1. General introduction
Ninh Binh province is around 100 Km from Hanoi city which stretches from Cuc Phuong National Park in the west to a sliver of land facing out to the Gulf of Tonkin. The province is filled with half of lime-stone Mountain and half of plain area, forming stunning landscape of fascinating grottos, striking limestone outcrop and lush rice fields. Thanks to its flat land and tourist sites within only 12Km from Ninh Binh city, tourists can reach to those sites easily by motorbike and bicycle. That's why Ninh Binh is always a great option for those who love biking or motorbike riding, as the small paths take you through green paddy fields, garden, mountains, river and lakes. The landscape in Ninh Binh province is just different to Halong bay in one element that is limestone islands emerging from the sea surface in Halong Bay while they jutting out from the river and land in Ninh Binh. Besides natural values, Ninh Binh is also well-known for its ancient history as the first imperial capital in Vietnam from 968 to 1010 under the regime of Dinh, Le and Ly dynasties.
A DAY TOUR IN NINH BINH
2. Best time to travel to Ninh Binh
With tropical monsoon climate, Ninh Binh gets dry season from November to April with cool temperature of 25 degree C in November & April, cold temperature of 18 degree C in December, January, February & March. If you love enjoying yellow rice fields, you should travel to Ninh Binh in July and October.
3.How to get to Ninh Binh
From Hanoi to Ninh Binh: From Hanoi to Ninh Binh, it is best to take care instead of train as it takes only around 2 hours – 110 Km. However, train is also an option if you want to experience and it costs only $20 usd per person. Then you will need taxi to Hanoi railway station and from Ninh Binh railway station to your hotel.
From Halong Bay to Ninh Binh and vice versa: If your Vietnam tour package to the North includes both Hanoi, Halong Bay and Ninh Binh, then you should connect Halong Bay with Ninh Binh to save driving distance as it also takes only 4 hours from Hanoi to Halong Bay or vice versa. It is much better than driving back to Hanoi and then connecting to next destinations.
Connect Ninh Binh with Halong Bay and Mai Chau Valley: Instead of taking Hanoi as a transit, should directly connect those sites with each other as it will save much of your time. Then, it can be Hanoi, Mai Chau Valley, Ninh Binh, Halong Bay, Hanoi or vice versa. It takes only around 3.5 hours (130 Km) from Mai Chau to Ninh Binh.
4. Tourist attractions in Ninh Binh
King Dinh Temple: The temple was first built in the 17th century with special architecture leaning against mountain and facing a lake. In the middle of the courtyard, there is a dragon bed with decoration of dragons, shrimps, fishes, rats, etc. The main house has 3 different parts. The first one is worshipping room. The second one is an incense burning room where local people worship 4 important mandarins under Dinh dynasty. The last and most important one is used for worshiping King Dinh Tien Hoang and his three sons. While visiting to King Dinh Temple, you will see special features like peaceful ambiance, beautiful scenery and delicate architecture.
King Le Temple: Just in walking distance from King Dinh Temple, King Le Temple where worships an excellent general under King Dinh Tien Hoang. He got a big support from the king's wife and other mandarins to take the throne and to lead the fight against China and to begin the southward expansion process. Inside the temple, there are statues of the King, his wife and his elder son who succeeded himself in power.
Thai Vi Temple: Thai Vi temple is located in a quiet place and still inside Tam Coc - Bich Dong tourist complex. The temple worships first kings of Tran Dynasty with famous generals under Tran Dynasty. This is where you will have opportunity to recall memories of a glorious reign in Vietnam history and to admire unique architecture.
Phat Diem Cathedral: Phat Diem Cathedral is a beautiful church with special architecture combined elegant features of Western churches and Vietnamese Pagodas. It took 24 years from 1875 to 1898 to finish building this cathedral as it is a wide area including a lake, a cathedral, a stone church, a Bell House and three artificial grottoes.
Tam Coc: Or Three Caves are so beautiful that they are even praised as “Halong Bay on land”. The caves are emerging out from Ngo Dong River and you will ride the boat though both 3 caves to admire their spectacular stalactites. As soon as you arrive at the Wharf, you will get on a small sampan for paddling along the river that takes around 3 Km – 2.5 hours. The 1st Cave is named Ca Cave with 127 meter long and 20 meter wide. The 2nd Cave is Hai Cave with 60 meter long and 18 meter wide. And the 3rd Cave is 50 meter long and 18 meter wide. At the end of the 3rd Cave, you will have a stopover where located a small temple that locals often pray for good luck and health. The most beautiful time to visit Tam Coc is during Mar when cotton trees having red flowers or the end of May and early June when green rice fields go together and form an endless yellow silk.
Bich Dong Pagoda: Just around 3Km driving to the East from Tam Coc pier, Bich Dong Pagoda is a nice stop that offers wonderful panoramic view and quiet ambiance. To reach to the pagodas, you have to climb up steep stone steps and it is really worth to go. The pagoda includes 3 parts that back against the mountain and have wooden architecture based on styles of Le Dynasty and Nguyen Dynasty.
Trang An Complex: Trang An Eco-tourism Complex is very near from Tam Coc but it is less touristic. The system consists of numerous caves, trees and mountains that are very beautiful. It is estimated that there are over 310 species of higher plants, many algae and fungi, in which, many of them are rare woods, valuable trees used for food and medicine. Besides that, there are about 50 species of birds, 30 species of mammals and many other species of reptiles and rare animals.
VAN LONG NATURAL RESERVE
Van Long Nature Reserve: Situated in Gia Vien District, around 90Km from Hanoi to the South, Van Long Nature Reserve is considered as a legendary land with beautiful landscape, spectacular mountain ranges creating a natural wall of lush trees. Especially, there are 32 amazing grottos within an area of 3000 hectares and each one has its own beauty. Flora and fauna system in Van Long Nature Reserve is diversified with 457 species of higher plants, in particular, 8 species was recorded in Vietnam Red List. Van Long Wetland is even called "the bay without wave" as visitors will see a flat surface like a big mirror while going on a boat.
Thung Nang – Valley of sun: Not similar to Tam Coc area that is so popular and touristic, Thung Nang is an untouched and pristine site with less human activities. The boat trip to Thung Nang lasts for 3,5 kilometers, about 2 hours and 15 minutes passing mountains, rice fields and gardens to visit the holy Voi temple that was built hundreds of years ago. Especially, there are many activities in Thang Nang that you can try like religious tours, mountain climbing and eco-tourism.
Thung Nham Bird Sanctuary: Thung Nham is becoming an appealing destination thanks to its iconic beauty, the harmony between the creativity of the locals and the natural landscapes. While cruise around Thung Nham, you can see many types of birds from normal ones like storks, herons, warblers, starlings to rare ones like flamingoes and phoenix.
Cuc Phuong National Park: If you are looking for a fresh and natural place to visit from Hanoi, Cuc Phuong is one of the most impressive national parks in Vietnam. The primary rainforest is filled with diversified fauna and flora, hot springs and caves. Besides trekking, Cuc Phuong National Park is also a good option for bird watching. If you want to have longer trek inside Cuc Phuong National Park, you can go there for 2 days 1 night and stay overnight at a homestay of Muong Ethnic people.
5. Top things to do:
Sampan riding: It is a must-do activity while traveling to Ninh Binh as you can’t enjoy the full beauty of this wetland area without a boat trip.
Religious visiting: Phat Diem Stone Cathedral and Bai Dinh Pagoda are the two most important and outstanding religious buildings in Ninh Binh that should be added on your trip if you are planning to go there for 2-days 1-night.
Biking tour: Biking is a must-do activity while traveling to Ninh Binh as it is one of the best ways to enjoy quiet and peaceful ambiance as well as to enjoy pristine landscapes. It is so easy to hire a bike at your hotel or nearby shops and it costs only around 5 – 7 usd per day.
Trekking: Trekking is not obliged but it is a good option for those who love nature and Cuc Phuong National Park is a great place for trekking.
6. Tour options in Ninh Binh
1 day tour to Hoa Lu Ancient Capital & Tam Coc – Three Caves
1 day tour to Hoa Lu & Trang An
3 days 2 nights: Ninh Binh photo tour
1 day-tour to Tam Coc – Three Caves & Phat Diem Stone Cathedral
2 day-tour to Hoa Lu, Tam Coc – Three Caves & Cuc Phuong National Park
2 day-tour to Cuc Phuong National Park
7. Recommended hotels:
Emeralda Resort: Emeralda Resort is on the edge of Van Long Natural Reserve with traditional Vietnamese styles from architecture to furnishing. The facilities are still modern and luxurious but combined perfectly with ancient features. Emeralda Resort is surely the best option while traveling to Ninh Binh.
Legend Ninh Binh Hotel: Located right at the city center, Legend Ninh Binh Hotel is modern with eleven floors and 108 comfortable rooms. It is a great option if Emeralda Resort is over your budget and you don’t want to experience homestay in Ninh Binh. It is also a good stopover for continuing your discovery to the South.
Homestay in Ninh Binh: Countryside areas in Ninh Binh are so beautiful and charming that spending a night at a homestay in Ninh Binh is really a great idea for relaxing and cycling around the most scenic terrain.
8. Other tips
Combine Ninh Binh tour with Halong Bay: If your trip includes both Ninh Binh and Halong Bay, you should connect them with each other to save time or you will have to spend one night in Hanoi to connect those two sites.
Less touristic place: If you are looking for a trip staying away from the crowds, you should not choose Tam Coc as it is the most popular sites for both domestic and international tourists. While it is crowded, it will be very noisy and it seems to be much affected to other visitors.
Tip for boat rider: Tip is of course not obliged but you can see the hard working of your boat rider as well as the small money that they get from the local management. Then small tips like 2 or 3 usd per person are highly recommended as they encourage them a lot and make them very happy.
Photos are not free: While traveling to many sites in Ninh Binh province, you should be aware of being captured by a professional camera as it is not free. They are your photo hunters and will then ask you to pay for those pictures.