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The Ultimate Guide To Ninh Binh

Heard of Halong Bay? Then you have to learn about the other bottom corner of the Red River Delta Triangle, Ninh Binh!

Similarly, while Halong Bay is famous for its standing limestones on water, Ninh Binh is often referred to as “Halong Bay on land”. This is due to its numerous natural caves, lakes and mountains also above water, enabling the attraction to become one of Vietnam’s proud World Heritages. Things on-trend always go hand in-hand. Follow this ultimate guide to discover about Ninh Binh to plan your trip to both of them!

When to visit Ninh Binh?

Climate and weather
Ninh Binh weather

Ninh Binh’s climate is typically humid subtropical with hot and rainy summers, contrasting its dry cold winters. Springs and autumns are not as defined, however.

Frequent travellers advice to visit Ninh Binh during the period: January to March in the lunar calendar when it is not too cold. It usually lasts from around the end of January to the beginning of April in the solar calendar. This is the best time to feast your eyes on the party of colors of blooming flowers and smell the fresh grown trees and plants. Together with sightseeing, visitors can also take a stroll in pagoda grounds and pray for good health and success for the New Year. However, do keep in mind that this is also the most crowded time of the year due to waves of people coming for the festivals and pagodas.

Aside from springtime, summer and fall are also good choices for your trip to Ninh Binh. Specifically, the end of May and beginning of June and September and October is when the paddy fields change into a pleasing gold yellow gown as they become ripe and ready to be harvested. The weather is no longer cold, but more breezy and cool, perfect for traveling.

Other than those aforementioned, October, November and December can be ideal for travellers who prefer solitude and peaceful environment. Due to colder weather, the destination is not as touristy as usual, however, is just as alluring. After all, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

How to get there?

Flight

Sadly, Ninh Binh does not have an airport right now. However, Trang An Airport project of the province is expected to be finished in 2020. No worries! In the meantime, you can always travel to Hanoi, then use other means of transportation to reach Ninh Binh.

Train

You can take a train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh at any time during the day (operating from 6 AM to 8:10 PM). Prices range from 80,000 VND to 190,000 VND ($3.5 – $8)

Bus/Minivan

Taking a bus is also an option. The bus will pick up passengers at designated places, the cost of which starts from 150,000 VND ($6.5).

Motorcycle

Rent a motorcycle and be on your way! You can visit several attractions along the way as well.
Otherwise, contact a local travel agency for ease of mind on planning and travelling!

How to get around?

Bus

Local buses are available for easy and cheap transportation around the city. However, it may be rather difficult for foreigners to understand the routes due to the language barrier. If you intend to hop on a bus, bring a Vietnamese friend or just ask around!

Motorcycle

As aforementioned, renting a local motorbike is no hard task. It is allegedly more liberating and much faster to get around. However, the possibility does not end there. This is the best way to explore Ninh Binh as it takes sightseeing up a good notch. Cool wind brushes against your face. Magnificent sights. Mesmerizing colours. It will be worth every penny you spend on renting the motorbike.

Do keep in mind to rent a motorcycle that is below 150cc if you do not have a license. Otherwise, apply for an international driver license! In addition, check it well before hopping on in case it has some technical issues, or just a simple lack of petrol. Fill the tank because it is difficult to get access to a gas station on the way.

Price ranges from 120.000 – 200.000 VND a day ($5 – $9).

Bicycle

Bicycle is as good of a choice, however, is obviously a lot slower and takes more effort. Nevertheless, it is suitable for families and groups seeking for some quality time together. It can be perfect for certain attractions such as Tam Coc – Bich Dong.

Most guesthouses have tons of bicycles available for rent, costing as little as $3 for the whole day.

Otherwise, craft a plan to travel with a local travel agency for easy transport and knowledgeable guides!

Where to go in Ninh Binh?

Trang An

One cannot simply miss Trang An, a UNESCO certified World Heritage, when travelling to Ninh Binh. From the green lake, flowing streams, dripping caves, rock mountains to pondering temples and bending trees, a picturesque “Halong Bay on land” is as aesthetically pleasing as can be. Each limestone is slowly changing as time constantly shapes it.
In addition, the complex also comprises other well-known attractions.

Entrance fee (boating included):
200.000 VND/person (8.6 USD)
Child under 1m high (3.3 ft): 100.000 VND/person (4.3 USD)
Tour guide: 300.000 VND/tour (12.9 USD)

Trang An

Hoa Lu Ancient Capital

Historical sites are a notable part of tourism, especially when travelling to a different country and/or culture. Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, a UNESCO Cultural Heritage, opens the door to the earliest time of Vietnam as it had witnessed numerous historical events itself. In addition, Hoa Lu is also the home of ancient artefacts and many remarkable “firsts” of Vietnam. For example, it was the first capital of Vietnamese feudalism.

To this day, its architecture, structure and artistic designs are still relatively preserved and constantly restored. The entire complex comprises three different zones. The special protection zone is where the temples of the two kings Dinh Tien Hoang and Le Dai Hanh reside, which are some of the most frequently visited attractions. The buffer zone includes more natural sceneries such as An Tiem cave, as well as more pagodas, temples and palaces.

Entrance fee: 20.000 VND/person (0.86 USD)

Bai Dinh Pagoda Complex

It would be a shame to miss Bai Dinh Pagoda if you are intrigued by spiritual tourism. Regardless, the monument has obtained a fairly large number of World Records to the point where it is even referred to as “The Temple of Records”. Hence, that in itself should be interesting enough to naturally draw thousands of travellers. Although Ninh Binh has newly built many temples, structures and statues to form the Complex we see today, the original Bai Dinh Pagoda still holds important cultural and historical values that cannot be replaced, especially in the Dinh era.

Since this is a sacred place, though no rule is enforced, it is never too much to dress respectfully. However, do consider wearing something that is comfortable and easy to move as a lot of walking would be involved; or else, it will be too much in this case.

Electric car (oneway): 30.000 VND/person (1.29 USD)
Entrance fee for Stupa: 50.000 VND/person (2.15 USD)
Tour guide: 300.000 VND/tour (12.9 USD)

Tam Coc – Bich Dong

Tam Coc, meaning three caves, consists of Cả cave, Hai cave and Ba cave. Hundreds of years ago, the ocean’s wave coming one after one had formed the unusually shaved caves that we see today. Its dazzling green colour had also touched the heart of a poet, ultimately resulting in its name, Bich Dong (Green Cave).

It is inarguably one of the most popular destinations; hence, do expect crowds of local and international tourists. After all, it makes sense once you see the gorgeous green of Ngo Dong lake glistening under the sunlight. The colour of the paddy fields on the sides depends more on the time of the year you visit, which could be the warm, almost overwhelmingly yellow, or the endless vividly green. Of course, it will be a huge loss not to mention the aesthetically shaped caves and rocks, blending flawlessly with its surrounding scenic water.

Similar to Trang An, you can take the boat to onboard a 2-hour “voyage” streaming under the low caves and above still water. Or, some visitors prefer riding a bike to freely explore on their feet.

Do be mindful of scammers. Since it is particularly more crowded than other areas, more trouble is swamping around.

Entrance fee: 120.000 VND/person (5.16 USD)
Child under 140cm (4 ft 7): 60.000 VND/person (2.58 USD)
Boating: 150.000 VND/boat (6.45 USD)
Vietnamese: 4 people/boat
Foreigners: 2 people/boat
Children under 3 years old: free

Tam Coc

Thung Nham Bird Garden

Despite being fairly new to the game (opened since 2017), Thung Nham Bird Garden knows how to sneak into people’s hearts. Words travel far. The destination is slowly climbing the ladder of fame. As much as birds are involved, Ninh Binh has done an amazing job at building up the garden for commercial purpose with minimal disturbance to the birds’ natural habitats.

Visitors usually come to watch the birds either at the end of the day when they fly back home, around 5 pm (time may vary in different seasons (maybe earlier in winter)), or early in the morning when they have not left. Worry not about the awkward time, there are plenty of greens and sights to see in the ecological area for you to kill some time. Since a lot of walking is involved, be sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothes.

Entrance fee: 100.000 VND/person (4.3 USD)
Bird Garden: 30.000 VND/person (1.29 USD)
Bụt Cave: 30.000 VND/person (1.29 USD)

Cuc Phuong National Park

It is never too much nature. If you prefer a unique nature walk, indulge yourself in the first national park of Vietnam, established nearly 60 years ago. This is the home to a large number of endangered species of animals and plants, ones that you may only spot once in a blue moon.
Though dry, winter is quite cold and severe; hence, guests generally avoid visiting during the period from November to January. February to April is the best time to observe the beautiful rare birds. Another option is butterfly sighting in late April and early May. The marvellous flying colours and patterns fluttering under the sunlight will surely make your whole trip. However, do keep in mind that around this time, the rainy season has already started. Therefore, make sure to keep an eye on the weather forecast before making plans.

Entrance fee:
Adult: 60.000 VND/person (2.58 USD)
Child: 10.000 VND/person (0.43 USD)

Cuc Phuong national park

Hang Mua

This cave used to be where Tran King came to watch singing, dancing (múa) and entertainment performed by beautiful women. It is located under Mua mountain, which most tourists often climb up after visiting the cave below. Though challenging, 500 steps up the stiff hill will be worth the panoramic view over all of Tam Coc.

Entrance fee: 100.000 VND/person (4.3 USD)

Phat Diem Cathedral

This stunning stone monument could be worth your visit with its interesting architecture integrating the Western church look with more traditionally Vietnamese religious structural elements. The building reflects the influence of Catholicism in Vietnam and how it worked its way around existing beliefs of the people.

Phat Diem Cathedral

Dich Long Cave and Pagoda

With fascinating architecture accompanied by the religious and historical values, the relic has survived centuries.

Van Long Wetland Nature Reserve

The whole reserve is a splendidly drawn picture by mother nature and is often lovingly called a “waveless bay”. This is due to the fact that when rowing, not even a tiny wave can be spotted.Imagine Van Long with water as clean as can be, green limestone mountains standing against the blue sky stretching to the horizon.

Moreover, this is one of the locations in the world where most of the few packs of Delacour’s langurs still reside (the other areas are also in Northern Vietnam). However, since they often hide away from humans in caves and trees, visitors cannot casually spot them. It is still an interesting fact, nonetheless.

Entrance fee: 20.000 VND (0.86 USD)
Boating: 60.000 VND/boat/2 people (2.58 USD)

Van Long Wetland Nature Reserve

Ngoa Long Mountain

It is fairly common knowledge among Vietnamese that it is a waste if one does not climb the Ngoa Long mountain – Hang Mua when in Ninh Binh. Turns out it is an even hotter attraction than Hang Mua itself, which lies at the end of the road by a small lake. After a 20-minute climb, gaze upon the masterpiece of the whole complex of Tam Coc – Bich Dong – Hang Mua. The panoramic view of the endless green rice field is just as breathtakingly stunning as when it is golden ripe. Put it in your bucket list and remember to make it come true.

Am Tien Cave

This fairytale-like land is actually not put into commercial use. 400m from the East gate – King Dinh Tien Hoang Temple in Trang An direction, this was actually utilized by the king as the dungeon to punish criminals. Despite its dark past, the untouched peaceful scenery seems to suggest otherwise. Away from the hustle and bustle of popular attractions, the cave is 205 steps from the ground up on the mountain with a cool climate all year around. It is truly the definition of the aesthetic “majestic”.

What to do in Ninh Binh?

Top activities

Riding

Exploring Ninh Binh by motorbike or a simple bicycle is a rather popular choice. Be it dropping by a popular attraction, sneaking into a paddy field, or discovering untouched spots, fulfil your wanderlust spirit as the wind runs through your hair. This is also a great option for travelling with friends or family.

ninh binh bicycle

Climbing

Lack of mountains is no Ninh Binh’s problem. To get a panoramic view of the whole area, one usually has to climb a few hundreds of stairs. Gear up and climb! Only those worthy are granted the ability to overlook the breathtaking view.

Boating

Boating is probably the most popular activities in Ninh Binh due to its scenic landscape on the sides. Since Tam Coc – Bich Dong is more crowded in terms of tourists, try more quiet and peaceful Trang An instead! Though some may prefer one over the other, they both look spectacular.

Ninh Binh boating

Reliving and Praying

Being an ancient capital of Vietnam, many relics in Ninh Binh hold high historical values and captivating stories that you may not want to meet. Reliving those moments while wandering under the fascinating sophisticated antique architecture will surely be “a walk to remember”.

Various pagoda complexes are also highly suitable for your religious travel.

What to eat in Ninh Binh

Specialities

Scorched Rice

In Ninh Binh, the rice at the bottom of the pot is never wasted. People continue to cook that layer of “bottom rice” until it becomes crispy and somewhat sunset-coloured. But it does not stop there. they then bring it to dry up, soak and fry in oil. Scorched rice can be eaten with fish sauce, fried onion or yummy meat floss. If you do not have the time to try it at a local restaurant, buy it as a souvenir to bring back home!

Goat dishes

One cannot simply miss goat dishes here. Good wine, scorched rice and goat meat. That is how you know you are in Ninh Binh. Various dishes involving the use of goat meat is available for you to choose from. Braised, grilled, stir-fried, hot pot, you name it.

Bún Chả Quạt

Different from the popular dish of bún chả that you may or may not have tried, bún chả quạt in Ninh Binh’s “chả” (meat) is a bit different in terms of texture. Instead of using cut slices of meat or small balls, they grill large meat patties. They then place them on plates rather than soaking them in the sweet and sour dipping sauce. However, the way to eat is no different from normal bún chả!

Perch Bánh đa Noodle soup

How can one ever get sick of noodles? Is it pho? Is it banh da (dry pancake)? Give banh da noodle soup a try! Cooked with Ninh Binh’s signature perch, the tasty soup and sweet fish meat may become your new comfort/hangover food.

Ant Egg Sticky Rice

Wait, what?! Well, it is Vietnam. Everything is possible. The eggs are of brown ants, majority of which reside in limestone mountains in Nho Quan district, Ninh Binh. However, they are not available all year around, but only in early spring (around March and early April). Eggs are properly washed before put on hot sticky rice together with fried onion. The wonderful texture and flavour will surely make you weak in the knees. Or else, you may still swoon by the sight of it if you are not familiar with exotic cuisines. Have courage!

Mountain Snails

Level up and challenge yourself with this seemingly intimidating ingredient – mountain snails. In fact, it is not popular among tourists at all. Immerse yourself into the local culture with a taste of these snails that can only be found in certain areas (Tam Điệp, Yên Mô, Nho Quan) in rainy seasons. Its unforgettable tough, yet crunchy texture is perfect for eating on its own with sweet and sour dipping sauce or pairing with noodles.

Eel Glass Noodle

Who are we? Travellers! What do we want? More noodle! Say no more. Eel glass noodle can top your list any day for its distinguishing flavour.