Ninh Binh is a beautiful destination located in the Northern part of Vietnam. It has stunning landscapes of limestone mountains, huge rivers, lush green rice paddies and incredible caves. From historical sites to outdoor activities, there is no shortage of things to do in Ninh Binh. I visited Ninh Binh and Tam Coc in 2023 and collected 10 great things to do in Ninh Binh. This article also describes some other useful information for visiting this laid-back place.
The 10 best things to do in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc
1. Hike to the Hang Múa Viewpoint
This was one of my favorite things to do in Ninh Binh. I climb around 500 steps to reach the top of the Hang Mua Viewpoint and from there, I had an amazing view over the valley that was surrounded by karst mountains. The steps were concrete and well maintained. It was an easy climb and I can highly recommend this activity!
At the top of the mountain you can find a stone carved dragon. The iconic sight plays a very important role in Vietnamese culture because it is believed that the Vietnamese people are descended from a dragon. For locals, the dragon is essential for rain and agriculture and I believe this is why it watches over the entire Tam Coc area and the beautiful karst landscape.
At the foot of the mountain, you can find the Hang Múa Natural Cave which is dedicated to the goddess Mua, who is said to have protected the local people from floods and other disasters.
2. Visit the Phat Diem Cathedral Complex
The Phat Diem Cathedral is a complex comprising a lake, cathedral, stone church, Phuong Dinh (bell house) and three artificial grottoes. It has a combination of Western and Asian architecture and is very impressive to see. It’s free to visit and an amazing place to learn about the history and culture of Vietnam as well as admire the beautiful architecture and many ponds, sculptures, stone caves and artificial mountains.
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3. Cycle around the Tam Coc Lake or take a boat ride
Tam Coc is known as the ‘Halong Bay on Land’. If you love nature, it’s fun to cycle around the lake. You can make some stops along the way, enjoy the beautiful landscape or take a boat ride. The rowing boat tour goes through lush green paddies and three limestone caves. The trip takes about 1.5-2 hours. Although the scenery is beautiful, I do not recommend taking a boat trip here. As a tourist you are constantly asked for more money and some locals really feel offended if you don’t pay. I recommend taking a boat trip in Trang An.
Tip: keep in mind the rainy season when visiting Tam Coc. The most beautiful time of the year to see Tam Coc is at the end of May/beginning of June. This is when the rice fields start to turn from luscious green to vibrant yellow.
4. Take a boat trip in Trang An, a World Heritage Site
The boat ride in Trang An was one of my favorite things to do in Ninh Binh. It’s a World Heritage Site and is home to several cultural and religious relics.
The boat tour in Trang An consists of three different routes you can choose, depending on the length and the things you want to see. I tried route number 2 that went through 4 limestone caves (Lam Cave, Vang Cave, Thanh Truot Cave and Dai Cave) and 3 temples (Thanh Cao Son Temple, Suoi Tien Temple and Vu Lam Royal Steps). The tour around the karst landscape was fantastic and lasted about 2 hours.
Tip: Trang An is a beautiful location to overnight. I stayed 2 nights in Trang An Freedom Hood and really loved this place. This hostel is cheap, has clean dorm rooms, serves a delicious breakfast and offers free bicycle rent.
5. See the Bich Dong Pagoda and make an influencer photo
I visited the Bich Dong Pagoda by bicycle and this was really fun. It just took around 20 minutes to reach the pagoda by bicycle from the city center of Tam Coc. I parked my bicycle for free at a roadside restaurant where I had a drink after visiting the pagoda.
The Bich Dong pagoda is known for its traditional Vietnamese architecture and has a tranquil atmosphere. There’s a beautiful lotus lake and a small stone bridge in front of the pagoda. This is an amazing spot for influencers, believe me 😉
Inside the pagoda you can find all kinds of posters with bad actions you can perform as a person and consequences it would have for you. They are interesting to see. Visiting the Bich Dong Pagoda is free and I can really recommend it.
6. Spend the day at Hoa Lư Ancient Capital
Visit the Ancient Capital of Hoa Lu. This place was once the capital of Vietnam during the 10th and 11th centuries. You can visit the old temples and palaces and learn more about the country’s history. It’s fun to go here by bicycle. If you do so, make sure to bring your bicycle with you inside, so you can ride from one temple to the other.
Tip: you don’t need to pay for a guide. There are many guides walking around the complex and you can just listen to one of them. Even without the explanations of a guide, I found it worth going.
7. Connect with nature in the Thung Nham Bird Garden
The Thung Nham Bird Valley is a nature reserve that is home to over 100 species of birds, including owls, parrots, and storks. The park has a variety of trails and observation decks to explore and you can take boat rides to get a closer look at the wildlife. The two boat rides are included in the 150.000 VND entree ticket. Since the park is a bit abandoned and untouristy, it’s a very calming and relaxing place to visit.
Tip: follow the trekking path/cycling path to the view point
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8. Have a coconut coffee at Nam Coffee Beer Garden
Visit the Nam Coffee Beer Garden and try a delicious coconut coffee. The atmosphere of the little restaurant and garden is relaxed and inviting. You can sit outdoors and enjoy the gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside. The cafe also stocks a variety of craft beer and serves up delicious snacks.
One of the local specialties that you must try while in Ninh Binh is goat meat, snails or duck. I am not a big fan, but it’s fun to try.
There are many restaurants in Tam Coc or Ninh Binh that serve goat meat and it typically comes in either a dry or wet version depending on your preference. The dry version is usually served with a spicy sauce, while the wet version is served with a savory broth. Another famous version is the goat meat hotpot, made up of various ingredients, including goat, potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes, herbs and spices. The goat meat is cooked slowly to ensure it is succulent and juicy.
Snails are another speciality in Ninh Binh. You can enjoy dishes such as snail hotpot, snail porridge and snail fried rice.
10. Explore the Van Long Nature Reserve
The Van Long Nature Reserve is known for its stunning limestone cliffs that protrude from the waters of the Van Long River. Here you can take a boat ride, go hiking or biking, admire the spectacular views and even spot some rare birds
Tip: since it’s a bit far from Tam Coc and Ninh Binh, I only recommend visiting the Van Long Nature Reserve if you have extra time left.
Explore the highlights of Ninh Binh with an organized tour
If you have limited time to travel in Vietnam, you can also book a day tour from Hanoi to Ninh Binh and see the highlights. A tour usually includes a return transfer from Hanoi, a visit to Tam Coc, a boat ride, a bicycle tour to the Bich Dong Pagoda, the ancient capital ‘Hoa Lu’ and the Mua Caves. Lunch, drinks and entrance fees are also often included.
How to travel to Ninh Binh?
Ninh Binh is located about 100 km south of Hanoi in South-East Asia. To get to Ninh Binh from Hanoi, you can either take a bus or train. Both options take around 2.5 hours to reach Ninh Binh. I took the train from Hanoi Railway Station to Ninh Binh Railway Station. This was a very pleasant ride and I can recommend it to everyone. You can use the search box below to find the quickest and cheapest transportation to Ninh Binh:
I also traveled from Ninh Binh to Sapa by night. This was a nice and comfortable experience. The bus departed at 22.30 PM and we arrived around 06.00 AM. I had to switch buses once around 05.00 AM. Fortunately my hotel picked me up at 06.00 AM at the bus station and drove me to Ta Van. I was able to check in at 06.30 AM, which was very nice, so I could go to bed and sleep a few hours more.
Tip: I stayed at Luckydaisy Buffalo House in Ta Van. I can highly recommend this accommodation, especially if you’re Dutch. This place has a lovely restaurant and serves some Dutch snacks and drinks. Yummy! You can either overnight in a dorm room or private room. I’ve stayed in the Family Suite and this was really amazing. They can also arrange a trekking in Ta Van or Sapa if you’re interested in this.
How to get around in Ninh Binh or Tam Coc?
If you’re looking for a unique way to explore Ninh Binh, why not explore by bicycle? The province is home to beautiful rice paddies, lush limestone mountains, and picturesque temples, all of which are best seen from the saddle of a bicycle.
For me, this was the perfect way to get off the beaten path and explore some of the less touristy areas of Ninh Binh. There’s a lot of street art to explore in Tam Coc. This is really fun to discover by bicycle. You can choose to take a guided tour or to just rent a bike and explore the area at your own pace. Either way, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience.
Where to stay in Ninh Binh, Vietnam?
When it comes to accommodation, there are a variety of options ranging from budget-friendly guesthouses to luxurious 5-star hotels in Ninh Binh. However, I do recommend booking accommodation in Tam Coc. Tam Coc is much more alive than Ninh Binh and you can find most of the tourist attractions and restaurants in this area. Here are some accommodation options for Tam Coc:
Budget: Tam Coc Melody Homestay or The Banana Tree Hostel
I can highly recommend Tam Coc Melody Homestay. The rooms are huge, the owners are lovely, the location is great and the breakfast is delicious. There’s also a pool table, swimming pool and some machines to work-out. You can rent a bicycle or scooter at Tam Coc Melody Homestay and the owners are happy to help you with organizing tours or transport.
If you are more into hostels, I can recommend staying at The Banana Tree Hostel in Tam Coc. This property has a clean dorm rooms, a cozy terrace with pool and has a nice location.
Mid-range: Tam Coc Dibi Villa
Tam Coc Dibi Villa offers beautiful villas with Mountain Views. The resort is located a quiet location, but still at walking distance of most restaurants. The rooms are well equipped and the breakfast and dinner is very good.
Luxury: Bai Dinh Riverside Resort & Spa or Tam Coc Garden Resort
Bai Dinh Riverside Resort & Spa is an amazing boutique hotels with wonderful villas. Some villas have a marble bath in the centre of the room. Love it! The rooms are nice and clean.
Tam Coc Garden Resort is an exceptional and calm place. This place offers luxurious rooms and villas, some with a beautiful bath in the center of the room. The garden and the flowers are magical and the pool is great too. There’s a spa that offers massages.
Ninh Binh is an amazing place to explore in Vietnam. You can explore the great outdoors with biking, boat rides and trekking. Make sure to visit natural sites such as Trang An or Tam Coc, to hike to the Hang Múa Viewpoint and to visit the beautiful Bich Dong Pagoda. With its convenient location and numerous activities to choose from, Ninh Binh (Tam Coc) is one of the best destinations to visit in Vietnam! I can highly recommend backpacking to Ninh Binh or Tam Coc.
If you have any questions about the above mentioned information, please let me know in the comment section below. I’m happy to help you. Safe travels!
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