Ninh Binh is one of my favourite places in the North. It’s less than 2 hours from Hanoi no matter what transport you take and it’s relatively cheap. We often joke that you can spend less money going to Ninh Binh than you can staying in Hanoi.
Most importantly, it’s one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve seen. So much so, that when I visited Cat Ba island and Ha Long bay I was a little underwhelmed, Ninh Binh is often referred to as the Ha Long bay, on land.
The most recent visit marked the 4th time for me, so I thought it be appropriate to create a quiz whiz of a 24 hr itinerary to inspire people to squeeze it into their Northern Vietnamese travel plans. It may not be as famous as Ha Long bay but it certainly shares equal beauty.
Whether it be train, taxi, bus or bike, there is an option that suits your needs. Going by bike is the most cost efficient, but if you’re not experienced with bikes, the train from Hanoi is only 80,000 to 180,000 vnd (less than £10) each way, bus and taxi are also a similar price. Earlier you can arrive the better, as you don’t want to waste any exploring time!
I am very bias when it comes to accommodation as I always end up staying in the same Hoalu Eco lodge home stay, I really should try somewhere new but it has everything you’d need from a homestay. I’ve been to Ninh Binh with friends to explore, to party and as a romantic getaway from crowded Hanoi. Hoalu Ecolodge offers a unique family dinner experience where everyone staying can pay 100,000 vnd for a Vietnamese buffet cooked by the owners and enjoy a lively evening with David Tran ‘badman Tran’ who encourages many rounds of rice wine shots. It’s also a great way to meet people if you’re a solo traveller.
The homestay will also help you out regarding bicycles, motorbike rentals and taxis if you need it while getting around. I recommend hiring a motorbike not only for the sheer convenience but also for nervous drivers who want to learn. Ninh Binh’s open roads are a great place for first timers.
- Trang An Grottoes boat tour
It’s a little known fact that the recent King Kong film – Skull Island, was indeed filmed around Ninh Binh and while the Trang An boat tours have been going since before the film, it’s definitely drawn in more tourists seeking out the epic scenery and mysterious caves on offer. It can be difficult to find on Google but if you put in the Vietnamese address; Khu du lich sinh thái Tràng An, it will take you to the right spot. The tour is quite long and can take up to 4 hours, depending which route you take and how long you spend at each stop. Earlier the better for this activity, as queues can be long on peak seasons and you don’t want to miss the sunset at the next stop!
- Lying Dragon mountain
Before coming to Ninh Binh last year, I had no idea what to expect. No one prepared me for the breath taking scenery I’d find at the top of Lying Dragon Mountain. After climbing the 450 steps which takes roughly 15-30 minutes depending how fit you feel, you reach the peak where you can view the expanse of green rice fields between limestone mountains on one side and a river carved between ghostly layers of mountain peaks on the other side. The best time to go is just before sunrise or sun set, not only for the cooler temperature but also to catch the peculiar hues that cast cade over the apparently translucent mountain tops.
If you’re wondering when I might mention food, there’s a restaurant at the bottom of Lying Dragon Mountain that serves decent food for an average price. I recommend the sweet and sour chicken/ tofu. I ordered noodles last time and got serious food envy.
If you only have a day to spare for Ninh Binh these are the 2 attractions above you MUST visit. If you have a whole weekend or few days free, please check out the Bai Dinh Pagoda, I didn’t include it above because personally, I grow tired of temples and pagodas and I feel like if you’re travelling through South East Asia you will have seen so many by this time. Also Bai Dinh Pagoda takes a few hours out of your day also. Ninh Binh province does have a really fascinating history though so Bai Dinh is a great place to gain more knowledge.
A few other activities worth doing if you have longer is, the bird valley, Cuc Phuong national park and trying Ninh Binh’s speciality goat dishes. There are also numerous temples and pagodas scattered around. You’ll see that Ninh Binh has a very laid back atmosphere which adds to it’s appeal as a great weekend escape for city folk alike.
If you choose to add the wondrous Ninh Binh to your Vietnam itinerary I know you’ll fall in love with it just as much as I have!