Visit the top sights and find the best things to do in Ninh Binh. Check out our two routes for exploring the area on a bicycle or scooter.
Map of the Top Sights in Ninh Binh
- There are no ATMs outside of town so bring enough cash to pay for water and food along the route.
- There are quite a few cafes/restaurants and shops scattered about the area so you’ll always find something to eat or drink
- Sunscreen, sunhat and sunglasses are highly recommended.
- Download the Maps.Me App beforehand – there is not phone signal everywhere so it’s good to have a backup map.
Ninh Binh Overview
This article gives an overview of the best things to do in Ninh Binh and how to see them. We cycled around Ninh Binh for two days and have separate articles with detailed route maps of the Top Highlights of Ninh Binh via Cycling or Scooter, and Ninh Binh Countryside Exploration.
This area was once just beautiful nature, however cement factories have recently been built to process the limestone that makes up the lovely landscape. Although you can’t always see them, the air quality is not great in this area (similar to most of Vietnam). It can make photos quite grey, it’s rare that you’ll have beautiful sunlight and clear blue skies like you see on the tourist posters.
Options for getting around Ninh Binh
The best way to explore Ninh Binh is on a bicycle, and the second best way is on a scooter. The area is pretty flat so cycling is relatively easy, and it’s not that hot because the wind blows in your face. Another option is to go on a guided tour of the area*. These are often done as day trips from Hanoi.
How to Rent a Scooter or Bicycle in Ninh Binh
Many hotels in Ninh Binh have both bicycles and scooters to rent and this is the simplest option. We checked on Booking.com* to see if ‘bike rental’ was included in the hotel description. Additionally, we emailed the hotel before we arrived to ask them to reserve two bicycles for us.
We stayed at Trang An Lamia Bungalow*, a super cute hotel run by a friendly family. The hotel had about six street bikes in fine condition, and we were allowed to use these for free. They also rented out scooters for a few dollars per day.
Ninh Binh City
The city itself doesn’t have much to see, though does have a few decent places to stay, restaurants and cafes. This is also where the train station and bus terminal are, so a common gateway to the region. It makes an ok base for exploring the area, though there are nicer places in the countryside where the roads are quieter for cycling and getting about. There are many taxis waiting at the train and bus station that can take you to your accommodation. The cheap and convenient Ninh Binh Central Hotel* is just next door if you arrive on the train late or very early.
Best Things to Do in Ninh Binh
List of the best things to do in Ninh Binh, all of which can be found on the map above:
- Tam Coc Boat Ride
- Hang Mua Viewpoint
- Hoa Lư Ancient Capital
- Bich Dong Pagoda
- Trang An Grottoes
- Bai Dinh Pagoda
- Tuyet Tinh Coc Lake
- Van Long Nature Reserve
- Cuc Phuong National Park
- Phat Diem Cathedral
1. Tam Coc Boat Ride
Key Information: Open 7am-6pm. Boats are $6.50 plus an entry fee of $5/2.50 per adult/child. Max 2 per boat. The boat rides last about 1.5-2 hours. Wear a sunhat as there isn’t any shade on the boat ride!
Tam Coc means three caves and is the general name of the area. There’s a large parking lot by the start of the boat rides where you buy tickets. Nearby are several cheap and decent restaurants for a drink and food to relax in before or after the boat trip.
Once on the boat, you’ll see that the rowers use their feet rather than arms to propel the boat along which looks super difficult. You head along the water and through several low caves. Each time, you come out in a new beautiful valley with rice paddies and mountains. At the far point you can get out and stretch your legs before returning the same way. It can be very busy here, but early mornings and later afternoons are much quieter.
2. Hang Mua Viewpoint
Key Information: Open 6am-7pm. Entrance fee ~$5 per person.
Hang Mua means Mua Cave, but the cave itself isn’t interesting, it’s the viewpoint at the top of Hang Mua Peak that people come to see. In front of the cave and steps up to the viewpoint is a low-key amusement park full of artificial statues and stalls selling junky food. You have to pay to enter this area to reach the way to the viewpoint, which is right at the back.
Once you reach the stone steps, there are almost 500 on the way to the top, but it’s definitely worth it. Make sure you bring water and wear a sunhat and decent shoes. It can be slippy when wet. There are two main viewpoints at the top. One is over Tam Coc, with the rice paddies and mountains that you see on the boat ride. The other is from the rocky shrine and highest point, with views over the surrounding countryside. Sunset is a popular time to visit.
3. Hoa Lư Ancient Capital
Key Information: The entrance fee is about $1. You also might have to pay a small fee for parking. You can spend an hour or two here.
Hoa Lư is the name of the Ancient Capital of Vietnam. Most of the buildings have long since disappeared but there are still two remaining temples. They’re atmospherically located at the base of a mountain range and very peaceful.
One of the top highlights at Hoa Lư Ancient Capital is to hike up the hill opposite one of the temples. This hill is on the left as you walk over the big stone bridge across the river, and the path up it is around the back. It takes about 15 minutes to climb up. Once you reach the tomb/shrine area at the top, head along the little path at the far end of the tomb and you’ll come out at a great viewpoint.
4. Bich Dong Pagoda
Key Information: Open 6am-7pm. Free entry with a small fee for parking.
There’s a lovely entrance to Bich Dong Pagoda over a bridge with a beautiful backdrop. Inside are a few temples and caves. Inside most of the caves are religious statues and with incense burning next to them. It’s a peaceful mountainous area and from the top you can get good views over the surrounding countryside. To reach the highest point you have to go around the temples and through some caves.
5. Trang An Grottoes
Key Information: Boat rides 7:30am-4pm. Per person ~$10 with four people per boat, or a private boat for $40 per boat. Rides last 2-3 hours depending on what option you choose.
These caves are very popular with local tourists and hence can be super busy on the weekends. If you book a guided tour of Ninh Binh that visits the caves*, your spot on the Trang An Grottoes boat trip will be reserved and you avoid any queues. There is a minimum of 3 people for a boat, so if you’re a couple you’ll have to wait for other people who want to team up. This boat trip is more commercialized and crowded than the other boat rides in the area. Some of the caves have been artificially enlarged so more boats can fit through. We didn’t do this boat trip but opted for the Tam Coc Boat Ride instead.
6. Bai Dinh Pagoda
Key Information: Open 7am-4pm. Park your bike or scooter in the main car park. While it’s ‘free’ to get in, you have to pay about $0.75 for parking, and ~$1.50 for the little electric train that takes you to the main complex. To go up the tall pagoda is another ~$2.50. You can actually walk from the parking to the complex and it’s just under 1 km each way, arriving right next to the tall pagoda. If you want to explore the entire complex, allow several hours and perhaps half a day to see everything.
Bai Dinh Pagoda, or Chua Bai Binh, is a huge modern complex of religious buildings. It’s on a hillside and the little electric train from the parking drops you off at the bottom. You then walk upwards through the complex and return again for the ride back to the car park. Alternatively, you can just take the train one way and walk back to the car park from the tall pagoda, it’s just under 1 km.
There are great views from higher up in the complex, especially at the large silver Buddha statue. Naturally, there are even better views from the top of the pagoda itself, which has 13 levels. There’s even an elevator inside to whisk you to the top. You can actually walk quite far up the hill behind the main area to some smaller temples which are older and much quieter than the rest.
It can be busy with local tourists, especially on the weekend, and you can tell that it was built recently ( in 2014), lacking as it does any magical or spiritual vibes. Although interesting to see, it felt very commercialized and more like a money-making machine than anywhere very special.
7. Tuyet Tinh Coc Lake
Key Information: There’s a small fee for parking and entrance.
Tuyet Tinh Coc Lake was a surprise for us. We’d seen the car park but didn’t know what it was. The lake is completely surrounded by limestone peaks and so hidden from the outside. To get there you walk through a long and wide tunnel. There’s a paved 1 km path around the lake and two temples at either end.
8. Van Long Nature Reserve
Key Information: Boat rides are from 7am-5pm. There’s a fee per person (~$1) and per boat (~$3). Boat rides last about 1.5 hours and take up to two people per boat. Near the ticket office is a restaurant where you can have a drink or something to eat. Wear a sunhat as there isn’t any shade on the boat ride!
To experience this nature reserve you have to take a boat ride. It’s calm and not super touristy, unlike the other boat rides in this area. This ride is more about nature, seeing birds and admiring the lovely scenery. Rare birds seen here include the black-faced spoonbill and a type of jacana. Apart from birds, there are also rare monkeys here. There are only about 120 Delacour’s langur monkeys left in the world and they live in this reserve. However, you have to be very lucky to spot them.
9. Cuc Phuong National Park
10. Phat Diem Cathedral
How Many Days to spend in Ninh Binh?
If you don’t have too much time but would like to see the best things in Ninh Bing, then one day is enough. To explore more of the region, at least two days is recommended. You can spend a third day here if you want to see everything.
You can visit all of the best places in Ninh Binh on our cycle or scooter tours, an itinerary that takes two days.
Cycling or Scooter Tour of Ninh Binh Top Highlights
- The Ninh Binh Highlights Cycling or Scooter Tour visits all the best places in Ninh Binh, which are fairly close together. It includes the Tam Coc boat trip, Hang Mua Viewpoint, Hoa Lư Ancient Capital and Bich Dong Pagoda among others.
- The Ninh Binh Countryside Cycling or Scooter Tour heads further afield to the peaceful Van Long Nature Reserve. It also includes the huge Bai Dinh Pagoda complex. Apart from the sights, this tour is more about riding and views from the bike with a bit of adventure.
If you have more time …
Spend a day hiking in Cuc Phuong National Park
Cuc Phuong National Park is about 15 km directly west of town, though following the roads makes it about 40 km away. Set up to protect the wildlife from poaching, today you can go on several walks within the park. The most popular hike is the route up Silver Cloud Peak. It’s 15 km and takes a few hours and you can walk either with or without a guide. It’s popular to combine the walk with visiting the Endangered Primate Rescue Center at the southern end of the park. There are also several caves and ancient trees you can visit.
The park was designed to protect the wildlife but poaching and illegal logging have continued. The big species that used to live here, such as tigers, crocodiles and black bears have now vanished. There are still deer, monkeys and birds but they are hard to see.
Make the detour to Phat Diem Cathedral
Phat Diem Cathedral is 30 km south of town so a bit of a long way. However, the building is very grand and fairly unique in Vietnam. The cathedral was built in 1892-1898 and combines Gothic Western and Vietnamese architecture. If you do visit, make sure to read The Quiet American* beforehand. This book, by Graham Greene, has a memorable scene set at Phat Diem Cathedral during the Vietnamese War. Also in the area of Phat Diem is Dong Huong Pagado, a large Buddhist Pagoda and Ton Dao Cathedral, another smaller and less important cathedral.
Novels to read while in Vietnam
The Best Boat Ride in Ninh Binh
The boat rides are one of the best things to do in Ninh Binh and there are three to choose from:
- Tam Coc
- Van Long Nature Reserve
- Trang An Grottoes
I think Tam Coc is the best boat ride because the countryside is unique and beautiful, it’s still quite authentic and not overly touristy. Van Long Nature Reserve boat ride is the next best. It’s a different vibe and more about nature, with far fewer tourists visiting. You can see birds and mountains and relax as you glide through the reads. The Trang An Grottoes boat ride is very busy and commercialized with lots of artificial structures spoiling nature.
How to get to Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh has a train station on the main Reunification Express train line and also has a large bus station.
Ninh Binh from Hanoi
- Bus: From Hanoi to Ninh Binh, buses take about 1.5 hours. You can see the bus schedules and book on 12GoAsia*.
- Train: You can also take the train, a slightly more expensive and slower option, but quite fun.
- Shared Taxi: From Hanoi there are also options for shared car transfers to Ninh Binh*.
Day Tours from Hanoi
Day Tours from Hanoi are another popular option for exploring Ninh Binh without having to organise much yourself. The best tours visit all the top sights in Ninh Binh, such as the popular day tour including Tam Coc, Hoa Lu and the Hang Mua Viewpoint*.
Ninh Binh from central or southern Vietnam
From central or southern Vietnam you can easily reach Ninh Binh on the train. The main train line in Vietnam, the Reunification Express which travels all the way along the main coastline, stops at Ninh Binh. The train is a convenient and fairly cheap way to travel. Sleeping overnight on the train is fairly comfortable, and saves you one night in a hotel. You can book train tickets on 12GoAsia* – it’s the best option because although you have to pay a few dollars extra, using the official website requires a Vietnamese credit card.
Ninh Binh from Halong Bay
From Ha Long or Cat Ba Island in Halong Bay, you can take public transport all the way to Ninh Binh. It isn’t super efficient but you travel like a local. Alternatively, your hotel will probably be able to organise a private transfer.
For the public transport option, first you have to get to Haiphong. Buses leave from the main promenade of Cat Ba directly to Haiphong, including a short ferry crossing. Buses also leave from the centre of Ha Long City. Book tickets a day in advance, buses leave a few times per day.
In Haiphong, from where you arrive near the centre of town you must make your way to Bến xe Vĩnh Niệm, the long-distance bus terminal where the buses leave for Ninh Binh. This is a new bus terminal on the southern side of town, a slightly inconvenient place. There are buses from here to Ninh Binh every few hours.
We stayed at Trang An Lamia Bungalow*, a super cute place in the countryside and mountains. They also rented bicycles and scooters, had a delicious restaurant, and could arrange taxis to and from the railway or bus station. If you arrive late to town, Ninh Binh Central Hotel* is very convenient, just next to the train station.
Guidebooks to explore more of Vietnam
Useful things for a holiday in Vietnam
- Travel Insurance: we use SafetyWing*, it’s simple to buy online and they have a downloadable letter proving you have travel insurance which includes Covid-related issues
- Travel Debit Card: we have Wise Cards* which allow you to cheaply convert most currencies into Vietnamese Dong. You can then pay by card within the country for no extra fees, or withdraw cash from an ATM.
- We booked train travel in Vietnam through 12GoAsia*. They charge a few extra dollars in commission, but to book directly on the official website you must have a Vietnamese credit card.
Ninh Binh is a city in northern Vietnam about 100 km south of Vietnam.
To get around Ninh Binh, it’s common to rent a scooter or a bicycle or go on a guided tour.
For me, Ninh Binh was one of the highlights of Vietnam so definitely worth visiting. The countryside is really nice and it’s not so busy. Hang Mua Viewpoint is amazing and the boat rides are great fun.
It’s easiest to stay at a hotel that rents bikes. Email them in advance to enquire and reserve a bike.
Two to three days is a good amount of time to spend in Ninh Binh. You’ll be able to see the best sights and things to do in the area, and three days should allow exploration at a more relaxed pace.