Only a few hours from Hanoi but a world away in terms of natural beauty, you’re guaranteed to fall in love with all the incredible things to do in Ninh Binh.
The region around Ninh Binh is known for the huge limestone cliffs that protrude from the ground, giving it the nickname ‘Ha Long Bay on Land.’
These cliffs draw your attention because unlike a traditional mountain range where the peaks are connected, each one stands individually creating a dramatic landscape whilst green paddy fields and rivers that flow between them.
Ninh Binh city itself is quite typical for Vietnam, with local restaurants spilling over into the streets and bars serving up ice-cold Bia Hoi, the region’s most popular draft beer.
However, it’s the surrounding countryside that makes Ninh Binh a must-visit destination on any Vietnam itinerary.
In this guide, you’ll discover the best things to do in Ninh Binh, Vietnam and its surroundings, along with helpful tips on where to stay and a few restaurants to try out.
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One of the most popular things to do in Ninh Binh is to take a boat ride. You have two main options when it comes to boat tours in Ninh Binh, both are just as beautiful and highly recommended.
However, if you only have time for one, make it this one.
On a Tam Coc boat ride, your guide will harmoniously row you down the Ngo Dong river, that winds through luscious green rice paddies where you’ll witness locals harvesting the fields and ploughing in the traditional way with a buffalo.
On either side of the river, those huge limestone cliffs soar high above.
The rowers here practice an interesting technique where they row with their feet, ask nicely and you might get to try for yourself.
The alternative to a Tam Coc boat ride is to visit Trang An. Here, you’ll have an opportunity to visit caves and temples to break up your journey.
Some of the caves have barely enough headroom so you’ll have to duck down as you sail through on your boat ride.
On this boat trip, you’ll pay a visit to Skull Island, a filming location used in the King Kong film.
Some of the props from the film have been recreated for a novelty tourist attraction but it’s the stunning scenery that’s most impressive from the set.
There are three route options to choose between on a Trang An boat ride, each with a different combination of caves and temples so you can tailor the trip to your taste.
Located near Tam Coc, Bich Dong is an interesting Pagoda that’s built into the base of a cliff and accessed via a small bridge across the lotus lake.
There are three levels to the Bich Dong Pagoda which spiral up the side of the cliff, after the first 120 steps and you’ll reach the dark cave with interesting stalagmite formations and ancient carvings.
A further 40 steps up and you’ll reach the top level of the pagoda near the summit of the cliff. Here you’ll find several shrines and Cam Lo water pool which is said to hold ‘magic water’ that can cure disease.
You can visit the Bich Dong Pagoda any time of day and it should be free of charge but some locals may try and charge you a small fee to park any bicycles or motorbikes.
The viewpoint from the top of Mua Cave offers unrivalled views across the countryside of Ninh Binh where you can see its iconic cliffs as far as the horizon.
The climb to the top is steep but only takes around 40 minutes and is well worth the effort. A visit at sunset will reward you with the most picturesque views.
At the top are statues of a giant dragon and Quan Am, also known as the Goddess of Mercy.
Look out for the white wall that zig-zags up the path, this is known as the Great Wall of Vietnam. It definitely doesn’t live up to the size of the infamous Chinese wall but you can see the resemblance.
Ninh Binh has several delicacies that it’s known for including Com Chay (a crispy rice cake), mountain goat meat, and mountain snails. Yes, you read that correctly, mountain snails.
The Ninh Binh Mountain Snails live on the cliffs in the area and can be found from April through August.
They are unique due to feeding on medicinal plants found on these cliffs which gives them a tough and crunchy texture.
You’ll easily find a restaurant or market in the area where you can try these if you dare.
READ MORE: Plan your trip to Vietnam with our comprehensive Vietnam Travel Guide.
Bai Dinh is one of the largest Buddhist temple complexes in Southeast Asia covering 539 hectares and encompassing many different structures.
On a visit to the complex, there are two main areas to discover, the ancient Bai Dinh pagoda which is located at the base of Bai Dinh mountain, and the new Bai Dinh Pagoda which is a newly built area completed within the last few decades.
The new Bai Dinh pagoda has three temples of its own as well as a small lake, a bell tower and a 13 story stupa which you’ll probably recognise from photos of the complex.
Due to its sheer size, there are electric vehicles that help you get around this part of the complex and it has clearly been built with tourists in mind.
The ancient Bai Dinh pagoda is located at the base of Bai Dinh mountain which is a short trek from the new temple including about 300 steps.
In stark contrast to the new pagoda, this temple is over 1,000 years old and is a site of historical significance. It is home to two caves and was originally founded in the 11th century after a Buddhist Monk discovered herbal plants in the area.
Hoa Lu was the capital of Dai Co Viet, the kingdom which predates Vietnam, in the 10th and 11th centuries. The city was strategically placed near Ninh Binh under natural protection from the large cliffs that would be inaccessible to enemy soldiers.
The city did not age well so most of what you’ll see today is a reconstruction that was built in the 17th century.
Some sections of the original city walls have been excavated, with archaeologists suggesting that they had originally been built by inhabitants using just wood and mud.
The city contains several temples and statues that stand in beautifully created parks. It’s worth investing in a guided tour of the city as hearing the history and stories will really bring the experience to life.
The combination of little traffic and flat roads make Ninh Binh the perfect place to get out and enjoy the scenery by bicycle.
Most hotels or guest houses will rent out bicycles or you’ll be able to find a local rental company with ease.
Many of the attractions on this list of things to do in Ninh Binh are accessible by bike and navigating between them is super easy.
A suggested itinerary for a cycle route would be to start from Bich Dong Pagoda, then visit the viewpoint at Hang Mua cave, head over to Trang An for a boat tour and finish your journey at Hoa Lu ancient city.
This itinerary should take you one full day allowing a few hours for the boat ride.
Vietnam’s very first national park, Cuc Phuong, is just a short journey from Ninh Binh which makes for an excellent full-day or half-day trip.
The park is best visited by renting a scooter or motorbike as it is located about 40 minutes away and public transport is scarce. Here are some of the things you can do at the national park:
Trekking – There are numerous trekking options at the national park with some of the longer treks requiring a guide and may include an overnight stay. For those amateur hikers among us (myself included), the trek to the 1,000-year-old tree is very popular.
This will take about 2-3 hours for a round trip where you’ll discover a mighty 45m tall tree that has been dominating the jungle for over a millennium, with a 5m diameter.
On this trek, you’ll also find Son Cung Cave with some interesting formations inside.
Botanical Garden – The botanical garden was built in 1985 to help preserve genetic resources and rare plants including over 30 highly endangered species.
Cave of Prehistoric Man – Dong Nguoi Xu Cave, also known as ‘The Cave of Prehistoric Man’, was one of the earliest discoveries of human habitation in Vietnam with excavations finding tombs and human artifacts from over 7,500 years ago.
Endangered Species Primate Centre – This centre helps rehabilitate some of Vietnam’s most endangered primates including over 100 critically endangered species of Gibbon, Langur and Lori.
Many of the animals here were confiscated from wildlife smugglers so supporting the centre is critical.
READ MORE: Be sure to add these things to do in Vietnam to your itinerary!
Also located at Cuc Phuong National Park is the Ninh Binh Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC) which rescues and preserves endangered turtles and tortoises that are at risk of being poached.
Often the turtles are cared for in captivity where they may be bred, before being released back into the wild.
The centre has experienced rapid growth and can now house up to 600 turtles from 19 different species.
On a visit to the centre, you can watch adorable turtles in the outdoor ponds or visit the underwater viewing tank.
Now that you know what to do in Ninh Binh, we want to help you make your other plans as well by helping you get there and by sharing the best accommodations and places to eat in the city.
Ninh Binh is about 2 hours south of Hanoi. The easiest way to visit Ninh Binh from Hanoi is via bus, these are easy to book from most accommodation providers in Hanoi or local tour agencies that are commonplace.
Expect to pay between 200,000 – 250,000 VND.
Travellers on a typical route from south to north in Vietnam will have stopped off at Phong Nha. There’s an overnight bus from Phong Nha to Ninh Binh that picks up around 9 pm near the Easy Tiger hostel and costs around 220,000 VND.
The journey takes about 7-8 hours so arrives in Ninh Binh very early (around 4-5 am).
I recommend you inform your accommodation provider in advance, they will be very used to this type of request and many will find somewhere for you to rest until the sun rises.
If you’re coming from further afield in the south, there is an overnight bus from Hue. This takes about 12 hours and costs in the region of 360,000 VND.
If you’d prefer a bit more comfort for this long journey, you can opt for the sleeper train which takes a similar amount of time but might help you get a bit more shut-eye than a bumpy bus ride.
A second class ticket for the Hue to Ninh Binh train costs around 575,000 VND. However, these often get booked up so you may end up paying 700,000 VND for a first-class ticket if you don’t plan ahead.
Ninh Binh, Vietnam has considerable variety in accommodations, with choices ranging from budget backpacker hostels to luxury resorts.
Some travellers opt to stay in the city when they visit Ninh Binh. However, if you can, I recommend basing yourself in the surrounding areas such as Tam Coc or Trang An, this way you can fully immerse yourself in the beauty of the area.
Here are three options for where to stay in Ninh Binh for each budget:
If you’re travelling on a budget then this homestay on the edge of Ninh Binh is the ideal place to stay.
With a choice of dorm rooms, private rooms, and bungalows there’s something for every type of traveller and the family is always happy to help with any information you need.
The spacious modern rooms and perfect view of the surrounding landscape make Eco Field Homes in Tam Coc a top choice in the area.
The staff can help you rent motorcycles at a reasonable price and will go that extra mile to ensure you are fully versed on all the great things to do in Ninh Binh and the surroundings.
If you need more luxury in your life, this 4-star hotel has everything you could ask for, complete with a pool, fitness centre, and restaurant.
For great Vietnamese food at an affordable price, I recommend Trung Tuyet near the centre of Ninh Binh.
This family-owned restaurant serves up an array of local dishes and the portions are very generous, so be prepared to leave with a full stomach.
For an authentic dining experience, check out Chinh Thu Restaurant.
This family-run restaurant has been a staple of the town for generations. It is a spacious spot that is often super busy, so be prepared to wait.
But the wait is worth it for the delicious local food, prepared in traditional ways.
If you’re looking for a cozy place to enjoy your meal with great service, then Chookies is for you.
They have an extensive menu of both Vietnamese and Western dishes so there will be something for everyone and the seating area will draw you in with comfy pillows and cushions.
I hope this guide to the best things to do in Ninh Binh has been a useful resource and wish you a great adventure.
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