In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know before you visit Ninh Binh, Vietnam, from top attractions to see, best time to visit, where to eat, and where to stay.
About Ninh Binh
The first thing to know is that most of the attractions are found in four main areas in Ninh Binh.
Tam Cốc/Bích Động (Ninh Hai)
- Bich Dong Pagoda
- Tam Coc boat ride
- Thung Nham Bird Garden
- Trang An boat ride
- Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
- Hang Mua Caves
- Van Long Nature Reserve
- Bai Dinh Pagoda
- Cuc Phuong National Park
- Endangered Primate Rescue Center
Top things to do in Ninh Binh
Mua Caves/Hang Mua
Mua Caves is the name that represents the two famous Hang Mua viewpoints, the dragon and the pagoda. It’s a must place to visit as this is one of the highest points in Ninh Binh, so you have a fantastic panoramic view of the whole area.
There are around 500 steep steps, and the path splits halfway, leading to different viewpoints. It’s a bit of a challenge only because the steps are not the same size, plus humidity in summer doesn’t help. But it’s so worth it, so make sure to visit both!
Price: 100K VND ($4.4)
Best time to visit: Both sunrise and sunset are incredible from here! However, if you’re visiting during the hot months, come as early as you can. It can get crazy hot. We were there in July, and it was like 30 degrees even before the sun went up. And keep in mind that you have to climb about 500 steps in that heat.
Travel tip: If you stay in Mua Caves Ecolodge, you don’t need to pay an entrance fee, and you can visit whenever and as many times as you want. That’s because the viewpoints are situated in the ecolodge itself.
Bich Dong Pagoda
Bich Dong is the most famous pagoda or rather pagoda entrance in Ninh Binh. With its picture-perfect setting, it won us over right away! A small bridge goes over the lake full of floating lotuses. It connects the land with a beautiful ancient gate that leads to the pagoda complex.
The entrance is stunning, but don’t skip visiting the actual temple area.
The Bich Dong complex has three pagodas named after their positioning on the mountain. There are the Ha Pagoda (lower one), Trung Pagoda (middle one), and Thuong Pagoda (upper one).
Price: Free entrance, parking fee 10k VND
Best time to visit: It’s open all the time, but visit during the sunrise if you want to catch the magical light at the entrance.
Travel tip: You (male & female) need to cover your shoulders if you plan on going inside. Something like a sarong or a scarf should do the job.
Trang An boat ride
You need to take at least one boat ride when you’re in Ninh Binh. Although our favorite one was in Van Long Nature Reserve (not the most popular one), we also decided to try the famous Trang An boat ride.
Everyone recommends this one, rather than the most famous Tam Coc one. Mainly because they aren’t allowed to harass you during the ride, which means you can enjoy a peaceful ride, and you’re not forced to tip and buy stuff left and right. We haven’t tried the Tam Coc ride, so we don’t know this from personal experience, but a couple of our friends went and said it is true (it’s a common theme on other blogs as well). So we’d also recommend the Trang An boat ride instead of Tam Coc.
TIP: There are three different routes you can take. We suggest taking route number 3, including the 1000 meters long Dot Cave, the longest cave in the complex. And this is the only route that has it. It was the highlight of our boat trip.
Price: 250.000 VND ($11) per person or double if you want only two people in the boat, as they usually fill it with 4.
Duration: 2-3 hours – ours was 2:10 hours as we weren’t stopping anywhere for too long
Best time to go: Either early morning or late afternoon as the sun is quite intense in the summer. So bear that in mind, as you are at many points of the ride on direct sun.
Van Long Nature Reserve
Van Long Nature Reserve is one of the largest and few actual wetlands of the Red River Delta. Its diverse and unique ecological system is very rare. And it’s also where the most significant number of Delacour’s langurs live. There are around 120 of them in Van Long and only 200 globally. If you’re lucky, you might see them during the boat ride!
Price: 70.000 VND ($3) per person
Duration: around 1 hour and a half
Best time to visit: Sunset rides are the best here! Other than that, try to visit during the rainy season, because you can pass through a cave. Unfortunately, we got stuck due to the low water level and had to turn back.
Nevertheless, we had a fantastic time, and our guide was just the sweetest!
Am Tien Cave
Don’t let the name fool you, Am Tien Cave isn’t just a cave, although it is one of the site’s highlights.
The whole place seems like you just walked in a fairytale. You’re entering the site through a tunnel, and the first thing you see is a big emerald-green lake surrounded by the enclosed limestone karst mountains. It makes the whole scenery look so mysterious.
There’s an interesting temple on the side of the hill, and right next to it is the actual cave. Inside the cave, you can also find a tiny turquoise pool where people throw coins for good luck.
There is a nicely made path around the lake, full of flowers, and a beautiful viewpoint that gives a fantastic view of the whole place. You’ll reach a picture-perfect building by walking to the other end, which is actually a gate/entrance but looks more like a castle.
Am Tien Cave is also one of the least visited and cheapest attractions in Ninh Binh. However, that doesn’t mean nobody is visiting, as it can get quite crowded, but nowhere near other places.
Price: 20.000 VND ($0.8) entrance ticket, plus scooter parking 10.000 VND ($0.4).
Best time to visit: Come in the morning to have a more peaceful time, as it already opens at 7 am.
Thung Nham Bird Garden
Thung Nham Bird Park in Ninh Binh is more of a resort/amusement park, but it offers some cool activities. There are many species of birds that nest in the park, and that was the main reason we went to visit. The biggest chance to see them is just before the sunset when the birds come home.
There are two ways to get the best view of the birds. One way is to visit one of the viewpoints on foot. There is a lower and an upper viewpoint. And the second way is a boat ride that will take you closer to the trees where the birds nest. The boat ride should be around 20k VND (less than $1).
Even though we arrived a few hours earlier, we almost missed the birds coming home, because the place is enormous. However, they offer bikes for rent, so maybe take one and don’t be like us, and almost miss out on the main attraction.
There are also a few caves in the area, and the one we visited was the Mermaid Cave. That one is super fun as it’s very low, so you have to walk crouched.
The place is full of flower gardens prepared as photo props and some more tacky places that we weren’t the biggest fans of, but you can easily skip these.
Even though the park wasn’t really what we were expecting, it was still lovely, and you should visit it if you have some extra time in the area.
Price: 100.000 VND ($4.4)
Best time to visit: Around the sunset if you’re visiting for the birds.
Bai Dinh Pagoda
The Bai Dinh Pagoda is an enormous complex of some older but mostly newly built temples, and it’s one of the largest Buddhist complexes in Southeast Asia.
There is no entrance fee for Bai Dinh Pagoda, but you do have to pay the parking if you come with a motorbike – 30.000 VND ($1.3).
To get to the central part of the complex, you can either walk about a kilometer, primarily uphill (free), or pay 30.000 VND ($1.3) for a buggy ride per person each way.
Also, if you would like to go up the pagoda tower, you need to pay for the elevator, which costs around 50.000 VND ($2).
Honestly, we weren’t the biggest fans of this place as the staff was quite rude. Just the fact that you have to pay for every single thing (even though the entrance is free) is a bit annoying. Also, it seems like the pagoda was built primarily for touristic purposes and nothing else. The drive to the pagoda is really lovely, though, and the complex itself isn’t that bad, but we didn’t have the best experience, so we rushed our visit here.
Travel tip: The whole complex is lit during the night, and it looks spectacular.
Cuc Phuong is Vietnam’s first national park, established in 1962. It has a rich ecosystem and is covered in a dense forest, forming a habitat for some of Asia’s rarest species. You can find the Clouded leopard, Delacour’s langur, Owston’s Civet, and Asian Black Bear.
The Cuc Phuong national park is perfect for trekking enthusiasts, birdwatchers, and anyone who wants to escape the Ninh Binh crowds. You can drive through some parts of the National Park on your own, but to fully explore the area, you need to join one of the trekking tours. You can get to know the local Muong tribe (and sleep there), hike to the highest peak, go wildlife night-spotting, etc. As far as we know, you can’t trek independently there, except to a few spots (which are no more than a few km long).
The park is also known for its Turtle Conservation and Endangered Primate Rescue Center. You get a guided tour and learn more about its endangered species and how they help them.
We didn’t know about trekking tours before getting there, so we only visited the rescue center and drove a bit through the park.
Best time to visit: April and May for a chance to see millions of butterflies everywhere.
Price: 60.000 VND + 30.000 VND for conservation centre
Travel tip: Make sure to bring a mosquito repellent as there are many mosquitos here!
Conservation centers are open daily from 8:30 till 11:30 am and 13:30 till 16:30.
All the trekking tours are paid additionally.
Best time to visit Ninh Binh
The best time to visit Ninh Binh depends on what you want to experience, but you will have a great time any time of the year.
At the beginning of April, the lotus blooming season starts, so this is the time when Ninh Binh is especially beautiful. There are lotus ponds full of flowers everywhere around Ninh Binh. That’s why it’s a trendy spot for Vietnamese as well, as it’s the perfect photo setting.
The best time to visit Ninh Binh to see the rice fields is in April when they are still green and in May when they’re golden, just before the harvest at the beginning of June. The same goes for August and September to see the rice fields and October for the harvest.
How to get to Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh is located in the north of Vietnam, and getting there is quite easy, as it’s just a 100km or 1-hour drive south of Hanoi. Daily buses, trains, and private cars go between Hanoi and Ninh Binh.
Since Ninh Binh is easy to reach from Hanoi, there are many daily tours going from Hanoi, with most departing from Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
Different tours visit different spots in Ninh Binh, but most of them visit at least: Tam Coc/Trang An, Hang Mua, and Hoa Lu.
Taking a bus or a limousine/van is the best way to get to Ninh Binh, as they are the most common mode of transport and the most reliable and fastest. In addition, the prices are great, and you can get one for as low as 130.000 VND ($5.5). Many limousine companies also drop you off at your hotel/homestay but check beforehand. Taxis in the city are affordable, and there’s also Grab.
Another option is the local bus, which is much cheaper, but honestly, the van is your best bet.
Ninh Binh’s train station is not the biggest and most equipped one, but still is a significant source of arriving tourists and trains pass by regularly. The first time we came to Ninh Binh, it was from Hue with the train.
We always suggest trains for longer drives where possible, so if you’re coming from the south, opting for the train is a great option.
It takes 2 hours from Hanoi to Ninh Binh with the train and costs around 150.000 VND ($6.5) for the soft seat and 200.000 VND ($8.5) for a bed in the cabin.
You can book tickets online or book directly at the train station or Vietnam Railway’s official website.
Private transport is also possible between Hanoi and Ninh Binh, and a private car or taxi will cost you around 1.200.000 VND ($52).
Going with a motorbike to Ninh Binh is very easy, and if you’re coming from Hanoi, you just drive south for 2 hours (100km).
Daily motorbike rental in Hanoi costs upwards of 100.000 VND ($4.5) for semi-automatic bikes, around 150.000 VND ($6.5) for automatic and 400.000 ($20) for dirt bikes like the Honda XR 150.
We can’t recommend any rental companies in Hanoi, as we were lucky to rent from our friend there.
How to get around Ninh Binh
As always, we recommend renting a motorbike. Even though the “main” area in Ninh Binh is not that big, it will still take some time to go between places like the bird park and Bai Dinh pagoda (30km).
It seems like people are romanticizing cycling in Ninh Binh a tiny bit too much. 😅 It’s definitely one of the activities you should do while in Ninh Binh, but getting around the whole area (especially if you’re limited with time) is not the best advice.
Renting a bike from your hotel/homestay is the way to go, even though the prices might be a tad higher than elsewhere. However, you will still get an automatic scooter for a max of 150.000 VND ($6.5).
Furthermore, most of the accommodations in Ninh Binh rent out bicycles, which is a great way to explore the parts between Hang Mua and Tam Coc. Rice fields there are the most admirable, and there are also some bike paths that you can ride on.
Where to stay
Ninh Binh is a top-rated tourist destination, so there are plenty of accommodations for you to choose from. From the simple homestays to above-water homestays or those surrounded by rice fields, as well as hotels and even resorts.
We can highly recommend Ha Lan Homestay, very close to Hang Mua. We were there two times in a year, staying there for one month and a half in total! There are few rooms, so it shouldn’t be too packed even in high season. However, the rooms have everything you need, and they even built a big pool in 2021!
Also, we stayed for a few nights at Hang Mua Ecolodge, which is the perfect place to stay, because Mua Caves viewpoints are located inside the ecolodge area. You can hike in the morning for sunrise and don’t need to pay for the ticket as you’re staying there. Also, they have a nice pool where you can cool off after the hike.
Lastly, check out Ninh Binh Mountain View Homestay next to the Bai Dinh Pagoda. We were there for a few days, and the area is very peaceful and relaxing. You can even swim in the lake close by, and there were many locals there in the afternoons. Additionally, you get to see the whole complex lit at night, and the towers around the lake also light up.
Where to eat in Ninh Binh
There were plenty of restaurants catering to foreign tourists in Ninh Binh before the 2020 hit, but now many have closed. So you might have to do a bit better research into where you can eat. The most hit is the area around Hang Mua and towards Trang An, as we saw signs of many restaurants that are now permanently closed by the looks of it.
On the other hand, in Tam Coc, you can still find an Indian and Mexican restaurant and many local Vietnamese from what we’ve seen.
We mostly ate at our accommodation, as that was the easiest. Still, we did check out Chookie’s Hideaway in Ninh Binh City, and their food was excellent.
1990s Homestay was also one of our favorite places to eat before they closed in 2021. It’s a small family-owned restaurant where we ate the best tofu with tomato sauce! They also treated us with some fruits after every meal that their two little girls would prepare for us. On top of all that, they have the cutest dog called Milo. Hopefully, they will reopen once tourism comes back.
Vegan or vegetarian?You HAVE to read this! You will be surprised.
Vegan and Vegetarian Guide to Vietnam.