Ninh Binh can be our little secret destination.
I’m hereby declaring Ninh Binh a MUST-SEE in Vietnam. After arriving in Ninh Binh following a short two-hour train ride from the chaos of Hanoi, you’ll find yourself transported to a land of traditional Vietnamese rice fields, meandering rivers, and fairy tale-esque limestone mountains adorned with an abundance of caves. While Halong Bay may get the credit as the world famous weekend trip from Hanoi, Ninh Binh can be our little secret destination (FYI: Ninh Binh is also referred to as the “Halong Bay of the land”). Here are some suggestions for your stay in Ninh Binh:
How to get there:
One-way train tickets from Hanoi cost $4 USD for a seat, or you can splurge and buy a bed in a sleeper car for $6.5 USD. While you probably won’t be sleeping on the short trip, getting a sleeper cabin is a great option for a group of friends, as the sleepers come with a table and makes for a great time to share drinks, snacks, and stories. Motorbiking from Hanoi to Ninh Binh is also a feasible option, and the motorbikes will definitely come in handy for getting around town (renting motorbikes in Ninh Binh is also very cheap/easy for the train-going folk).
Where to stay:
Nguyen’s Shack is undoubtedly the place to stay in Ninh Binh. Unfortunately, I booked my trip a bit too last minute, and Nguyen’s had no vacancies for my stay (turns out the secret of Ninh Binh may be getting out there…), but it’s been recommended to me on many occasions. Each bungalow at Nguyen’s has a patio with hammocks that is set right against the river and looks out at the surrounding limestone mountains. If Nguyen’s is full, the Tam Coc Homestay is certainly a great second choice (book the room with the mountain view!). Regardless, try to avoid the crammed-in hotels in town and go for a homestay option in the surrounding fields.
What to do:
Ninh Binh is famous for its river boat tours. You can choose from the Tam Coc boat tour or the Trang An boat tour. I chose the Trang An tour and certainly did not regret it. For $7 USD, you’re guided for about three hours on a small boat down a majestic winding river that is surrounded by jaw-dropping limestone cliffs. You’ll also find yourself ducking your head as the river cuts through mountainside limestone caves. An incredible experience! After the boat tour, hop on your rented motorbike or bicycle and go for a calming ride along the country roads—passing goats, water buffalo, and rice farmers along the way. When evening arrives, hike the 500 steps above Mua Caves to catch a sunset to remember. If you have an extra day, you can visit the Bai Dinh Temple, which is the largest complex of Buddhist Temples in Vietnam. Leave at least a couple of hours to explore the complex – after all, you don’t want to rush Buddhism!