Ninh Binh

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

Ninh Binh (Vietnamese spelling: Ninh Bình) is a province 91 km south of Hanoi in the Red River Delta Region. The magical landscape and pristine nature of Ninh Binh make for a treasure trove of things to do that will excite your sense of adventure and elevate your spirit.

Ninh Binh has a 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. Geographically, it comprises mountain terrain to coastal plain with abundant biodiversity.

Top Things To Do in Ninh Binh

Ninh Binh was pretty much under the radar before the movie Kong: Skull Island popularized its magnificent beauty. The best thing to do in Ninh Binh is to explore the tranquil Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex and its religious structures. 

You can also discover the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital with relics to the first kings of Vietnam dating to 968 AD. Nearby is the Bai Dinh Pagoda showcasing nine national attainments that reflect the sublime heritage of Buddhist traditions.

Ninh Binh is also home to the first and most biodiverse national park of Vietnam, as well as precious wetlands with abundant birdlife. You can roam its UNESCO World Heritage Sites by boat, motorbike, and on foot either by tour or following your own itinerary.

View all the locations mentioned in this article

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

Trang An Landscape Complex
[ by fiztssi from Unsplash ]

Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex (Quần thể Danh thắng Tràng An) is 8 km away from the center of Ninh Binh city. Since 2014, it has acquired two listings as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 Its status is based upon four areas of unique cultural and natural value: Trang An Grottoes, Tam CocBich Dong Tourist Area, Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, and Hoa Lu Special-use Forest.  

With its hundreds of karst peaks intertwined with rivers and waterways, people often call it Halong Bay on Land and it’s equally spectacular. The main transport is by boat through rain forested valleys and paddy fields combined with walking or biking.

Tours to Trang An Complex are easily available from Hanoi and Ninh Binh cities. You can rent a motorbike, typically at your homestay in Ninh Binh, if you want to follow your own itinerary. It’s a full day out so have good shoes, enough water, a few snacks, and also a hat and sunscreen are advised. 

More About the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex

2. The Most Popular Boat Tour in Ninh Binh to 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) are the start of a typical tour at the Trang An Complex. The only way to get around this area is by boat so the entrance fee is included in a single fare, but life vests may be extra. 

There are three routes to choose from, and the most popular is the 3-hour route which stops by key caves and ancient spiritual sites. A new attraction is the movie set of ‘Kong: Skull Island’ which remains as a tourist site.

More About the Trang An Grottoes

3. Poetic Majesty at Tam Coc

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

Tam Coc, officially Tam Coc – Bich Dong Tourist Area (Khu du lịch Tam Cốc – Bích Động), can be explored along two fun routes— by boat or on land. Entrance fees and boat fees are therefore separate for each location. 

The two-hour boat ride along the  Ngo Dong River (sông Ngô Đồng) amidst rice paddies leads you through the three caves called Tam Coc. You’ll also visit Thai Vi Temple (đền Thái Vi) and Linh Coc Pagoda (Chùa Linh Cốc) of the Tran Dynasty, plus the well-known Bich Dong Pagoda

The land route, which also includes the Bich Dong Pagoda, allows for more nature ventures such as Mua Cave Mountain, Galaxy Cave, Thach Bich – Thung Nang Valley (Thạch Bích – Thung Nắng), Thung Nham Bird Sanctuary, and also the Ancient Vietnamese Village Complex (Cổ Viên Lầu).

More About the Tam Coc – Bich Dong Tourist Area

4. Spiritual Hiking at Bich Dong Pagoda

Bich Dong Pagoda
[ by gmaart from Unsplash ]

Bich Dong (Bích Động) is the name of the mountain and the pagodas built along its slope. Bich Dong Pagoda was originally established in a cave in 1428, but construction into what it is today started in 1705. It’s loved for its spiritual and natural tranquility.

If you come by boat, you pass through  Xuyen Thuy Cave (Xuyên Thuỷ Động) inside Mt. Bich Dong to the entrance to the pagoda. The Lower Pagoda (Chùa Hạ) is at the bottom of the mountain, and there are two more levels. 

Take 120 steps further on and you will reach the Middle Pagoda (Chùa Trung) which is fused into the mountain. This structure consists of three halls and is connected to the Dark Cave (hang Tối) featuring a  bronze bell forged in 1707. The Upper Pagoda (Chùa Thượng) is only 40 steps away. 

5. Mua Cave and the Best View of Tam Coc – Bich Dong

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

Mua Mountain (núi Múa) is the best vantage point where you can really appreciate the splendor of Tam Coc – Bich Dong. This area is commonly called Hang Mua (Hang Múa) or Mua Cave. This is somewhat mistaken as Múa is the name of the mountain, and hang means cave in Vietnamese. 

From the bottom of this ecotourism area, you can go back in time to the Tran Dynasty up 486 steps through majestic scenery including a heavenly lotus lake. There’s a small entrance fee to pay at the bottom, but for those staying in local accommodation, it’s free. 

6. 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 data dating back 30 000 years. Constructions in the capital, however, belong to the Dinh and Le Dynasties going back to 968 AD. 

The key structures that remain to this day include the temples of King Đinh Tiên Hoàng, the founder of the Dinh Dynasty, King Lê Đại Hành the first Le Emperor, and also temples to Vietnamese mythological figures.

Included in the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital are the ancient and modern constructions of the Bai Dinh Pagoda. Another place nearby is Am Tien Cave (động Am Tiên) and temple. It’s a short hike there through a watery valley filled with lotus blooms during the summer.

More About the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital

7. Nine National Attainments at Bai Dinh Pagoda

Bai Dinh Pagoda
[ by mtlwebdesign from Unsplash ]

Bai Dinh Pagoda (Chùa Bái Đính), being the largest Buddhist site in the country, covers 539 hectares. It’s a National Heritage Site and the architectural style is almost exclusively Vietnamese.

The nine record-breaking structures that celebrate the sublime Buddhist heritage include the biggest gold plated bronze statue of Avalokiteshvara (Thiên Thủ Quan Âm) in Asia, and the largest Budai (Di Lặc) bronze statue in South-east Asia.

The site also has the largest number of Bodhi trees in one location, many of them gifted by India. You can walk along a 3 km corridor of 500 Arhat (A La Hán) statues, and admire the biggest bronze bell in Vietnam.

More About the Bai Dinh Pagoda

8. Wildlife Galore at Cuc Phuong National Park

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 Scenic Landscape Complex. With an ecosystem across 25 000 hectares, this park has some of the best things to do in nature in Ninh Binh. 

At the entrance, you can rent safety gear and also tents for the night at the designated camping site (no fee for day camping). If you prefer, there are bungalow rooms and groups can stay in a stilt-house near Mac Lake (hồ Mạc) with a campfire. Local homestays are also available.

There are four centers around the park where hiking routes and activities start from. Tours include trekking and biking either with or without guides, kayak tours, day and night animal spotting with a guide, and educational programs at biodiversity hotspots. 

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

More About the Cuc Phuong National Park

9. Bifold Biodiversity at Van Long Nature Reserve

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 Scenic Landscape Complex.

The main activity here is a two-hour boat ride across the perfectly clear waters. The boat rower guide will also explain a little about 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 flora, 39 of fauna, and 100 bird species, many of which are endangered. It’s also the largest site for research on Delacour’s langur (voọc quần đùi trắng)— a type of monkey, and the only place to spot the Bonelli eagle (đại bàng má trắng).

Protip: After some quality nature-exploring, you can relax at Chicken Village Hotspring (Suối nước nóng Kênh Gà) just 12km away.

More About the Van Long Nature Reserve

10.  Photogenic Thung Nham Bird Valley 

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

Thung Nham Bird Valley (Vườn chim Thung Nham) is a relatively unknown eco-tourist area in Ninh Binh with many fun things to do. The Bird Park is guaranteed to get you some great photos, and this preserved habitat is also home to a number of endangered species.

There’s also a Moving Banyan Tree (cây đa di chuyển) that has naturally shifted location, and a thousand-year-old Streblus Tree (cây duối ngàn năm) guaranteed to make you feel young again.

The Buddha Cave (hang Bụt), Vai Gioi Cave (động Vái Giời), and  Mermaid Cave (động Tiên Cá) and all nature’s masterpieces. 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.

11. Galaxy Embraced by a General

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

Galaxy Cave (động Thiên Hà) is a natural wonder worthy of its name and is hidden in General Mountain (núi Tướng). Visitors have to take a short boat ride, then follow the bottom of the mountain for 500 m before reaching the entrance to the cave. 

The cave spans 700 meters and has a natural skywell, with stalactites and stalagmites depicting mythical figures in ancient tales. In the 200 meter dry area, archeologists found traces of ancient human life. Further into the cave there’s another boat ride to explore the 500 meter wet area.

12. 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 about 33 km from Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex. It has a unique architectural style combining Vietnamese pagodas with Gothic churches. The construction of this National Heritage lasted from 1875 to 1898. 

Locals call this the Stone Church (Nhà thờ Đá) because it’s mostly made from stone blocks and tali wood. However, the chapel, which is entirely made of stone, is probably the actual origin of the somewhat misconceived name. 

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.

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 associated with this mountain is Trương Hán Siêu whose temple is at the bottom. 

The temple, along with Non Nuoc Pagoda, lie within Thuy Son Park (công viên Thuý Sơn). Going up the 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, the other being Mua Cave Mountain. If you have time to spare, or are interested in educational things to do in Ninh Bình, check out the park 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 or Klook 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. It allows for more freedom and saves more time rather than trying to find a taxi or a Grab ride. 

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 Scenic Landscape Complex are cheaper and more convenient than around the provincial center. 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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