15 Things To Do in Ninh Binh— Nature’s Hidden Gem

Ninh Binh (Vietnamese spelling: Ninh Bình) is a province 91 km north of Hanoi in the Red River Delta Region. It’s been gaining immense popularity, especially after the movie ‘Kong: Skull Island’ made use of the natural scenery there. 

Its geography comprises mountain terrain and coastal plain, which contain rich and abundant biodiversity. Most of the best things to do in Ninh Binh revolve around nature and visiting religious sites. 

Ninh Binh has a humid subtropical climate resulting in the hot and humid season from May to September. The cold and dry season is from November to April and October is quite temperate. 

Top Things To Do in Ninh Binh

Ninh Binh was pretty much under the radar until people recently discovered its magnificent beauty. The most popular thing to do in Ninh Binh is to explore the breathtaking beauty of Trang An Landscape Complex and its religious structures. 

You can roam this UNESCO World Heritage Site by boat or motorbike, plus on foot. Hiking up to the top of Bich Dong or Hang Mua is a good physical activity and an exciting sightseeing sensation. 

Check out the nine national record breakers (or national attainments) at Bai Dinh Pagoda and the biodiversity at Van Long Nature Reserve

The easiest way to get around these destinations is by tour. However, if you want to follow your own itinerary, it’s best to rent a motorbike

View all the locations mentioned in this article

1. Best Thing to Do in Ninh Binh: Trang An Landscape Complex

Trang An Landscape Complex
[ by fiztssi from Unsplash ]

Trang An Landscape Complex (Quần thể Danh thắng Tràng An) has been a double UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2014. Its status is based upon three areas of unique cultural and natural value: Trang An Grottoes, Tam CocBich Dong, Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, and Hoa Lu Special-use Forest

This complex is a spectacle of karst peaks permeated with waterways, valleys covered in rain forests, cliffs, and a buffer zone of mostly paddy fields. Otherwise known as Halong Bay on land, the main transportation around here is by boat combined with either walking or biking at the destinations depending on the tour

You can also rent bikes at your homestay and follow your own itinerary. Remember to pack light, bring a good pair of walking shoes, adequate water, some snacks if you want, hats and sunscreen because it takes at least a day to explore the whole Complex. 

Archeological data from animal bones, shells, stone tools, corded-ware pottery, hearths, and human remains, date back 30 000 years. This area is under strict government control to ensure preservation and further research.

Protip: Make sure to bring enough cash because there are no ATMs around. If you come across hawkers and/or boat vendors, and you don’t want to buy from them, just politely say no.

2. The Most Popular Boat Ride in Ninh Binh at Trang An Grottoes 

The Most Popular Boat Ride in Ninh Binh at Trang An Grottoes
[ by trungduc3377 from Unsplash ]

Trang An Grottoes (Khu du lịch sinh thái Tràng An) is where your trip within the Complex begins. The entrance fee includes the boat ride as it’s the only way to get around this area. Life vests may cost extra.

Visitors have three boat routes to choose from, but the most highlighted is the 3-hour route which visits the key caves and ancient spiritual sites, as well as the new visitors’ favorite— the set of ‘Kong: Skull Island’. This movie set was turned into a tourist attraction after filming.

Your lady boat rower will also be your tour guide on demand with enough English to get by. A fun thing to try is rowing the boat using the extra paddle while listening to the stories about the temples of the Dinh and Tran Dynasties, and the caves.

3. Explore Away at Tam Coc – Bich Dong

Explore Away at Tam Coc-Bich Dong
[ by Tuấn Mai from Flickr ]

Tam Coc – Bich Dong (Tam Cốc – Bích Động) is the next area you can explore traveling along two fun routes by boat or on land. For this reason, the entrance fee and the boat fee are separated in this area. 

The two-hour boat ride in the water of Ngo Dong River (sông Ngô Đồng) amidst rice paddies leads you through the three caves of Tam Coc, to Bich Dong Pagoda (Chùa Bích Động), Thai Vi Temple (đền Thái Vi), Thien Huong Cave (động Thiên Hương), Tien Cave (động Tiên), and Linh Coc Pagoda (Chùa Linh Cốc). 

The land route allows for more activities including the highlighted Bich Dong Pagoda, Thung Nang Valley (Thung Nắng), Hang Mua Mountain, Thung Nham Bird Garden, Galaxy Cave, and Ancient Vietnamese Village Complex (Cổ Viên Lầu). 

4. Spiritual Hiking at Bich Dong Pagoda

Spiritual Hiking at Bich Dong Pagoda
[ by gmaart from Unsplash ]

Bich Dong (Bích Động) is the name of the mountain and the pagoda with three structures positioned along the slope. Visitors come here in seek of spiritual and natural tranquility.

You can take a boat ride through Xuyen Thuy Cave (Xuyên Thuỷ Động) through Mt. Bich Dong to the entrance to the pagoda. Then hike your way up and enjoy the view while you’re at it. The Lower Pagoda (Chùa Hạ) is at the bottom of the mountain. 

After 120 steps, you will reach the Middle Pagoda (Chùa Trung) where the back-half of the structure is fused to the mountain. This structure consists of 3 halls and is connected to the Dark Cave (hang Tối) with the bronze bell forged in 1707. 

Another 40 steps, and you’ll arrive at the Upper Pagoda (Chùa Thượng). The initial construction for Bich Dong Pagoda started in 1428, but it wasn’t until 1705 that the pagoda became what it is today. 

5. Hang Mua Mountain and the View of Tam Coc – Bich Dong

Hang Mua Mountain and the View of Tam Coc-Bich Dong
[ by jirehfoo from Unsplash ]

Mua Mountain (núi Múa) is the tall vantage point in the area allowing you to take in all the beauty of Tam Coc – Bich Dong. Hang Mua (Hang Múa) is commonly mistaken as the name of the area. Múa is the name of the mountain, and hang means cave in Vietnamese. 

From the bottom of this ecotourism area, you can enjoy a royal experience of the Tran Dynasty including a gorgeous lotus lake, the grand path of 486 steps, and mesmerizing scenery all the way to the top. There’s a small entrance fee to pay at the bottom. 

6.  Photogenic Thung Nham Bird Valley 

Photogenic Thung Nham Bird Valley
[ by Nguyenvanson01122 from CC BY-SA 4.0 ]

Thung Nham Valley is a new under-the-radar eco-tourist area in Ninh Binh with many fun things to do. Bird Park is a preserved natural habitat of a variety of bird species including many endangered, guaranteed to make for some unique photos. 

Buddha Cave (hang Bụt), Vai Gioi Cave (động Vái Giời), Mermaid Cave (động Tiên Cá), moving Banyan Tree (cây đa di chuyển), and thousand-year-old Streblus Tree (cây duối ngàn năm) are natural works of art. 

There are some interesting tales behind them that you may hear along the way. You can also pick-and-pay seasonal fruits in the valley’s gardens. 

7. Galaxy Embraced by a General

Galaxy Embraced by a General
[ image from cungphuot.info ]

Galaxy Cave (động Thiên Hà) is a natural masterpiece resembling a galaxy and is hidden in General Mountain (núi Tướng). Visitors have to follow the bottom of the mountain for 500m before reaching the entrance to the cave. 

The cave spans 700m housing a natural sky well, and growing stalactites and stalagmites depicting mythical figures in ancient tales. In the 200m dry area, archeologists found traces of ancient human life. You will need a boat ride to explore the 500m wet area within the cave.

8. Hoa Lu Ancient Capital

Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
[ by Jean-Paul Navarro from Flickr ]

Hoa Lu Ancient Capital (Cố đô Hoa Lư) is an area which contains remnants of important archeological value dating back 30 000 years. Constructions in the Capital, however, belong to the Dinh and Le Dynasties beginning in 968. 

The remaining key structures include the temples of King Đinh Tiên Hoàng and King Lê Đại Hành. Pagodas include the highlighted Bai Dinh Pagoda, and temples worshiping Vietnamese mythological figures. 

Visitors can also spend some time easy-hiking to Am Tien Cave (động Am Tiên) and visit the temple inside. The cave is located in a watery valley filled with lotus blooms during the summer.   

9. Nine National Attainments at Bai Dinh Pagoda

Nine National Attainments at Bai Dinh Pagoda
[ by mtlwebdesign from Unsplash ]

Bai Dinh Pagoda (Chùa Bái Đính) is the largest Buddhist site in the country covering 539 hectares with predominant Vietnamese architecture. There’s no entrance fee, and visitors can opt to pay for a 3.5km electric car ride from the entrance to the center of the pagoda.

Coming to this National Heritage Site in Ninh Binh, visitors can see the biggest gold plated bronze statue of Avalokiteshvara in Asia, the biggest Budai bronze statue in South-east Asia, and the tallest stupa in Asia. 

It also boasts the biggest well in Vietnam, the biggest bronze bell in Vietnam, the highest number of 500 Arhat statues forming the longest Arhat corridor in Asia of 3km, and the largest number of Bodhi trees.

Construction for the New Area began in 2003 and is 800m away from the Ancient Area with structures dating back to the Dinh Dynasty. The complex includes a Buddhist Academy along with other structures spanning 1 700 hectares. 

10. Wildlife Galore at Cuc Phuong National Park

Wildlife Galore at Cuc Phuong National Park
[ by Cung đường phượt bụi on Facebook ]

Cuc Phuong is Vietnam’s first established National Park (Vườn quốc gia Cúc Phương) 33 km away from Trang An Landscape Complex. With an ecosystem across 25 000 hectares, this national park in Ninh Binh has some of the best things to do in nature. 

Your journey starts at the entrance where you can rent safety gear, then choose your trekking/ biking routes with/without tour guides, kayak tours, daytime/ nighttime animal spotting, and educational programs at biodiversity hotspots. 

The entrance is also where you can rent tents to spend the night at the designated camping site (no fee for day camping), and book rooms in bungalows. If you’re going in groups, you can stay in a stilt-house near Mac Lake (hồ Mạc) and hold a campfire. 

Along your trek, if you want to take in the entire scenery from the tallest vantage point in Ninh Bình, take the guided route including Silver Cloud Peak (đỉnh Mây Bạc). You can also do a homestay for one or two days in local ethnic communities.

In the park, there’s also the Turtle Conservation Center, Endangered Primate Rescue Center, Save Vietnam’s Wildlife Education Center, and Botanical Garden. 

Protip: Bring a good pair of walking shoes and adequate water. Leave your luggage at the homestay. Also, bring a basic first-aid kit, including insect repellent, just in case.

11. Stone Church Extraordinaire

Stone Church Extraordinaire
[ by le sai from Flickr ]

Phat Diem Cathedral (Nhà thờ Phát Diệm) is a popular religious structure in Ninh Bình with a unique architecture style combining Vietnamese pagodas with Gothic churches. The construction of this National Heritage lasted from 1875 to 1898. 

Located about 33km from Trang An Landscape Complex, locals call this the Stone Church (Nhà thờ Đá) because it’s mostly made from stone blocks and tali wood. On the walls around are stone carvings relating to Catholicism as well as Vietnamese culture. 

Highlighted buildings include the main church, the square bell tower, and a chapel of the Virgin Mary. The chapel is made entirely out of stone which is the actual origin of the somewhat misconceived name, Stone Church

Protip: The cathedral is only 22km away from Con Noi Island (Cồn Nổi) with an untouched beach that has the potential to become a key tourist attraction.

12. Bifold Biodiversity at Van Long Nature Reserve

Bifold Biodiversity at Van Long Nature Reserve
[ by vulinhlsvn from Pixabay ]

Van Long Nature Reserve (Khu bảo tồn Vân Long) is one of the most unique areas containing two biodiverse areas of limestone forests and wetlands. It’s about 22km away from Trang An Landscape Complex.

Visitors can enjoy a boat ride over crystal-clear water and watch wildlife for around 2 hours. Your boat rower will also be your guide explaining the tales behind the caves and temples along the way. A fun thing to try is a day on a homestay joining locals in their paddy fields.

This nature reserve is home to hundreds of species of mammals, birds, flora, fauna, and insects, many of which are endangered. It’s also the largest site for research on Delacour’s langur, which is a type of monkey. 

Protip: After some quality nature-exploring, you can reward yourself with a trip to Chicken Village Hotspring (Suối nước nóng Kênh Gà) just 12km away.

13. A Literary Gathering at Non Nuoc Mountain

A Literary Gathering at Non Nuoc Mountain
[ by Trung Trần from cuongphuot.info ]

Non Nuoc Mountain (núi Non Nước) used to be the place where scholars of the 14th century gathered and composed timeless poems. One of the most famous poets concerning this mountain is Trương Hán Siêu whose temple is at the bottom of it. 

The temple along with Non Nuoc Pagoda lie within Thuy Son Park (công viên Thuý Sơn). Going up 100 steps to the top is a good physical activity, plus you get a great view of the province. 

This place is one of the two tall vantage points in the center of Ninh Bình Province. If you have time to spare, or are interested in educational things to do in Ninh Bình, check out the museum for historical, archeological, and biological displays of the province.

14. Hang Out in the Provincial Center

Hang Out in the Provincial Center
[ by Phố đi bộ Ninh Binh from Facebook ]

Ninh Bình Walking Street is a local hangout spot with leisure things to do if you’re spending the night in the provincial capital. You can walk around, grab a coffee, a quick street food bite, or do some light shopping.

During the day, in Ninh Binh city, you can visit the five caves of Ky Lan Mountain (núi Kỳ Lân), Ky Lan Temple at the mountain bottom, and there’s a giant bronze bell at the top. You can also go to Dinosaur Park for some family playtime.

15. Local Signature Dishes

Local Signature Dishes
[ image from Tinviettravel ]

Goat (dê) steamed, stir-fried, curry, charcoal-grilled, or in a hotpot is sure to satisfy your need for protein. 

Savory rice crisps (cơm cháy) are scrumptious both as a snack and a complement to goat dishes. 

Rice-paddy eel salad (gỏi cá nhệch) and rice vermicelli soup (miến lươn) make for a light and quick meal.

Ant eggs with sticky rice (xôi trứng kiến) is not for the faint of heart but guaranteed to be rewarding.

How to Get to Ninh Binh

You can book a tour to Ninh Binh from Hanoi that may include Halong and/or Sapa depending on your choice. These tours can be found on Tripadvisor.

If you’re in Hanoi, you can go straight to Giáp Bát Station and buy a train or coach ticket to the central station in Ninh Binh city.

Coaches (Travel Buses) with around 20 seats or more cost around 200 000 VND per person. Hoàng Long bus and ferry company is a reliable brand. A good booking agency is Vexere.

Getting Around Ninh Binh

Tours found on Tripadvisor may include a combination of biking, walking, trekking, boat rides, or jeep rides to explore the attractions of Ninh Binh.

Motorbikes for rent can easily be found at homestays around Trang An and the area around the provincial center. If you’re not going on tours, this is likely to be your main transportation around Ninh Bình. It allows for more freedom and saves more time rather than trying to find a taxi, or even with Grab

Grab is the equivalent of Uber in Vietnam which allows you to book taxis cheaper and faster. You can book one from places to places and also for the day. It only requires an Internet connection and a phone number to receive SMS. Check out their English homepage for more information. 

Traveling Tips for Ninh Binh

Best Time to Visit: Around the latter half of April to the first half of May when the weather is nice and the paddy fields are golden for the best scenery.

Accommodation: Homestays around Trang An Landscape Complex are cheaper than places around the provincial center. They also give you more convenient access to the Complex. Chezbeo Homestay and Nguyễn Shack are recommended.

Food: Father Cooking for cheap local dishes; Chookie’s Beer Garden for night beers, cheap local and Western food, and bike rental.

Environment: Be mindful of the environment, especially at natural attractions.

Culture: Wear clothes covering knees and shoulders at religious structures.

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