Ninh Binh is known as the ‘Halong Bay On Land’ and quite honestly, its gorgeous landscape took my breath away and is much more stunning than Halong Bay! The fact that there isn’t much tourists visiting (yet!), allows me to travel at my own pace, enjoying the sights and without the need to rush from a place to another to beat the crowds.
While in Ninh Binh, I’ve experienced and was treated to some of the best sights I’ve ever had in my life, and here are just some of the few that I love.
Boating around Tam Coc and Trang An
One of Ninh Binh’s most famous attraction is definitely boating around Tam Coc and Trang An. We visited in late May, while the padi fields along the river were changing colour from green to yellow.
As the boat lady rowed us around with her foot, weaving in and out of the mountains and caves, passing through natural grottoes, we were silent through out the entire journey for the stunning landscapes took our breath away.
It seemed as though the littlest of noise would take these beauty away from us, and so we kept quiet and enjoyed the peace, serenity and the spectacular view of the rock formations for the entire two hour.
If you’re planning to visit, go early so you get to take pictures without other boats in them! Once afternoon hits, you can bet there will be a lot more other boats out there enjoying the same view as you. Also, there are some (not a lot) touts along the way as well. Just ignore them, and they will go away.
Cost: VND60,000 to VND100,000.
Thai Vy Temple
Surrounded by lush paid fields, Thai Vy Temple was a small temple complex that was recommended by our bike guide, Truong. This temple is home to many ancient works of cultural and historical value as it was built to remember the glorious reigns of the Kings of the Tran dynasty.
Unlike other temples around Ninh Binh, Thai Vy temple was heavily influenced by the pagoda-like and temple-like architecture and all the main architectures of the building is built out of stone, and that includes the altars and incensories. This is a pretty impressive temple, I must say.
Entrance is free.
Bich Dong Pagoda
Bich Dong Pagoda is one of Vietnam’s most historic pagodas. In actual fact, there are three levels of pagodas – Ha (lower), Trung (Middle) and Thuong (Upper). To access all three levels of pagoda, you are required to climb up steep stone steps .
The Ha pagoda is located at the base of the mountain. Ascend the 100 steps to the Trung Pagoda. Here is where you can explore The Dark Grotto, which is located right at the side of Trung Grotto. Climb further up to reach the Thuong pagoda through the Dark Grotto. From here, you can enjoy a panoramic landscape of the area.
Entrance is free.
Hike Up Mua Cave
This was hands down, my favourite thing to do in Ninh Binh. The hike up was painful, and I was totally out of form.
We saw goats along the way, and I’m sure they would have been laughing at the two silly girls who were having a difficult time ascending the steep steps.
I was constantly asking those who were descending if we had a long way more to climb, and each time, they said no, only a short distance left. Each time was a lie, as the hike felt like forever to me. When we finally got to the top, we forgot all about the pain and tiredness.
The view made my heart skipped a beat – it was utterly gorgeous! There were limestone karsts as far as the eyes can see, and the view of the winding Tam Coc river surrounded by lush paid fields were a sight to behold from the top. We were both rendered speechless. It was definitely Mother Nature at it’s best.
Entrance is rather expensive at 100,000VND and the area is not accessible to cars, vans and busses as the roads are small. Best to bike in.
Hoa Lu Ancient Capital – King Dinh Tien Hoang Temple
Once a capital of Vietnam, albeit for a short period of time, the magnificent temples of Hoa Lu are worth a short stop. Being a huge history buff, one of my favourite temples in the area is the King Dinh Tien Hoang Temple, that was built to honour Dinh Bo Linh, who was the first emperor of Vietnam after liberation from China’s Han Dynasty. Dinh Bo Linh founded the Dinh dynasty and named the country as Dai Co Viet, that translates to The Great Viet.
What I absolutely loved about this temple are the intricate architectural art of folk sculptures that stood the test of time. Truly worth a visit, in my honest opinion.
Entrance fee is 10,000VND per person.
Biking around Ninh Binh
While in Ninh Binh, we hired two bike guides for each of us, and that proved to be one of the best decision we have made as some of the sights were inaccessible by bigger vehicles.
We went around at a slow pace and passed through some really beautiful sights and being on bikes allowed us to stop anytime we want to without obstructing any traffic.
If you’re visiting and need a trusty and honest bike guide, drop my buddy, Truong, an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), and he would gladly host you! 🙂
Otherwise, check out this list of recommended tours from Tripadvisor.
Now that you’ve read about it from me, I hope you will put Ninh Binh on your itinerary of places to visit in Vietnam. It truly is a wonderful hidden gem! If you’ve been to Ninh Binh – did you like it as much as I did? Share your thoughts below.