Ninh Binh province in Vietnam comes in an easy to love package – rice paddies and placid river hemmed in by limestone hills, majestic caves, verdurous forest, ancient ruins, majestic temples and majestic cathedrals.
Ninh Binh is a perfect day tour from Hanoi city because it is just 2.5 – 3 hours away by bus, car or train. Youn will never run out of things to do in Ninh Binh. However, I highly recommend staying here for 2-3 days to explore more and appreciate its grandeur.
Ninh Binh Tour Package
The tour include hotel pick up and drop, a visit to the Bai Dinh Pagoda (largest pogoda in Vietnam) and boat tour around the scenic Trang An Cave Complex.
THINGS TO DO IN NINH BINH
Here are the top things to do in Ninh Binh, Vietnam. Chances are you won’t be sharing these travel experiences in Ninh Binh’s top attractions with hordes of tourists!
TAM COC AND TRANG AN BOAT TOUR
While most parts of the earth have long been buried by deposits, a large expanse of this primitive landscape is exposed in Ninh Binh. Here lies some of the country’s most ancient landscapes, looming with brooding power over jade-colored rivers and golden rice fields. Most tourists visiting Ninh Binh are beckoned by these majestic limestone mountains. In fact, one of the top things to do in Ninh Binh, Vietnam is the sampan boat ride in Tam Coc to the 3 caves. Another route of the Ninh Binh river boat tour is via Trang An which will pass through more grottoes. Take note that Tam Coc is popular to foreign tourists, while local tourists and Chinese tourists prefer Trang An, so avoiding the holidays and weekends is a good idea. Expect to be bothered by vendors selling snacks, beverages and hand-embroidered souvenirs.
RELATED POST: NINH BINH BOAT TRIP
For those who want a more quiet boat trip in Ninh Binh (read: no persistent vendors), there is a similar river boat cruise near Bich Dong Pagoda which runs for 30 minutes. I took this boat trip as recommended by my local tour guide/motorcycle driver. I like the experience, except the part where on our way back, the woman stopped the boat on the midst of the river and asked me for a tip (she can’t speak English so she wrote an amount on the steel boat using water from the river). Most of the time I give tips to drivers, boatman and tour guides on my trip, but I’ve never been asked bluntly for tips. Giving tips is not required for Ninh Binh Tours, but it is expected.
Alternatively, you can also try the boat trip between Trang An and Hoa Lu.
For these popular Ninh Binh boat tours, local women paddle the boats. Interestingly, some of the women rowers use their feet to paddle the boat especially for those boat trips in Tam Coc.
TAM COC ENTRANCE FEE: 50,000 VND per person
TAM COC BOAT FEE: 120,000 VND good for 2 pax
TRANG AN ENTRANCE FEE: 150,000 VND per person (boat fee already included), this is a good option if you are alone.
SEE BICH DONG PAGODA
Another popular attraction in Ninh Binh, Vietnam is Bich Dong Pagoda, situated about 3 kilometers away from Tam Coc wharf. This unassuming 15th century pagoda is said to be the oldest Buddhist temple in Vietnam built sometime in 1428. Bic Dong Pagoda is standing proudly on a limestone hill with a cave offering a breath-snatching view of the surrounding valley shrouded by karsts mountains.
The lower pagoda is called Have Pagoda, the middle temple is known as Trung Pagoda and the highest structure is Thuong Pagoda, behind it you can climb a steep karsts hill. Be careful on your ascent and descent as the rocks are pretty pointed.
VISIT VIETNAM’S ANCIENT CAPITAL
For the uninitiated, Ninh Binh is home to Hoa Lu, the capital of Vietnam during the 10th to 11th century. Hoa Lu is typically included in Ninh Binh Day Tours offered by travel agencies in Hanoi. Hoa Lu is situated in Truong Yen Thoung village in Hoa Lu District. Two similar temples still stand to date here – the Temple of Dinh Tien Hoang, and Temple of Le Dai Hanh.
SEE PHAT DIEM CATHEDRAL
Phat Diem Cathedral in Ninh Binh is the most beautiful cathedral in Vietnam that I’ve seen to date. It is a majestic blend of Western architectural style and Vietnamese flair and made mostly of wood and stone. Reportedly, it took 24 years to build this beauty which is now a top tourist attraction in Ninh Binh. Visiting Phat Diem should definitely be added on your list of top things to do when in Ninh Binh.
TREK CUC PHUONG NATIONAL PARK
Vietnam’s first and largest National Park established in 1960 by Ho Chi Minh. Reportedly, the President even took a break from the war to spend his time in the area. Blissfully sitting on the foothills of Annamite Mountains, Cuc Phuong National Park is a key biodiversity site in the country. It also plays an important role in the ancient history of Vietnam because aside from the prehistoric remains excavated in the caves here, part of the park was the setting of the civil war between Nguyen Hue and Than Long.
Cuc Phuong National Park was also the home of the Muong indigenous people. Park visitors can visit the Muong Village here, go rafting, trekking and see the colossal 1,000 year old Tretrameles nudiflora tree.
Near the park gate, tourists can visit the Endangered Primate Rescue Center which is home to several rehabilitated macaques, languor, gibbons and monkeys. These poor animals were bred from captivity or recovered from illegal traders. Fronting the center is another interesting building – the Turtle Conservation Center where visitors can learn about upkeep of turtles to ensure no further turtle species become extinct.
RELATED POST: CUC PHUONG NATIONAL PARK DAY TOUR
EXPLORE BAI DINH PAGODA COMPLEX
The sprawling complex of Bai Dinh Pagoda covering over 500 hectares of land is another must-see attraction in Ninh Binh. The complex houses a handful of temples such as Tam The Temple and Phap Chu Temple, Bai Dinh Temple, a gigantic Bell Tower, a man-made lake and caves.
Interestingly, Bai Dinh Pagoda has a collection of 500 Arhat statues, bronze Tham The statues and a colossal Buddha Sakyamuni statue.
WHERE TO STAY IN NINH BINH, VIETNAM
18 Phan Dinh Phung Street, Van Giang Ward, Ninh Binh City Center
CLICK HERE FOR ROOM RATES
Bai Dinh Pagoda, Gia Sinh Village, Gia Vien District
Hai Nham Hamlet, Ninh Hai Commune, Hoa Lu District, , Tam Coc – Bich Dong Caves
No 9, Tam Coc – Bich Dong Tourist Center, Tam Coc – Bich Dong Caves
Bring hats, sunglasses and sunscreen as the boat has no roof or shade. Carry water/drinks during the boat trip to avoid dehydration due to hot weather.
You are not required to give a tip. Rowers at Tam Coc and other river boat tours in Ninh Binh are notorious for asking tips. No matter how much you give them they won’t be satisfied. My rower even frowned when I gave her the tip (which she bluntly asked from me). Even other foreign tourists have experienced the same.