the outside as well as the inside is quite surprising and intriguing.
Walk around Tam Coc
The best way to enjoy the natural wonders of Ninh Binh is simply to take a walk around, exit the main roads, take the smaller paths and you’ll see all that the region has to offer. You’ll also pass through some local villages and witness the daily life of its inhabitants.
You can also rent a motorbike or a bicycle and hire a local guide to take you around and let you in on the local culture and ways of life.
Van Long Wetland Nature Reserve
Another amazing place to go on a boat tour near Ninh Binh, the Van Long Wetland Nature Reserve is home to the endangered Delacour’s langur monkeys and many birds such as the rare black-faced spoonbill, the cotton pygmy goose, and the white-browed crake. Row around the lake and river, trying to spot wildlife, visiting caves, and taking in the peaceful scenery.
It’s a great place for nature and wildlife lovers who want to go off the beaten path.
The boat tour lasts around 90 minutes, the entrance fee is 20,000VND per person and the boat is 60,000VND for 2 persons.
Ma Tien Cave and Dong Thai Lake
Dong Thai Lake is the biggest lake in the Ninh Binh province and hides the beautiful and little-known Ma Tien Cave. A 20-minute boat ride will take you to the entrance of the cave system. At the bottom, you will find a small mausoleum and 100 steps along the mountainside that you will have to climb to reach the cave.
Tuyet Tinh Coc
Also known as Am Tien Cave, Tuyet Tinh Coc is a hidden valley featuring lakes, mountains, and temples near Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, accessible only through a tunnel.
There you can walk around the Ao Giai Lake surrounded by mountains and filled with lotus flowers. On the left side of the lake, you will find the Am Tien Cave and Pagoda featuring the history of Queen Duong Van Nga who moved there and entered the convent later in her life.
You can also hike up to the wall gate to get a panoramic view of the surroundings and the lake.
Mua Cave and Viewpoint
A must-see in Ninh Binh, Mua Cave (Hang Múa on Google Maps) offers a spectacular view over the valley, its limestone formations, and the river below.
After the entrance, you can either head on the left path to visit the cave, or go straight up to the viewpoint. It takes around 15 minutes to reach the top (500 steps). Towards the middle you’ll come to a fork, you can go right and visit the pagoda there, and then come back and take the other trail to reach the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva statue on dragon mountain and enjoy the view up the mountain.
Mua cave is open every day from 6 am to 7 pm. The entrance fee is 100,000 VND. It is worth visiting towards sunrise or sunset for even more spectacular views (and amazing pictures!).
Bich Dong Pagoda
Not far from Mua Cave, you will find the peaceful Bich Dong Pagoda built during the 15th century.
After crossing a small bridge, you will reach the gate of the temple and discover 3 different levels built into the cliffs with steep paths leading to each pagoda. At the top, you will be rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view.
The entrance is free but if you park there, you will have to pay.
Cuc Phuong National Park
Established in 1962, Cuc Phuong National Park is one of the most important protected areas of Vietnam and was created in order to protect local wildlife from poaching. There you can spot many birds, mammals, and reptiles.
Within the park, there are many trails, caves, and waterfalls you can visit (get a map of the HQ).
There’s also a paved road crossing the park so you can explore more of the park if you have a vehicle, You can also rent a scooter or a bicycle at the park’s HQ.
Cuc Phuong National Park entrance fee is 40,000 VND per person and can be purchased at the park’s headquarters. You can plan a day trip there or stay at one of the park’s lodges.
Make sure to pack enough water and snacks for the day as well as some repellent.
Sample some local food at Cho Bop Market
In Ninh Binh Town, you can head to the local market to try some local dishes and treats and buy some fresh produce.
Some of the local food worth trying in Ninh Binh include burnt rice or rice crust, floating cake, and Hoang Long Sweet Potato.
Shop at Van Lan
Near Tam Coc, you will find the small village of Van Lan, famous for its handicrafts and intricate embroidery patterns. If you want to shop for some traditional clothes or souvenirs, the village is worth a visit.
Where to stay in Ninh Binh
There are many options to choose from, Ninh Binh Town offers many budget options, but the city in itself has nothing to offer. Most people stay in Tam Coc village, but it gets a bit crowded… I would advise staying in one of the many guesthouses or homestays near Tam Coc with a view of the rice fields, the river, and the rock formations.
Accommodations in Ninh Binh
- Hostel: Ninh Binh Central Backpackers Hostel – plenty of common spaces to socialize, beds with privacy curtains, light, and power outlets.
- Budget: Friendly Home Hotel – small hotel featuring spacious rooms with private bath and aircon, shared kitchen and breakfast available.
- Mid-Range: SoNa Resort – beautiful resort with comfortable rooms, an outdoor pool, a garden, and a bar and room service – breakfast is included.
Accommodations in Tam Coc and Trang An
- Hostel: Green Mountain Homestay – spectacular views over the river and mountains with a beautiful garden, featuring a restaurant and a la carte breakfast, the beds have privacy curtains, light, and power outlets.
- Mid-Range: Tam Coc Wonderland Bungalow – one of the top-rated hotels in Ninh Binh, the resort features a pool with an unbeatable view, cozy, bamboo bungalows, and a free breakfast.
- Splurge-worthy: Tam Coc Garden Resort – a magical place where nature meets luxury, the rooms and settings are gorgeous, with all the comfort, amenities, and services you can expect from a 5-star hotel.
How to Get To Ninh Binh
If you are wondering how to get to Ninh Binh from Hanoi, it’s actually pretty easy and fast.
While there is no airport in Ninh Binh, you can easily get there from most major cities in Vietnam.
The closest airport near Ninh Binh is the Hanoi International Airport. To get from Hanoi to Ninh Binh, you can take a bus or book a private transfer.
The journey from Hanoi to Ninh Binh takes around 2 hours depending on traffic.
The buses from Hanoi to Ninh Binh leave from the Giap Bat station and the ticket costs around 70,000 VND. Some bus companies also offer pick-up in Hanoi and drop-off in Tam Coc for around 235,000 VND.
You can also take the train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh for 115,000 VND.
Day Tour to Ninh Binh from Hanoi
If you are short on time you can take a day tour to Ninh Binh from Hanoi. You can either book a tour through a local agency (see below for options). Or go by bus and rent a scooter once in Ninh Binh (you can also rent the scooter directly in Hanoi).
If you are doing a Hanoi to Ninh Binh day trip on your own you can start with a boat tour in Tam Coc and then visit some of the sights listed above. Start early so you have time to visit more places.
Ninh Binh tours and excursions from Hanoi
- Hoa Lu, Tam Coc, Mua Cave Day Tour from Hanoi
- Ninh Binh Full-Day Tour from Hanoi (includes Hoa Lu, a boat ride, and a bicycle tour around the rice fields and the village.)
- Ninh Binh Full-Day Private Tour
Best time to visit Ninh Binh
You can visit Ninh Binh year-round – just make sure to pack an umbrella or raincoat and protective clothing for the sun. The best time to visit Ninh Binh to see the rice fields is during the months of April, May, September, and October when it’s harvest time.
Check out some of the other destinations in Vietnam you can visit:
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