Also called Halong Bay on land, Ninh Binh and its surroundings are filled with beautiful landscapes. Between rice fields, mountains, and temples, the Ninh Binh region is a must-see during your stay in Vietnam. In this blog post, I share the ultimate travel guide for visiting Ninh Binh with the best things to do and all my tips. After reading this guide, you will have all the necessary information to organize your trip to Ninh Binh and enjoy it to the fullest.
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How to get to Ninh Binh?
Located only 95 kilometers from Hanoi, Ninh Binh is easily accessible by train or bus (minivan). Due to its location, it is also a great first stop during your journey across North Vietnam.
If you decide to reach Ninh Binh by train, the easiest way to reach the Hanoi train station from Noi Bai International Airport (Hanoi Airport) is to take the Express bus n°86. It takes about 1 hour and costs only 45’000 VDN per person. Then, from Hanoi Train Station you can take any trains that go to Ninh Binh Train Station. The journey lasts about 2h30. Price may vary depending on the type of train, but count between 165’000 VDN and 190’000 VDN per way. Seats are numbered. Therefore, it is important to book your seat ahead. You can either buy your ticket at the train station (cash only) or you can book it online in advance just to be safe. Indeed, in periods of great influence, that is to say in high season, during Vietnamese vacations, or on weekends, I highly recommend booking your train ticket on the Internet via the link mentioned above.
If you decide to reach Ninh Binh by bus, the only way is to book your seat here a few days in advance since there are only minivans with a seating capacity of only 12 people that do the journey. The ride lasts about 1h30. Prices may vary depending on the bus company but count between 165’000 VDN and 190’000 VDN per way.
When to visit Ninh Binh?
Even though Vietnam has four seasons, the seasons can vary a little bit from one region to another, with a little more rain or higher temperatures in some places due to its very long size.
On paper, the ideal season to visit Vietnam is between January and May. Indeed, this period is the end of the rainy season and the nice days are starting with mild temperatures.
However, at this perfect time to visit Vietnam (from January to May), the rice fields in North Vietnam are not green already. In other words, if you want to visit Ninh Binh and its surroundings during the green rice fields season (which Ninh Binh is known for), you will have to come in late June. Unfortunately, June to late August is also the beginning of heavy rains and stifling temperatures. So it is up to you and what you are looking for!
How long to stay in Ninh Binh?
Where to stay in Ninh Binh?
Although we talk about Ninh Binh as the area to visit, I do not recommend you sleep in the heart of Ninh Binh city. Instead, I suggest you to sleep in the small village of Tam Coc located a few kilometers from Ninh Binh city.
During our week in Ninh Binh, we stayed in a super cute homestay right next to Tam Coc lake. The Lodge offers a delicious breakfast every morning with different choices of food and its location is right in the center of Tam Coc Village. Highly recommended!
How to move around Ninh Binh?
Vietnam is not necessarily the safest country in terms of road safety. However, the region of Ninh Binh and Tam Coc is largely less populated than some other cities such as Hanoi. Therefore, you will have the opportunity to be almost alone on the road. The roads in and around Ninh Binh are in decent condition. Most of them are paved, although there are still a few places where it is only dirt. Don’t forget to wear your helmet at all times! Scooter rental costs about 100’000 VND per day (without gas). You don’t need to book the scooter in advance. There are a lot of scooter rentals around town.
Another way to get around Ninh Binh and its surroundings is by bicycle. The roads are wide enough, so it will be relatively easy to get around by bike safely. Also, the roads do not have many inclines, which makes the trips feasible if you have good general physical condition. Renting a bike costs in general between 100’000 VDN and 150’000 VDN per day.
The other transportation option that I recommend is by taxi. In Vietnam, it is very common to use the Grab app to order a cab. The rides are not expensive and the use of this free app is very simple. Payment can be made by cash or credit card directly through the app. The advantage of using a taxi app such as Grab is that the price is fixed and you won’t need to negotiate the ride price. In general, it costs about 40’000 VDN for 15 minutes of driving.
The negative point is that depending on where you are, you will not find a taxi from the Grab app. In other words, no taxi will come to pick you up depending on your remote location (such as Mua Cave for example). You should then ask for a “classic” taxi. They are always waiting in touristic remote locations. Normally, cabs in the Ninh Binh area must use a meter to calculate the cost of the trip. However, only a few of them use it. The driver will set the price with you at the beginning (with a surcharge compared to the price of the meter and the Grap app, of course!). It is up to negotiate or not!
If you stay in Tam Coc village, you will be able to access some temples and restaurants on foot. But apart from these few places, it will be very complicated to reach the other points mentioned below without a means of transport.
Where to eat in Tam Coc village?
Tam Coc village is full of delicious local restaurants. You will find different cuisines at a very competitive price.
- T-PUB: for the best pizzas and western food. Vegan options are available. Count around 150,000 VDN per pizza. Also, there is a happy hour between 6:00 PM and 8:00 PM with a free beer for every pizza purchased.
- FATHERCOOKING: for the best Vietnamese dishes with astronomical quantities and delicious flavors.
- MINH KHOI RESTAURANT: for the best banh Minh, super tasty and cheap.
Things to know before visiting Ninh Binh and Tam Coc
- To remove any confusion, Ninh Binh is usually referred to as the overall area to visit. However, I recommend you to stay not in Ninh Binh city center but in Tam Coc village, located 10 minutes drive from Ninh Binh city. Check out the “Where to stay” tab to get the link to the accommodation I recommend.
- If you stay in Tam Coc Village, there is no proper food supermarket in the village. However, the village is packed with cheap local restaurant options.
- Vietnamese Dong is the local currency
- Credit or debit cards are rarely accepted. Cash is king. If some restaurants accept payment by credit card, a surcharge will be added to the bill.
- During check-in at your hotel, they will ask you to provide them with the passport of all persons staying in the room so that they can register you with the police (as per the law).
- You will have to pay cash for your accommodation at check-out (not at check-in). If the hotel accepts credit cards, they will charge you between 3 to 4 % additional fees.
- If you need a visa to enter Vietnam, do it at least two weeks before coming to the country. Indeed, it can take several business days to get approved by the government (even more depending on the period of the year). You will need a photo passport in addition to a copy of your passport details.
- Try to avoid traveling to Vietnam during the Tet festival (Chinese New Year) which takes place between the end of January and February (depending on the Lunar calendar). Everything is closed during an entire week (supermarkets, restaurants, tourist attractions, museums, and so on)
The best things to do in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc
TAM COC VILLAGE
8:00 AM TO 6:00 PM
BICH DONG PAGODA
Located in the village of Tam Coc, Bich Dong Pagoda is a Buddhist temple. One of the particularities of the site is that it is located in the middle of the mountains. You can access a cave by climbing some stairs.
Also, the advantage is that you can reach the Bich Dong pagoda on foot in 30 minutes or by bike in 15 minutes. Note that if you come by scooter, you will have to pay for the parking. A lady stands at the entrance to ask you for cash. I can’t tell you the exact price because it is not official.
Finally, there is no proper opening schedule to speak of. However, since there are monks living in Bich Dong Pagoda, it is recommended to visit the temple between 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM. I suggest you visit the temple in the morning since tourist buses are coming at the beginning of the afternoon.
9:00 AM TO 4:00 PM
Allow 45 minutes
HANG MUA CAVE
6:00 AM TO 7:00 PM
Allow 2 hours
TRANG AN BOAT TOUR
One of the main activities in the Ninh Binh region is to take a cruise through the rivers and mountainous rocks. This is the reason why the area is also called Halong Bay on land. Located about 20 minutes away from Tam Coc village by scooter, Trang An is the starting point for cruises. You will have the opportunity to choose among 3 tours, all of them lasting 3 hours.
Once you arrive at the entrance of the Trang An boat tour, you can choose your route. The differences are in the number of caves you will visit. your cruise. It is important to note that the boat must be filled with four people to start the cruise. If you want to take a private tour, you will have to pay the price for the two or three missing persons.
8:00 AM TO 5:00 PM
“Although I am a cab enthusiast fro Vietnam (road safety reason), I advise you to rent a scooter for the whole day, which will allow you to combine the visit of Trang An and Bai Dinh (see below).”
Once you have finished the cruise at Trang An, I advise you to continue your visit to the surroundings by heading to Bài Dinh temple. Situated 15 minutes away from Trang An, this gigantic Buddhist site is of exceptional beauty. Bai Dinh is packed with stunning temples and pagodas.
No matter how you get to Bai Dinh (either by scooter, car, or taxi), you will have to pay the parking fee of 30k dong per vehicle. Then, you have three types of entrance tickets:
- the first one allows you to walk around the site (60’000 VDN per person)
- the second one allows you to walk around the site and go up in the Pagoda (100’000 VDN per person)
- the third one allows you to go around the site by electronic car and go up in the Pagoda (200’000 VDN per person)
60'000 - 200'000 VDN
6:00 AM - 10:00 PM