Last Updated on September 13, 2020 by queenie mak
When I was researching for our three-week itinerary for Vietnam, Ninh Binh always shows up as one of the top attractions. And it couldn’t be further from the truth. Even though Ninh Binh is not as well known as other famous places in Vietnam, it has a lot of things travellers are looking for especially if you want to see the unspoiled parts of Vietnam.
Also known as “Halong Bay on Land”, Ninh Binh truly lives up to its reputation. With many limestone mountains, green rice fields, serene rivers and rural villages, Ninh Binh is truly idyllic. Visitors can enjoy activities including cycling, river cruising and visiting temples.
Some people visit this city as a side trip from Hanoi (like us), or they travelled through the Northern region either on their way to Cat Ba Island or Halong Bay while going north or on their way to Hue while going south. Because of our tight schedule, we can only visit Ninh Binh for the day and not any longer. There is so much beauty in this rural part of the country where it is not well known. Perhaps that is the precise reason why I love Ninh Binh so much because it is not overrun by tourists.
Related Post – How to spend 3 weeks in Vietnam
Why Ninh Binh is Great for a Solo Female Traveller
Ninh Binh is not as well known as other places in Northern Vietnam. However, that might be the selling point for visiting Ninh Binh. Because not that many people know about it, this region is less touristy, and the rural atmosphere remains intact. Roads are wider and with fewer cars. There’s no constant honking like the traffic in Hanoi. It is safer to ride a bike and scooter in the rural region.
As a solo female traveller, I am drawn to laidback and unspoiled places. Ninh Binh allows you to be slow down from all the hustle and bustle of city life and integrate with beautiful nature around you. This part of Vietnam is not overrun by tourists and you can really experience how locals live in the rural parts of Vietnam. And not to mention all the stunning scenery everywhere you turn to. Ninh Binh feels authentic, rural and laidback.
Visiting Ninh Binh is quite easy. You can either join an organized tour from Hanoi or venture on your own. Even though I’ve never been much of an organized tour type of person but this was a great excursion from Hanoi. It was well organized, the tour guide was funny and had many information and stories about the region.
If you have more time, definitely stay a few days in Ninh Binh to experience the serene rural life before everyone knows about this part of Vietnam. And see Trang An grottoes too!
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What to Do in Ninh Binh
Just a few hours south of Hanoi, we were shuttled to Ninh Binh via a minibus. But if you want to venture on your own, Ninh Binh is easily accessed by train and bus.
On our tour, we visited Bai Dinh Pagoda, the biggest pagoda in Southeast Asia, which is also the Buddhist Centre of Vietnam. This complex has many temples and covers 1,000 square meters. The biggest and heaviest statue in Vietnam is the bronze Buddha Sykamuni statue, which is in this complex. Visitors come here to see the 500+ Arahat statues where each figure is in a different position and has a different gesture, and visitors rub the feet of each statue for good luck.
We continued the tour to our next destination, the Ecotourism Trang An Boat Tour. Trang An has many limestone systems and natural caves. The only way to see this area is by a small rowing boat. Our guide took us on this scenic river ride and skillfully navigated through a series of limestone caves. It takes incredible skills to manoeuvre through the cave systems as the cave cavities are quite small. Throughout the two-hour boat ride, we saw many caves, temples and even wild animals like mountain goats.
If you have a few days more days, consider going to Tam Coc for a riverboat ride. This is a bit different from the one in Trang An but equally beautiful. While in Tam Coc, visit Mua Caves as well. There is a path up the limestone mountain where you can hike up to see the magnificent view of the entire area. And consider renting a scooter to scoot around Ninh Binh to see how rural Vietnam looks like.
Where to Eat in Ninh Binh
Our lunch was included in our tour. It was a buffet-style lunch that included chicken, pork, goat, fried noodles, rice and fruits.
If you have additional time in Ninh Binh, try out their specialties, including goat, eel vermicelli and cơm cháy (crispy rice cracker).
Where to Stay in Ninh Binh
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to stay in Ninh Binh. In hindsight, it would’ve been great to spend two days here. There’s always next time!
From talking to other travellers and reading travel blogs, a lot of people travel from north to south or vice versa and would stop over in Ninh Binh overnight. There are a lot of options to stay in Ninh Binh. Check out Agoda for all the different options as this is the website I always use to search for accommodations in Asia. They have the best prices, and their database has all the hotels. And if you open a profile and reserve your hotels under your profile, you can accumulate reward points and use it for future bookings.
Accommodations range from five-star luxury hotels to rustic bungalows lining the river bank and with limestone cliffs as the backdrop.
Other tours include staying in Ninh Binh overnight. Check the tour operators in Hanoi for a tour that is suitable for you.
I also read from other blog posts that if you are to stay in Ninh Binh, stay in the countryside, Tam Coc instead of Ninh Binh city. Tam Coc is closer to all the attractions, and you can explore the rural country of Vietnam.