A lush emerald landscape of karst mountains and meandering rivers, Ninh Binh, Vietnam is a top destination. The best things to do in Ninh Binh – boat tours and karst hikes – encompass the scenic terrain, but the region boasts other cultural sights, too. Located south of Hanoi, the Ninh Binh Province is easy to reach by train or bus and can be conveniently toured on an organized day trip from Hanoi.
During our stay in Hanoi, we debated the best way to visit Ninh Binh. We considered taking a popular Ninh Binh day trip (like this one), but opted instead to stay in the region for a couple of days and explore the area on our own. We wanted the freedom to discover the province – riddled with hidden caves and rice paddy fields – at our own pace. However, we miscalculated a key factor…and our planned Ninh Binh itinerary completely fell apart.
Why Visit Ninh Binh, Vietnam?
On our first trip to Vietnam, we took a 2-Night Halong Bay Cruise – and were absolutely astounded by the stunning karst topography. Ninh Binh features a similar environment…but on land, rather than on the sea. Often referred to as “Halong Bay on Land,” Ninh Binh soared to the top of our must-see list on our most recent Vietnam trip.
Tam Coc, Trang An and Ninh Binh City
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 complex is comprised of several distinguished attractions, including Tam Coc Village, the Trang An Grottoes, the Bai Dinh Temple and the fortified ancient capital city of Hoa Lu. Because of the close proximity, it is possible for visitors to take in multiple attractions 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 10km west of the city.
Trang An, Ninh Binh: The Trang An Grottoes
The most dramatic and striking karts within the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex are the Trang An 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.
Pro Tip: To get from Hanoi to Tam Coc and Trang An, visitors travel first to the city of Ninh Binh. Below we provide Hanoi-Ninh Binh transport options!
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 and ancient cities.
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 to 3.5 hours (depending on route) and include a few stops at temples along the way where visitors can explore on foot.
Go on a Tam Coc Boat Ride
Similar to a Trang An boat tour, the Tam Coc River Tour navigates around rice paddy 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.
Climb to Hang Mua Peak
In the land of hundreds of karst hills, Hang Mua Ninh Binh is one to seek out – not 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 the bottom) 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 viewpoints are phenomenal.
The iconic Tam Coc Viewpoint stretches 360-degrees over the rivers, karts 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 an entrance fee into the Mua Cave Complex, which also includes ponds, cafes and a hotel.
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.
Visit Bai Dinh Pagoda
Claiming to be the largest Buddhist temple complex in Vietnam, Bai Dinh Pagoda is one of the top Ninh Binh sights. The oldest temple on the site is a mountainside temple located within karst caves. However, the rest of the complex – which consists of halls, courtyards and statues – was only recently constructed and completed in 2010.
Explore Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
Serving as the capital in the 10th and 11th centuries, the city once featured a citadel nestled among the mountains. Within the ancient city, there were palaces, temples and shrines. Today, only a few of the original structures remain, but it’s a unique glimpse into the ancient past and one of the top Ninh Binh things to see.
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. Wondering what to do in Tam Coc in the evening? Chookies Ninh Binh Beer Garden and Minh Toan Restaurant Father Cooking Restaurant both get rave reviews.
More Things To Do Ninh Binh
In addition to the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex, 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, the Cuc Phuong Park is inclusive of animal sanctuaries and hiking trails.
Thung Nham Bird Park
A bird sanctuary, Thung Nham Bird Park 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. Read more about the churches in Ninh Binh.
Trang An and Tam Coc Map
Use this link to Google Maps for our Trang An and Tam Coc, Vietnam Map online. Pro Tip: Most hotels provide Ninh Binh tourist information – including a useful Ninh Binh tourist map.
What To Do in Ninh Binh, Vietnam: Planning a Trip
When we were deciding what to see in Ninh Binh for our 2-day trip, we focused on the sights within the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex. Rated as the top Ninh Binh things to do, we included all of the noted UNESCO World Heritage sights within the complex in our 2-Day Ninh Binh itinerary. Our plan was to explore the attractions by bicycle (which were provided free of charge at our hotel…more tips on where to stay in a minute!).
Ninh Binh Itinerary: Our Ninh Binh Trip Plan
Before we set off from Hanoi, we created a 2-day Ninh Binh Itinerary that was absolutely packed with the top sights, activities and attractions. Below we outline the specific details of our original plan, which other travelers can use as an outline for their trip.
DAY 1: Ninh Binh Arrival and Trang An Exploration
Take the 9:00am train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh. Pro Tip: Book soft seats in an air-conditioned car in advance for about $7 USD online.
Arrive at the Ninh Binh Train Station around 11:30am. On arrival, either stay in Ninh Binh City for lunch (eat the local dish Com Chay – or Burned Rice – at the highly-recommended Trung Tuyet) or get a taxi direct to the hotel, Trang An Retreat (check it out!). Taxi prices can be negotiated in advance and should cost less than 200k VND. However, we negotiated with a driver that approached us as soon as we departed the train and got a fare of 120k VND. Check in to the Trang An Retreat Hotel and get settled.
Use the provided bicycles to explore the area – and bike to the Trang An boat dock at 3:45pm for a late afternoon boat ride (after all of the tour buses have left and the sun is starting to set). Take Trang An Boat Ride Route #1. The route takes about 3 hours as the rower paddles the boat through nine caves and to three temples. Each person pays a fee of 200k VND – plus a tip for the rower.
Return to the hotel after the boat ride. Enjoy an evening swim in the pool, along with a few beers. Dine at the hotel restaurant for dinner.
DAY 2: Explore Sights by Bicycle
Get up early to take advantage of the cooler morning weather. After eating breakfast at the hotel (included in the price of the stay), bike to Mua Hang Cave. Entry fee is 100k VND. Pro Tip: Ignore the hustlers who try to get you to pay to park your bicycle or motorbike and take your mode of transport through the gates for free parking.
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, hike back down and explore the caves at the base of the mountain.
Explore Tam Coc Village on bicycle 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. Head back toward the hotel for a refreshing mid-day swim and stop somewhere for lunch on the way. In the afternoon, pedal to the Bai Dinh Temple Complex. On the way back, visit the Ancient Capital of Hoa Lu. Eat dinner at one of the nearby restaurants or back at the hotel.
Ninh Binh Weather
Our master plan, however, did not account for soaring temperatures, which is exactly what we encountered when we arrived. The heat wave that had settled into the Red River Delta brought temperatures that exceeded 110-degrees Fahrenheit (43 C), with an added heat index that drove the temps into the 120s (49 C). The extreme hot weather in Ninh Binh thwarted our plans.
Pro Tip: We later learned that during the summertime (we were there in August), daily high temperatures often drift into the triple digits – which makes sightseeing by bicycle miserable. However, wintertime weather is milder (although still humid), with average high temps in the low 80s.
Our Modified Ninh Binh Travel Plan
Our first day went off without a hitch. The train was a fascinating way to see more of the countryside and our hotel was in a perfect, slightly secluded location among towering karsts. We enjoyed a mid-afternoon bike ride and were one of the last guests to arrive at the Trang An boat dock. Because no other tourists wanted to go on Route #1, we had the boat – and the surroundings – completely to ourselves. In fact, it was so surreal that was felt magical. The only sounds were the buzzing insects and the quiet rhythmic slapping of the wooden oars on the water.
Where It Went Wrong
However, on our second day, the heat was simply overbearing. Getting a later start than we anticipated – and getting turned around a few times on our bike route – it was late morning by the time we biked to our first stop, Hang Mua. We made our slow ascent to the top, bypassing the option to see the view from the lower lookout point. Along with the other sweat-drenched tourists who made it to the top, we huddled under the small bit of shade, thankful for any light breeze that floated over the mountaintop.
After buying two more large bottles of water, we set off on our bikes to explore the area around Tam Coc Village before going to Bich Dong Pagoda. Roasting under the sun, our route along a canal culminated in a dead end. As we backtracked, something on the road punctured my back tire…and it went flat.
Frustrated and melting, we decided to ditch our plans and head back to the hotel to hopefully switch out our bikes. Along the way, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant overlooking a lake, Nha Hang Que Vu, trying our best to get some reprieve from the heat). By the time we returned to the hotel, we were too hot to do anything except sit in front of our air-conditioner in the room.
We inquired about hiring a taxi to take us to the Bich Dong Pagoda or Hua Loa, but the price quoted was exorbitant. Instead, we lazed about the hotel property, popping into the pool late in the afternoon and savoring the incredible surroundings.
Had we acknowledged the heat as a possible problem on our trip to tour Ninh Binh, we would have planned differently. Rather than attempting to tour the sights on bicycle, we would have negotiated a deal for a full-day private driver in advance. We are not comfortable driving scooters in Southeast Asia, but if we were, we would have opted for a Ninh Binh Motorbike Rental instead of push pedal bikes. Furthermore, we would have more seriously considered taking a Ninh Binh day trip from Hanoi.
Ninh Binh Tour vs DIY
We typically shy away from organized tours in favor of discovering places our own. In hindsight, however, we realized that we would have likely seen more sights – in more comfortable conditions – had we booked a Ninh Binh day trip from Hanoi.
Rather than struggling to pedal push our bikes from sight-to-sight under a baking sun, on a Hanoi to Ninh Binh day trip we would have traveled in an air-conditioned bus. Furthermore, we would have been relieved of planning tasks – like how to get from Hanoi to Ninh Binh, how to get around and where to eat (which are usually things we enjoy doing…but not in hot and humid weather!). On a Ninh Binh day trip, all planning would have been done for us.
Day Trips from Hanoi to Ninh Binh
There are several tour operations that offer day trips from Hanoi to Ninh Binh, which include a Ninh Binh River Tour 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. Therefore, there are numerous trips to Ninh Binh that offer different sightseeing attractions. Travelers 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, this tour includes top sights. Participants begin with a Tam Coc boat tour through three caves then hop on a bicycle for a short Ninh Binh cycling tour through the village. After lunch at a local restaurant, the tour continues by bus to Hoa Lu Ancient Capital to see historic temples. The final stop is at Mua Cave, which includes a climbing to the top of a karst mountain for spectacular views. Reserve your seat!
Trang An Grottoes Tour plus Lunch and Bai Dinh Temple Complex
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 Vietnamese lunch, participants take a ride in a traditional sampan boat around the Trang An grottoes and then go cycling through the countryside. Find out more!
2-Day Ninh Binh Tour
Travelers who want to explore the best sights of Ninh Binh with a guide can book a 2-Day Ninh Binh trip with a tour guide. The 2-day tour from Hanoi includes the top sights, a luxury bungalow accommodation and all meals – with a special homecooked dinner by a local family. Book it now!
Hanoi to Ninh Binh: How To Get There
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. We opted to take the train to Ninh Binh for our arrival.
Bus: Hanoi-Ninh Binh
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 fom the Giap Bat Station, which is located south of Hanoi city center (so factor the taxi there into your travel costs). The Ninh Binh Bus Station is in the city center.
Pro Tip: In addition to public buses, there are tour-style buses that offer free pick up in the Old Quarter. Get the details here!
Mini Van to Ninh Binh
Another way to travel between the two cities is by mini-van transport. The ride only takes about 1.5 hours, but costs a little more than the train and bus. However, the mini-vans terminate in Tam Coc or Trang An, rather than Ninh Binh City. Reserve your seat now!
Private Driver to Ninh Binh
Travelers who want 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. That said, the price – $88 USD – is for two passengers (not per person). Find out more!
Ninh Binh to Hanoi: Getting Back to Hanoi
On our return trip, rather than taking the train from Ninh Binh to Hanoi, we opted for a private driver. We needed to get to the Hanoi Airport, so instead of taking the train from Ninh Binh to Hanoi and then a taxi to the airport, we hired a private departure transfer direct from Ninh Binh to the Hanoi Airport. Because we skirted the city, the ride cost less than the door-to-door Private Driver. Get the price and details!
Pro Tip: Traveling south? There is a train from Ninh Binh to Hue for travelers who want to continue their journey to the south. The ride takes about 11 hours and a bed in a 4-berth cabin costs as little as $35 USD.
Taxi Ninh Binh: Getting To Your Accommodations
From the Ninh Binh Station, we took a taxi to Trang An. We negotiated a price of 120k VND for our Ninh Binh-Trang An Taxi – but heard prices would be around 200k VND. We heard other travelers paying about the same for a taxi from Ninh Binh to Tam Coc.
Where To Stay in Ninh Binh, Vietnam
With tourism booming, there is 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 plan to stay, what you want to see and how you plan to get around.
Ninh Binh: Where To Stay
During our visit, we stayed at the Trang An Retreat. The boutique Ninh Binh hotel is nestled among karst mountains and features spacious, air-conditioned rooms and an outdoor pool. An included breakfast is served at the open-air restaurant – which also serves lunch and dinner. 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! Book it now!
If the rooms are all booked at Trang An Retreat, check out these other highly-rated places to stay.
Tam Coc Garden Resort Ninh Binh
Rated as one of the top 5 Best Small Hotels in Vietnam, the luxury hotel 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!
The 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 – for less than $10 USD per night. Check the rates!
Start your search for the best Ninh Binh, Vietnam hotels on Booking.com – like we do!
We Want To Know: What are your favorite things to do in Ninh Binh? Did you plan your own Ninh Binh Itinerary or did you take an organized tour? Give us your best tips and advice in the comments below!
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