Rice transplanting at Ninh Binh
Rice transplanting at Ninh Binh

Ninh Binh: Travel Guide, Things to Do

Ninh Binh is 120km south of Hanoi, famed for its tranquil countryside typical of northern Vietnam. While Halong Bay has karst islands sprouting out of the emerald water, Ninh Binh has karst mountains sprouting out of the sea of green rice fields. On Halong Bay, travelers take luxury junk cruises amid the islands; at Ninh Binh, they embark on rowing boat trips gliding on rivers flanked by towering mountains or take bicycle tours through the villages and rice paddies.

Besides, Hoa Lu District of Ninh Binh was the site of the capital city of Vietnam in the 10th century before it was moved to Thang Long (Hanoi nowadays). There are still two temples dedicated to the Royal Families of Vietnam in the 9th and 10th centuries at Hoa Lu, Ninh Binh.

Other tourist attractions in Ninh Binh include: Tam Coc, Trang An, Thung Nang and Van Long Nature Reserve, all of which are flooded land encircled by sublime karst mountains. For those who love to learn about the Vietnamese spiritual life, then you should visit Bich Dong Pagoda and Bai Dinh Pagoda. Bich Dong is built into a limestone mountain and Bai Dinh is the biggest pagoda in Vietnam nowadays with walls stretching over a kilometer and with thousands of statues of different sizes.

Tam Coc Ninh Binh
Tam Coc Ninh Binh

 For those travelers who love nature, wild life or trekking adventures, then Cuc Phuong National Park should not be missed. Cuc Phuong is among the best preserved national parks in Vietnam with wide biodiversity, wild life and primeval forests.

In the heart of the primeval forest of the Cuc Phuong National Park
In the heart of the primeval forest of the Cuc Phuong National Park

 There are a number of restaurants and hotels in Ninh Binh Town and at Tam Coc, most of which are of fair standard for tourists. AdventureGreen.com offers a number of adventure tours through Ninh Binh from wildlife tours, budget cultural trips, leisurely back-road bicycle tours in the idyllic countryside, hiking holidays, and rowing boat trips amid green paddy fields…

 If you have time, then we would suggest you stay in Ninh Binh for two nights to take in the bests of this backwater that has come into Vietnamese poetry. Ninh Binh is also a destination for seasoned photographers and film makers.

Bai Dinh Pagoda
Bai Dinh Pagoda

How to get to Ninh Binh and the tourist attractions in the province

1/ From Hanoi to Ninh Binh
You can take Route 1 (the old road or the new expressway) southwards to Ninh Binh City. When you are 90km south of Hanoi and 30km north of Ninh Binh City, then turn left into a small provincial road to the Van Long Nature Reserve which is 8km from Route 1. A rowing boat trip on the nature reserve takes 1-2 hours. On the trip you’ll travel your way amid imposing limestone mountains. There are quite a few birds and monkeys… that you may see on the trip.

Van Long Nature Reserve
Scenic landscape at Van Long Nature Reserve

To get to Cuc Phuong from Van Long, you continue westwards on the provincial road past Nho Quan Town, then continue further south and west to the Cuc Phuong National Park. The Cuc Phuong National Park is about 30km from the Van Long Nature Reserve. At Cuc Phuong, you can go on a tour for bird-watching, discovering the wildlife, learning about the flora and fauna of the park which takes from 1-2 days. Else you can go on a trekking tour taking further into the park which takes at least 2 days.

Road in the Cuc Phuong National Park
Road in the Cuc Phuong National Park

Cuc Phuong is the first established national park in Vietnam and among the best one with bio-diversity. The primeval forest at Cuc Phuong is among the best in Vietnam.

To continue the trip to Ninh Binh City you’ll have to get back to the Route 1, then continue further south.

From Ninh Binh to Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, you’ll take a scenic country road northwestwards for 7km to the Truong Yen Commune (Hoa Lu District). Hoa Lu is a lovely area with several encircling limestone mountains which made it a natural fortress against intrusion. Here you can visit the two temples dedicated to the 2 Royal Families of Vietnam in the 10th century and climb the Ma Yen Mountain for breathtaking views of the surroundings. The whole trip takes 1-2.5 hours.

Mountains at Hoa Lu
Mountains at Hoa Lu

From Hoa Lu to Trang An, you’ll take the lovely road at Hoa Lu southwards for 5km. The landscape is just idyllic all the way. A rowing boat trip at Trang An brings you through the unbelievably beautiful landscape with mountains, secret valleys, forests, underwater limestone caves… The rowing boat trip takes normally 2-3 hours depending on the sites you wish to visit.

Trang An Ninh Binh
Trang An Ninh Binh

Tam Coc is 8km further south of Trang An via a lovely road. Else from the center of Ninh Binh City you continue southwards, then take the first country road to your right. Via this route, Tam Coc is 8km from Ninh Binh City.

Tam Coc Ninh Binh
Cave at Tam Coc Ninh Binh

The landscape at Tam Coc is similar to Trang An. The difference are that Tam Coc is smaller and has wonderful rice fields on both sides of the river. Your photos will be more vivid with agrarian life. Should it be the rice ripening season, it is breathtaking! Also, at Trang An you’ll go in a loop while at Tam Coc you’ll travel through 3 underwater caves and travel back the same route. A rowing boat trip at Tam Coc takes 2-2.5 hours.

Bich Dong Pagoda
Bich Dong Pagoda

From Tam Coc to Bich Dong, you follow the country road at Tam Coc further west for 2km. It is lovely scenery all the way. At Bich Dong, you’ll cross a lotus flower pond on a stone bridge, then proceed to the front yard of the pagoda. From the yard you’ll climb steps through a dark cave (which is the middle pagoda – Chua Trung) to the top of the mountain where Chua Thuong (Upper Pagoda) is located. From the top, the views of the surroundings are amazing!

In between Tam Coc and Bich Dong, there is a less-visited area called Thung Nang (the Valley of Sunshine). Thung Nang is quite similar to Tam Coc except for that it is deserted, wild and nice in its own way.

Boat trip at Thung Nang
Boat trip at Thung Nang

2/From Thanh Hoa to Ninh Binh
Thanh Hoa City is south of Ninh Binh and the most convenient way is via Route 1A past the amazing landscape of mountains at Tam Diep. The road is very busy though.

Bim Son Thanh Hoa Vietnam
Road 1A at Bim Son from Thanh Hoa City to Ninh Binh City

If you come from the Pu Luong Nature Reserve (Thanh Hoa) then the best way is to proceed to Ho Chi Minh Road then turn left to head northwards. Turn right when you see the sign post showing the way to the Cuc Phuong National Park. The landscape is quite wild via this way.

Ho Chi Minh Road at Cuc Phuong, Ninh Binh
Ho Chi Minh Road at Cuc Phuong, Ninh Binh (The road is high above the ground for free movements of wild life underneath)

3/From Hoa Binh to Ninh Binh
There are 2 routes from Hoa Binh to Ninh Binh. The first route is to travel from Hoa Binh City to Luong Son Town, turn into Ho Chi Minh Road to Yen Thuy and follow the sign post to the Cuc Phuong National Park. The road is quiet and the landscape is idyllic here.

The second way to Ninh Binh from Hoa Binh is via Tan Lac: Travel southwards from Hoa Binh to Muong Khen via Route 6, turn left at Muong Khen and make it straight to the Cuc Phuong National Park. This route is a great one for cycling.

Route 6 at Tan Lac Hoa Binh near the t-junction to Ninh Binh
Route 6 at Tan Lac Hoa Binh near the t-junction to Ninh Binh

4/From Quang Ninh, Hai Phong and Thai Binh to Ninh Binh via Route 10
The Road 10 travels from Quang Ninh via Hai Phong and Thai Binh is flat and in great conditions. The landscape includes villages and vast rice fields. At Thai Binh City, you may like to stray off from the main road (turn left) and head southeastwards for the coast. You then can visit the Keo Pagoda and the seaside of Thai Binh with some low-key beaches. There are opportunities for great photographs here if you could wait for the right moments at sunrise and sunset.

Rice fields at Thai Binh Vietnam
Ricefields by Route 10 in Thai Binh