Ninh Binh is known for its scenic landscape featuring fields of green rice paddies, a river running through caves and temples, and towering karst limestone mountain. It is so beautiful that it was one of my favorites on this trip.
I even requested for this stop despite the already hectic schedule. Thanks to Vietnam Wine Tours for making this happen.
I asked that we visit a lot of attractions in Ninh Binh since after doing my research, I found a lot of places in the area that I really love to see. So, the Vietnam Wine Tours squeezed a 2-day itinerary into an activity-filled “one day”. Kudos to our guide for making my request happen. We loved this day a lot and we were lucky we had a sunny day.
Ninh Binh is located in the Northern Vietnam, particularly in the south of Hanoi. In fact, Hanoi and Ninh Binh are about two hours apart.
Ninh Binh is often compared to Ha Long Bay in Northeast Vietnam. While Halong Bay features karst in the open sea, Ninh Binh has similar karst mountains inland surrounded by green rice paddies in the lower grounds.
Adding up to the scenery of the Ninh Binh province is its rivers and creeks leading to lakes, pool as well as caves and hidden pagodas and temples.
- 1 How to get there
- 2 II. How to get around Ninh Binh
- 3 Temples of Kings
- 4 Stops on Route 3 in Trang An
- 5 2.Hang Mua Peak
- 6 3.Tam Coc Boat Ride
- 7 5.Thung Nham Bird Garden
- 8 Things we missed and would love to go back to:
- 9 Where to stay:
How to get there
There are three trains bound to the south of Hanoi, namely SE5, SE7, and SE19. These are available from 9 AM, 6 PM and 8 PM.
By train, travel time from Hanoi to Ninh Binh may take two and a half hours, or more or less. Train ticket ranges from 12 USD to 15 USD, depending on the seat types.
For more details, you may check the official website of Vietnam Railways System through this link:
Hiring your own private vehicle can take about two hours, or more or less. Price of car rentals in Hanoi ranges from 60 USD to 130 USD.
As for us, we got our own private car as arranged by Vietnam Wine Tours. We were so comfortable in the car. We could use the time in the car to rest since we left Hanoi early and we were expecting to have a long day ahead.
The day before, our guide learned that we love to sing. So, our guide brought a magic sing or karaoke microphone inside the vehicle which I really loved and appreciated.
There are southbound buses from Hanoi. Drop off point can be made along the main road of Tam Coc. Travel time may take 2 to 3 hours. Fare rate of buses may cost 70,000 VND.
II. How to get around Ninh Binh
It is best to hire your own transport in Ninh Binh or if you are a fan of cycling you can rent a bike or some hotels offer free bikes so you can check that out too.
In our case, we had a rented car to tour around Ninh Binh. It was included in our tour package of 6-day in Vietnam with Vietnam Wine Tours. It was the best decision ever. Since the Vietnam Wine Tours prepared for us a full day of activities in Ninh Binh, they advised us to stay for the night so we can rest after.
III.Must See in Ninh Binh
Temples of Kings
Ninh Binh Province, particularly the Truong Yen Thuong Village, is where the ancient capital city of Vietnam lies. The Hoa Lư was established as the first seat of power of northern Vietnam by its first emperor.
Since King Dinh Tien Hoang caused the unification of Vietnam, he was well-loved and admired by his people to the point that they built a temple specially dedicated for him.
After his death without a proper successor, the second imperial dynasty emerged through Kind Dinh’s top general. Not far from the temple of the first emperor, a temple was also put to pay homage to the second emperor.
Two of the significant monuments in Hoa Lư until today, the Kings’ Temples have almost similar architectural design as they both feature three main sections. They both have areas dedicated to their community, to royal mandarins (officials) and, lastly, to the first two kings.
Aside from the statues of the two kings, you can also find areas dedicated to their parents, to their sons and daughters, and to their Queen Duong Van Nga. Queen Duong Van Nga was one of the wives of King Dinh. But, after the death of King Dinh and the rise of the second dynasty, she was married to King Le.
The Kings’ Temples are almost about 300 steps. From here, you’ll get an overlooking view to the rice paddies as well as the lake and limestone karst mountain of Trang An.
2.Trang An Grottoes
Prior to planning, I’ve learned that the Tam Coc is the most much talk about boat ride in Ninh Binh. And, then, our tour agency suggested Trang An Grottoes. It is definitely worth a visit. It was very pretty.
First thing first. You’ll need to pay an at least 200,000 VND per person as payment for the small boat cruise along the Trang An. This cruise is good for 4 persons and costs a total of 800,000 VND. You must pay for the whole fee unless you find other people to join.
We were only two actually. Luckily, two Kiwi people were able to join us so we didn’t have to pay for the whole fee of 800,000 VND. It made the trip even more amazing.
You are not required to give a tip the boatman. But if they make you happy, why not. You will be out there with them for 2 hours or so after all.
Next thing to decide about is the route to take. In Trang An, they offer three route options. The first route will go through mostly caves and then three temples. Meanwhile, Route two will be through about 3 to 4 temples. As for the Route 3, is mostly in open area but will cover going through at least 3 caves and temples.
I asked which one was less touristy and they answered the Route 2. We were supposed to go for that. But, since we were only joiners, we only ended up in Route 3 which wasn’t so bad.
The route 3, by the way, is a boat trail which opened only this year of 2018. The trail takes 2 to 3 hours. Its stops include mainly of at least 2 temples, 3 caves and the film location of the movie Kong: Skull Island.
The views during the boat ride are really pretty. You can also help the boat person paddle if you want as it can get tiring. You will be probably paddling for 2 to 3 hours.
Stops on Route 3 in Trang An
a) Trinh Temple
Trinh Temple is one of the oldest temples in Vietnam, standing 2 stories high. It is smaller though compared to the other temple in the country. It is hidden in the foot of the mountain but welcomes visitors with its over a hundred years old flowers.
b) DoT cave
We were asked to sit in the floor of the boat ’cause it has super low ceiling. I was small so it was my advantage. I couldn’t imagine how uncomfortable for taller people. I still had to move to avoid the stalactites.
When you’re here, secure your belongings ’cause waters are dripping from the ceiling of the cave. I covered my bag under an extra life jacket. It still got wet. As for my phone, I hid it in between underneath the life jacket I was wearing.
This took around 20 minutes, I think. For those claustrophobics, it might be hard. For me it was fine and I would say some excitement if you are not afraid of caves. I believe they should have helmets though.
c) May Cave
This was a chill cave, just sit down and look and go through and a lot shorter too.
d) Saint Quy Minh Emperor Temple (Suoi Tien)
This is a known place of worship of a general who one of the outstanding leaders during their fight against foreign invaders. For this, he was consecrated worship by the citizens of different places.
e) Dai Cave
The caves look almost similar. They all have stalactites to admire and watch out for.
f) Vu Lam Palace
During the Tran Dynasty, this served as the military base, perfectly hidden from the foreign invaders.
g) Kong skull island film location
Ninh Binh was one of the film locations of the movie Kong: Skull Island. Here, you can take photos of the Skull Island Village and the jetty with a remnant of a boat.
2.Hang Mua Peak
The Hang Mua Peak is a 500 steps hike. So, novice hikers can manage this hike. But, it is going to be steep. The hike may take 20 to 30 minutes.
I ruined my shoes and it was all muddy from hiking Sapa the day before this. So, I decided to use my sandals and it survived. Of course, better footwear would be better. Although paved, it’s uneven. You will make it to the top overlooking the Tam Coc Valley.
At the peak, there are 2 pagodas to see. Also, you’d find a kiosk selling drinks and ice cream.
The views from the top are incredible. We spent a good amount of time there as we really enjoyed it. Plus, of course, if you hike up you, take time to take in the view.
There might be a lot of people so you have to wait for your turn to take photos. When it was my turn, people took photos with me. It was funny.
Entrance fee is approximately 100,000 VND. There’ll be free parking space, just near the ticket counter. The hiking trail is open as early as 7 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon only.
3.Tam Coc Boat Ride
The Tam Coc is the most visited tourist attraction in Ninh Binh. It is also known as a hotspot for tourist traps. A lot of people warned us about some boatmen trying to drain money out from foreigners like stopping the boat in the middle of the tour or vendors pestering visitors to buy food or drinks for their boatmen.
But, of course, there are some good reviews saying that the place is really pretty. My friend did this and she loved it.
Like in Trang An, Tram Coc features a river running through caves and along rice paddy fields and karst mountains.
As for us, we overextended our stay in the Hang Mua Peak. We missed the Tam Coc. But, our guide agreed that the views from the higher grounds of Tam Coc and Trang An are just the same. In fact, Trang An though is even better.
The Tam Coc Boat is open at least around 8 in the morning until 5 or 6 in the afternoon. Its boat can carry at least two persons. Boat rental costs 150,000 VND. You’ll also need to pay 120,000 VND per person.
In lieu of the Tam Coc, he suggested something different which leads me to the next point Thung Nham Bird Garden.
5.Thung Nham Bird Garden
This isn’t usually mentioned in guides nor do people go here. It’s cheaper.
The trick is that you should be here either at 7 am while the birds are still active in there and at late afternoon when they’d fly back to their home. So, good thing, while Tam Coc closes at 5 in the afternoon, Thung Nham Bird Garden closes slightly later.
We got there at 5:35 PM. We were the last ones they took in. So, if you want to do Tam Coc and this garden, then schedule Tam Coc earlier so that you can make it here by 5:45 PM at the latest.
Entrance fee is 35,000 VND per person.
Our guide highly recommended this and OMG. At first, we looked at trip advisor and the reviews weren’t good. They have lots of bugs and no birds. We were discouraged and were thinking of ditching it really.
But, our guide said, “You have to experience it.” Since we were near and had time I was like, “Okay why not? I mean if this is not common- I’d love to check it out!” That’s just me.
OMG, I loved this bird park a lot. At night all sorts of birds come home to the bird park. The boat ride was probably just 20-30 minutes but it was beautiful. It was sunset— that was good. Gave more drama to it.
Then, the birds were just so beautiful to watch. It was all natural. I’d have to thank our guide (Vietnam Wine Tours) who insisted that we go. Well, not forcing but he really convinced us it was good. We were so glad we went.
The Thung Nham Bird Garden is a sanctuary of birds of different species endemic in the region. It is also a bit develop area since you can find Accommodations, dining outlets, and team building site in the area.
Things we missed and would love to go back to:
Cuc Phuong National Park – well-preserved rainforest
It is a botanical garden, a home to animals like birds and butterflies. It is also where a rescue center for endangered primates across Vietnam is located.
Prepare a 20,000 VND for tour guide fee which is mandatory.
Tam Coc Boat Ride
Although popular as a tourist trap hotspot, I’m looking forward to experiencing this side of Ninh Binh.
Biking along the Paddy Fields
I wanted to do biking along the rice paddy fields, but, had no time. Good thing, we did a similar bike tour in Hoi An.
Pagodas in Vietnam are truly something to admire. It represents their past as well as their belief.
Two of the Pagodas in Vietnam that I missed visiting but would love to go back to are Bai Dinh Pagoda and Bích Động Pagoda. Both have free entrance. But, both will need a hike.
Bích Động Pagoda is well-located on top of limestone mountains. Meanwhile, the Bai Dinh Pagoda boasts its interiors with golden Buddha.
Hiking around Thum Nham Bird Park
There are mini walks we have yet to explore but we ran out of time as it was already closing time when we got there.
Ninh Binh was really charming, someday, I would love to go back here. Maybe even with a special someone.
Where to stay:
Ninh Binh Hidden Charm Hotel & Resort
The Ninh Binh Hidden Charm Hotel and Resort is a great place to serve as your base while staying in the province. It is well-located near Tam Coc, Non Nuoc Mountain and landmarks such as Bich Dong Pagoda, and Thung Nham Bird Park Ecotourism.
The hotel suites of the Hidden Charm Hotel and Resort in Ninh Binh are very spacious compared to other hotel suites you’ll encounter. The suites can accommodate individual traveler, couples and family or group of up to 4 persons. In each suite, basically, you’ll find bathtub, walk-in closet, entertainment set, and working desk.
The Hidden Charm Hotel and Resort has two in-house restaurants. The Sunrise Restaurant serves international cuisines on their buffet table while the Golden Rice Restaurant put the spotlight on Vietnamese and other Asian dishes.
The Hidden Charm Hotel and Resort has its own garden which reflects the charm of Ninh Binh. And, they also have a huge swimming pool in the outdoor.
Tam Coc Garden
The Tam Coc Garden is strategically located near the paddy fields and surrounded by karst limestone mountain. For only a short bike ride, you can already visit the Bich Dong Pagoda from here.
The Tam Coc Garden offers bungalow type suites with rustic interior designs. The suites contain all the facilities similar to those you can find in hotels in urban areas. Their special features are courtyard bathrooms with bathtub and jasmine-scented toiletries. In addition, premium suites have a terrace from which you can get a better view of the rice paddy fields.
The Tam Coc Garden has one in-house restaurant which serves Vietnamese dishes and some few Western comfort foods. Some of the fresh ingredients come from their own organic garden.