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Ninh Binh, Vietnam boasts a lush emerald landscape of karst mountains and meandering rivers. The striking natural beauty is dotted with colorful temples and tucked-away resorts, making Ninh Binh a top destination in Vietnam. The best things to do in Ninh Binh – like boat tours and karst hikes – encompass the scenic terrain, but the region boasts fascinating cultural sights that are not to be missed.
Located in Northern Vietnam to the south of Hanoi, the Ninh Binh Province is easy to reach by car, train or bus. Travelers can tour Ninh Binh on their own or via an organized day trip from Hanoi. We highlight some of the best Ninh Binh tours later in the article.
To help travelers plan a trip on their own, we outline the top Ninh Binh things to do and share insider tips and honest advice gleaned from our personal experiences.
Ninh Binh, Vietnam Itinerary
If you are wondering why you should visit Ninh Binh, Vietnam, here is your answer: The exquisite landscapes are otherworldly. Visiting Ninh Binh is like walking through a movie set…except that it’s real.
The stunning karst topography is sometimes likened to that of Halong Bay. In fact, Ninh Binh is often called “Halong Bay on Land.” While we can see why the comparisons are drawn, Ninh Binh is certainly worth visiting all on its own.
Ninh Binh Highlights: Tam Coc, Trang An, Hoa Lu
Situated on the Red River Delta, the Ninh Binh Province is highlighted by the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. The area is comprised of several distinguished attractions, including Tam Coc Village, the Trang An Grottoes, the Bai Dinh Temple and the ancient Vietnamese capital of Hoa Lu.
Because of their close proximity, it is possible for visitors to take in multiple sights in a single day. While Ninh Binh City serves as a transportation hub for the area, most of the top Ninh Binh attractions are located about 6 miles west of the city.
Trang An, Ninh Binh: The Trang An Grottoes
The most dramatic and striking karsts within the Trang An Scenic Complex are the Grottoes. In the low-lying plains, a system of rivers has carved caves in the limestone mountains creating a naturally unique environment that is home to diverse range of rare plants and exotic bird species.
Tam Coc, Ninh Binh and Bich Dong
Tam Coc, Vietnam is a small village and a popular tourist destination within the Ninh Binh Province. Top Ninh Binh Tam Coc sights include a series of caves and Bich Dong – an ancient mountaintop pagoda complex.
7 BEST THINGS TO DO IN NINH BINH, VIETNAM
The best things to do in Ninh Binh are all situated within epic natural landscapes. Attractions vary from untouched nature to ornate temples to ancient cities.
Save, Pin or Bookmark our Ninh Binh Travel Guide to plan your trip to Vietnam!
#1 Take a Trang An Boat Tour
Taking a Trang An boat ride is one of the top Ninh Binh, Vietnam things to do. Visitors can choose from three different routes that loop around the hills and through Ninh Binh caves. The wooden boats, which accommodate four passengers, are rowed by local women. The boat tours last between 2.5 and 3.5 hours (depending on route) and include a few stops at temples along the way where you can explore on foot.
Travel Tip: Take the Trang An Boat trip in the late afternoon – after the tour buses have departed – and you will likely have some solitude, which is nothing short of magical.
#2 Go on a Tam Coc Boat Ride
Similar to a Trang An boat tour, the Tam Coc River Tour navigates around rice fields and through three Tam Coc Caves. The wooden boats, which accommodate two tourists per boat, are maneuvered by rowers who often use their feet, rather than hands. The boat rides last about 1.5 hours – and are out-and-back, rather than in a loop.
Travel Tip: Choose between the Trang An Boat Ride or Tam Coc Boat Tour. For two people traveling together, the price is about the same and both boat tours travel through stunning surroundings.
#3 Climb to Hang Mua Peak
In the land of hundreds of karst hills, Hang Mua Ninh Binh is one to seek out – not only for its particular beauty, but for the view from the top. The Hang Mua Karst Mountain (also called Hang Mua Cave Ninh Binh for the cave at it’s base) is topped by two temples that can be reached via a 500+ step staircase. Not an easy hike – especially in the heat of the day – the panoramic views of the surrounding nature reserve are phenomenal.
The iconic Tam Coc Viewpoint stretches 360-degrees over the rivers, karsts and plains – and is one of the best places to visit in Ninh Binh to get an elevated view of the landscape.
Visitors can choose to go to one or both of the temples – but the one on the left side is much higher and has a stone dragon carving at the top. There is a small entrance fee into the Mua Cave Complex, which also includes ponds, cafes and a hotel.
Travel Tip: There is little (as in no) shade on the route to the summit. Make sure you bring plenty of water.
#4 Visit Bich Dong Pagoda
The three-level Bich Dong Pagoda is a mountainside complex that includes a cave temple. From the Lower Pagoda, visitors climb about 100 steps to the Middle Pagoda – and then about another 70 steps to reach the Upper Pagoda housed in a cave.
Travel Tip: There is no fee to enter the Bich Dong Pagoda. It’s one of the best free things to do in Ninh Binh, Vietnam!
#5 Tour Bai Dinh Pagoda
Claiming to be the largest Buddhist temple complex in Vietnam, Bai Dinh Pagoda is one of the top Ninh Binh sights and a popular pilgrimage site.
The oldest temple on the site is the mountainside location within karst caves – and it takes a little effort to get there. However, the rest of the compound – which consists of halls, courtyards and statues – was completed in 2010.
Travel Tip: A shuttle bus helps to transport visitors within the complex, but you will need to purchase the entry/bus combo ticket at the entrance.
#6 Explore Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
Serving as the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries, the Hoa Lu Ancient City once featured a citadel nestled among the mountains. Within the city, there were palaces, temples and shrines.
Today, only a few of the original structures remain, but it’s a unique glimpse into the historic past and one of the top Ninh Binh things to see.
Travel Tip: Consider hiring a guide to help better explain the history of Hoa Lu.
#7 Visit Tam Coc Village
The Village of Tam Coc is a small town dedicated mostly to tourists visiting the Ninh Binh region, but there are a few hidden temples and a local market, too. The village is best toured on bicycle.
Travel Tip: Wondering what to do in Tam Coc in the evening? Chookies Ninh Binh Beer Garden and Minh Toan Father Cooking Restaurant are top picks.
More Things To See in Ninh Binh, Vietnam
In addition to the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex that Ninh Binh is so famous for, there are a few more things to do in Ninh Binh, Vietnam and the surroundings!
Cuc Phuong Ninh Binh National Park
The oldest national park in Vietnam, Cuc Phuong National Park, was established in 1962. Featuring tropical forests and an abundance of wildlife, Cuc Phuong Park is inclusive of animal sanctuaries and hiking trails.
Thung Nham Bird Park
A bird sanctuary, Thung Nham is home to thousands of birds of more than 40 different species. Within the park, visitors can explore numerous natural caves, as well.
Phat Diem Cathedral
Located southeast of Ninh Binh City, the Phat Diem Church is one of the most unique churches in Vietnam. Built in 1892, the church features a blend of classic Vietnamese and European architecture.
Trang An and Tam Coc, Ninh Binh Map
Use this Google Map for an interactive version of our Ninh Binh Trang An and Tam Coc, Vietnam Map of attractions below.
Pro Tip: Most hotels provide Ninh Binh tourist information – including a useful Ninh Binh tourist map!
What To Do on a Ninh Binh, Vietnam Itinerary
We spent a lot of time debating the best way to visit Ninh Binh. We considered taking a popular Ninh Binh day trip (like this one), but opted to travel to the region on our own without a guide. We wanted the freedom to discover the province at our own pace and decided to stay in the area for a couple of days to explore.
When we were deciding what to see in Ninh Binh for our 2-day trip, we focused on the sights within the Scenic Trang An Complex. To get around Ninh Binh, we used the bicycles provided for free at our hotel (more tips on where to stay later in the article).
A Perfect Ninh Binh 2 Day Itinerary
We created a 2-day Ninh Binh Itinerary that is absolutely packed with the top sights, activities and attractions. Below we outline the specific details, which fellow travelers can use as an outline for their trip.
DAY 1: Ninh Binh Arrival and Trang An Exploration
Take the early train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh. Book the soft seats in an air-conditioned car in advance online (which should cost around $10 USD).
Arrive at the Ninh Binh Train Station before noon. Either stay in Ninh Binh City for lunch (try the local dish Com Chay – or Burned Rice – at the highly-rated Trung Tuyet) or get a taxi direct to your hotel, Trang An Retreat. Taxi prices from the station to the hotel can be negotiated and should cost around 200k VND. We haggled a bit with a driver that approached us immediately and paid120k VND.
Once checked-in, use the hotel-provided bicycles and pedal to the Trang An boat dock for a late afternoon boat ride. Take Trang An Boat Ride Route #1. The ride takes about 3 hours as you pass through nine caves and by three temples. On a late-afternoon boat trip, you will likely have missed the crowds, with the only sounds being the buzzing insects and the quiet rhythmic slapping of the wooden oars on the water. During our visit, each person pays a fee of 250k VND – plus a tip for the rower.
Return to the hotel and enjoy a relaxing evening swim in the pool, along with a cold drink. Dine at the Trang An Retreat Restaurant for dinner.
DAY 2: Explore Sights by Bicycle or Scooter
Get up early to take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures. After eating the included breakfast, bike to Mua Hang Cave. Entry fee is 100k VND. Ignore the hustlers who try to get you to pay to park your bicycle and take your bike through the gates for free parking inside.
After exploring the Mua Cave Complex, hike up the 500 steps to the viewpoint; if time (and energy) allows, go to both lookout points. After spending time at the top taking in the different viewpoints, trek back down and explore the caves at the base of the mountain.
Next, ride to Tam Coc Village and continue to Bich Dong Pagoda (free to enter). Discover the Bich Dong temple complex sights on all three levels and take in the views. Eat lunch in Tam Coc Village, then ride back toward the hotel for aircon and a refreshing swim.
Recharged, make your way to the Bai Dinh Temple Complex by taxi (tickets required; book your taxi ahead of time through the hotel). On the return, visit the Ancient Capital of Hoa Lu (entry fee). Eat dinner at one of the Hoa Lu restaurants or back at the hotel.
Ninh Binh Travel Tips
Now that you know what to see in Ninh Binh and how to plan your itinerary, we have a few more specific tips about visiting Vietnam.
Organize Your Ninh Binh, Vietnam Trip
As you begin to make plans for your trip to Vietnam, organization is key! We recommend using our Printable Travel Planner to stay on top of the details of your vacation.
Ninh Binh Weather
Ninh Binh, Vietnam can be a sweltering place to visit. During the summertime, high temperatures drift into the triple digits – which makes sightseeing by bicycle miserable.
We visited Ninh Binh in August, and a heat wave that had settled into the Red River Delta brought temperatures that exceeded 110-degrees Fahrenheit (43 C), with a heat index into the 120Fs (49 C). Clearly, that kind of heat poses a problem for your trip to Ninh Binh – especially if you plan to tour sights on bicycle.
Rather than allowing extreme hot weather in Ninh Binh to thwart your plans, consider renting scooters, hiring a private driver in advance or just booking a day trip tour from Hanoi.
That all said, the best time to visit Ninh Binh is in the winter. Wintertime weather is milder (although still humid), with average high temps in the low 80Fs.
How To Get From Hanoi To Ninh Binh
Visitors who do not take a Ninh Binh, Vietnam tour from Hanoi will have to figure out their own transport. How to get to Ninh Binh from Hanoi comes down to four main options: Train, Bus, Van and Private Driver.
Train: Hanoi-Ninh Binh
The Hanoi to Ninh Binh train takes about 2.5 hours and costs less than $10 USD. Tickets can be booked online in advance. The Ninh Binh Railway Station is located in Ninh Binh City, just south of the center.
Hanoi-Ninh Binh Bus
The public bus from Hanoi to Ninh Binh takes about 3 hours and costs less than the train. The Hanoi to Ninh Binh Bus departs from the Giap Bat Station, which is located south of Hanoi city center (so factor the price of a taxi into your travel costs). The Ninh Binh Bus Station is in the city center.
Pro Tip: In addition to public buses, there are tour coaches that offer pick up in the Hanoi Old Quarter. Get the details.
Mini Van to Ninh Binh
Another way to travel between the two cities is by mini-van. The ride takes about 2 hours, but costs about twice as much as the train or public bus. However, the mini-van drops off in Tam Coc, Hoa Lu or Trang An as well as Ninh Binh City. Reserve your seat.
Private Driver to Ninh Binh
Those who prefer door-to-door service in a private vehicle can book direct transfers from Hanoi to their hotel in Ninh Binh. As should be expected, the ride is on the pricey side. Find out more.
Getting From Ninh Binh to Hanoi
When we traveled from Ninh Binh back to Hanoi, we opted for a private driver. Since we needed to go directly to the Hanoi Airport, the cost was worth the comfort and convenience. Check the price and details.
Pro Tip: Traveling further south in Vietnam? There is a train from Ninh Binh to Hue. The ride takes about 11 hours and a bed in a 4-berth cabin costs as little as $35 USD.
Where To Stay in Ninh Binh, Vietnam
There is actually no shortage of Ninh Binh accommodation. Visitors can choose from stylish Ninh Binh resorts or stay with a local family in a Ninh Binh homestay.
Most tourists choose to stay closer to nature in either Trang An or Tam Coc, but there are options for hotels in Ninh Binh City, too. The best place to stay in Ninh Binh, Vietnam will depend on how long you’re there, what you want to see and how you plan to get around.
Trang An Retreat Ninh Binh
We stayed at Trang An Retreat, a lovely boutique Ninh Binh hotel nestled among karst mountains, featuring spacious, air-conditioned rooms and an outdoor pool. An included breakfast is served at the open-air restaurant – which also serves lunch and dinner (for a fee).
Bicycles are free for guests to use and motorbikes can be rented on site. Rooms are affordably priced at around $35 USD per night. We loved everything about our stay – from the surreal landscapes to the exceptional service. Check Rates and Availability for your Stay!
Tam Coc Garden Resort Ninh Binh
Rated as one of the top small hotels in Vietnam, the luxury property features immaculate grounds, an outdoor pool, on-site restaurant and free bike rental. Read the rave reviews!
Mua Caves Ecolodge Hotel Ninh Binh
Located at the base of Mua Cave Karst, the ecolodge features an on-site spa and outdoor pool. Visitors who want to get up early and conquer Hang Mua Peak for sunrise could not find a better location. Reserve your room!
Legend Hotel in Ninh Binh
Modern and fashionable, the Ninh Binh Legend Hotel has both an indoor and outdoor pool, as well as a gym and on-site restaurant and bar. Check availability!
Banana Tree Ninh Binh Hostel
Located in the heart of Tam Coc, the Banana Tree Hostel offers dorm room beds in a resort setting – complete with a pool. Check the rates!
Ninh Binh Tour vs DIY
We typically shy away from organized tours in favor of discovering places our own. This time, regardless of how much we loved our hotel, we would have possibly enjoyed our overall time more if we had just booked a Ninh Binh day trip from Hanoi.
Rather than struggling to pedal and push our bikes around under the baking sun (once with a flat tire!), on a Hanoi to Ninh Binh day trip we would have traveled in an air-conditioned bus. Furthermore, on a Ninh Binh day tour, all planning and organizing would have been done for us.
Day Trips from Hanoi to Ninh Binh
Nearly every tour operator offers day trips from Hanoi to Ninh Binh, which includes a boat ride and a selection of area sights. Adding the travel time to and from Hanoi makes it impossible to see all of the top sights on one-day Ninh Binh trips. Those intent on seeing it all – but with a tour – can book a 2-Day Ninh Binh Trip.
Tam Coc Tour plus Lunch and Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
One of the most popular day tours from Hanoi to Ninh Binh, you begin with a Tam Coc boat tour through three caves then hop on a bicycle for a short Ninh Binh cycling ride through the village. After lunch at a local restaurant, continue by bus to Hoa Lu Ancient Capital to see historic temples. The final stop is at Mua Cave, which includes climbing to the top of a karst mountain for spectacular views. Reserve your seat!
Trang An Grottoes Tour plus Lunch and Bai Dinh Temples
On a completely different day trip to Ninh Binh, visitors start by exploring the famous temple complex of Bai Dinh and summit a karst mountain for panoramic views. After a typical Vietnamese lunch, participants take a ride on a traditional sampan boat around the Trang An grottoes followed by cycling through the countryside. Find out more!
2-Day Ninh Binh Tour
Travelers who want to explore all the best sights of Ninh Binh with a guide can book a 2-Day Ninh Binh Trip. This tour from Hanoi includes the top attractions, luxury bungalow accommodation and all meals – with a special homecooked dinner by a local family. Book it now!
More Vietnam Travel Guides
We love Vietnam and have spent months exploring the country, from north to south. Use our detailed articles to help plan your vacation to Vietnam!
- A Perfect Hanoi Itinerary
- DIY Hanoi Walking Tours and Best Hanoi Food
- What To See in Hue
- Top Sights in Hoi An
- Best Da Nang Things To Do including Ba Na Hills
- What To Do in Ho Chi Minh City (Plus the Best Food and Craft Beer!)
- Visiting Phu Quoc Island
- What To Do in Dalat
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