This great self-guided cycling or scooter tour of the countryside in Ninh Binh visits Van Long Nature Reserve, Bai Dinh Pagoda and more.
Map of Ninh Binh Countryside Cycling Tour Route
This is a self-guided cycling tour which can also be done on a scooter or motorbike. It’s mainly paved with a few short sections of good dirt road. If you prefer to go on a guided bike tour of the area, there are several guided tours which include cycling*. The previous day we cycled around the Top Highlights of Ninh Binh, which visits all the main sights of the area. See our Overall Guide to Ninh Binh for more information.
Sights in Ninh Binh this Cycle Route Visits
- Van Long Nature Reserve
- Đền Thung Lá Temple
- Bai Dinh Pagoda
- Tuyet Tinh Coc Lake and Temples
Ninh Binh Countryside Cycling Route (57 km)
Exactly where you start this cycle or scooter ride from depends on the location of your hotel. We stayed at Trang An Lamia Bungalow*, a lovely place in the countryside that rented bikes and was very conveniently located. Wherever you stay, first head towards the bridge across the big Sông Hoàng Long River.
There’s a really good view from the bridge towards the mountains so have a short break here for a photo.
Cycling directions: Continue across the bridge and head right at the T-junction. This quiet road heads towards the river again.
From the road there are countinuous nice views of the limestone peaks and green fields.
Cycling directions: About 4.5 km after the junction, head left on a clear road opposite a boat loading area in the river. After 2 km you’ll reach a T-junction in front of an ugly factory. Head left for another 2 km – you can ride on a side road paralleling the main road. Turn right to head towards the Nature Reserve, passing a very obvious huge white church. You’ll soon come to a T-junction and embankment just before the watery area of the reserve. Continue left along the embankment and the boat rides start in just over 2 km.
1. 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.
Cycling directions: After the boat ride, continue cycling further along the embankment. It’s a very lovely ride with great views of the nature reserve on your right. After 7 km there’s a bridge across the water. Cycle across this and then turn left on the other side. Follow the small road around the corner to reach the parking place for the next stop.
2. Đền Thung Lá Temple
This is a small temple and not super special in itself, but it’s in a lovely peaceful setting in the jungle at the foot of the mountains. It’s also worth coming here because the cycle from Van Long boat ride is really great. You have to head up some wide steps and walk a short distance through the woodland to reach the temple.
Cycling directions: After the temple, head back out and across the bridge and left along the embankment where you came from. 1 km after the bridge, turn right down a good dirt track. Follow this.
You’ll pass the town of Tam Sơn with a little church on top of a small hill on your right. You’ll then see some more forested hills as you continue cycling through the rice fields.
Cycling directions: After almost 5 km through the countryside you’ll come out on a main road in the town of Me. Head left and take the first right to another big road. Head left and right again to cycle along the side of a canal. At the end of the road turn left.
You’re now on a lovely quiet road through the countryside with views of the river. We saw water buffalo grazing nearby and lots of beautiful flowers. Soon you’ll see a pontoon bridge across the river.
Cycling directions: Head across this fun floating bridge (small fee to cross). On the other side head left and then take the first right. The large parking area for the next stop is about 3 km slightly uphill along this road.
3. 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.
Shortening the Ninh Binh Countryside Exploration Cycle Route
If you want to save quite a lot of time, reduce the walking distance and slightly shorten the distance, then miss out Bai Dinh Pagoda. We found this stop quite stressful and it would have been a more relaxed day in terms of time to miss it out.
You could also miss Tuyet Tinh Coc Lake and Temples if you run out of time towards the end of the day.
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.
Cycling directions: From back at the parking lot, head back down the road you cycled up. It’s a lot easier going down! Instead of returning to the river, head right just to cycle around the lake on a good dirt road.
As you cycle by the water you’ll have great views back to the large pagoda complex.
Cycling directions: You’ll soon reach the roundabout by the bridge you passed earlier. Continue to the next roundabout and take a right.
There are some nice countryside views from this road and it wasn’t very busy.
Cycling directions: After 3 km you’ll cross a bridge and reach a T-junction. Head right and take the first left slightly uphill. Soon you’ll see a parking lot on the left for the next stop.
4. Tuyet Tinh Coc Lake and Temples
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.
Cycling directions: This is the last stop on the tour. We cycled back to our lovely accommodation at Trang An Lamia Bungalow*, 3.5 km away, to have a delicious passion fruit smoothie.
This completes the Ninh Binh Countryside Cycling Tour. For another fun day of self-guided exploration, read our Ninh Binh Top Highlights Cycling Tour, or our Overall Guide to Ninh Binh. If you enjoy cycling, explore our cycle rides in Bali or around Angkor Wat.
Novels to read while in Vietnam
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.