First of all, we definitely suggest exploring Ninh Binh, was one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam that we explored.
We spent three days in Ninh Binh province after the chaotic Hanoi and cruising Halong Bay, and was exactly what we were looking for: peaceful and stunning Vietnamese countryside. If you need to choose between one or the other we definitely would recommend Ninh Binh.
What to visit in Ninh Binh
- Trang An: UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage site and the filming location of King Kong Skull Island
Our suggestion is to arrive very early as is a very famous place and it gets very busy and you risk to lose the perfect experience. We arrived at 10.30 and was still very good (in March), we found a very low amount of people around and we had the opportunity to navigate on the river without any other boat around. Such an amazing trip.
You can choose between 3 different routes, we decide to explore route 1. It lasts for 2 hours cruising around the river passing 9 caves and 3 temples.
Entrance fee: 200.000 VND (approximately 7£) + parking cost.
Hoa Lu Ancient Citadel
Was the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries. We’ve been very lucky, very few tourists around.
- Bai Dinh Pagoda
Must to go, but keep in mind that you may need an entire day as it is considered the largest complex of Buddhist temples in Vietnam. We spent a half day there and we couldn’t finish our tour. We decided to go back to Tam Coc during the sunset avoiding to drive our scooter in the dark (streets are not the best and we didn’t know if there was enough street light).
It’s a huge complex and you may want to take the internal train which costs 30.000 VND (1£) per person each way.Bai Dinh PagodaEntrance fee: 50.000 VND (1.70£) to get the lift for the Tháp bút (the tower). On top of it one of the most beautiful point of vew on Ninh Binh and the Bai Dinh Pagoda.
- Hang Mua Cave (or Mua Cave) – is also called Halong Bay on land
The view of the limestone mountains and rice fields is absolutely breathtaking.
Basically this place is why you go to Ninh Binh, you can’t miss it. Keep in mind that is a demanding hiking (500 steps, 20 mins) on the Mua Montain, but the view from the top, where the dragon is, worth the effort. To Vietnamese people, the dragon brings rain, essential for agriculture and we guess that’s the reason why it watches over the entire Tam Coc area.
Bring plenty of water with you, some snacks and use sun protection (always). Best time to go on top is early in the morning or in the afternoon when the sun is not too strong.
Entrance fee: 100,000 VND
- Tam Coc Bich Dong Pagoda
2 km north of Tam Coc there is this lovely pagoda lost in the Vietnamese countryside. In reality consists of three separate pagodas, lower, middle and upper pagoda. No entrance fee required here, but you may have to pay a parking fee.
- Rice fields
We had time before our train to Hanoi departed, so we decided to explore a little bit better the rice fields.
Day 1: (half day) exploring Tam Coc
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Day 2: Trang An, Hoa Lu Ancient Citadel and Bai Dinh Pagoda (allow more then half day to visit it, as it’s a huge complex)
Day 3: Hang Mua cave, Tam Coc Bich Dong, rice fields.
How to get to Ninh Binh from Hanoi
Our train departed at 2.35pm o’clock, only 3 stops, arrived at 5pm.
Booked via www.baolau.com (English available) and we spent 162.000 dong (approx. 5.50£) per person, one way.
How to get around Ninh Binh
You need your own vehicle to get the best experience, we rent a scooter from our homestay for a ridiculous price.
Taxi from Ninh Binh station to Tam Coc
We paid in total 200.000 VND (approximately 7£), tip included.
Where to stay
Our hotel is Tam Coc Lake View Homestay, was extremely clean and tidy, the location was stunning and the family who run the homestay was very gentle and friendly. The place was at walking distance from Tam Coc main street (it’s a tiny town), but at the same time was very quiet.
Where to eat
We tried Tam Coc Family restaurant one night, the traditional BBQ duck was good.
Our favourite was definitely Father Cooking on the main street in Tam Coc, almost on the lake. We had 2 Pho and spring rolls to share + 4 beers and we paid 8/9£ in total.
Where to drink
Our favourite local pub was Tam Coc Pier pub, very interesting location with free pool table and games and cheap drinks.