Recently, Ninh Binh has become a popular nature retreat for travelers traversing the lands of Vietnam. Filled with spectacular rice paddies, dreamy boat rides, history and culture, Ninh Binh is a must-visit on any trip to Vietnam. So, if you’re looking for ways to spend a day or two in the heart of Ninh Binh, known as Tam Coc, make sure to check out this guide of things to do.
How do I travel to Ninh Binh?
Travelers can reach Ninh Binh from most of Northern Vietnam’s top attractions. Ninh Binh is conveniently located just 95 km from Hanoi. The short 2-hour journey makes it a perfect nature getaway for a day or two. With plenty of transport options, from luxury minivans to buses, the stress of reaching Ninh Binh from Hanoi is taken away. Buses can be booked online just a day in advance.
From Halong Bay
After exploring the extraordinary waters of Halong Bay, continue to Ninh Binh for more nature and boat rides. Instead of heading back to Hanoi from Halong Bay, you can take a quick 3.5 to 5-hour direct bus. There are bus options available, that will pick you up and drop you off in the center of each location, which is super convenient.
From Cat Ba
Ninh Binh is located just a 4 to 4.5-hour journey away from Cat Ba. To reach Ninh Binh from Cat Ba, you will need to take a quick ferry ride before boarding a bus. Similar to the transport from Hanoi, there are plenty of tourist buses that run the route from Cat Ba Island to Ninh Binh. You can book both tickets online.
One day itinerary in Ninh Binh (Tam Coc)
Whilst Ninh Binh, more specifically Tam Coc (the tourist area of Ninh Binh), will certainly take your breath away and leave you wanting more, we understand that time doesn’t always permit you to stay for more than a day. So, if you only have one day, here are our top recommendations of things to do in Ninh Binh for one day.
Cycle through rice paddies
Rise and shine nice and early! Rent a bicycle from your accommodation or one of the bike rental shops and take a peaceful morning cycle through the rice fields, where you will see local women ploughing away at the land, or local men fishing in the marshes.
Pro tip: Many guesthouses and hostels offer FREE bicycle rental. Make sure to check this out when booking your accommodation.
Stop off at Bich Dong Pagoda
Whilst on your morning cycle, make sure to stop by at one of Ninh Binh’s historical and cultural relics, Bich Dong Pagoda. Also know as the “Three-Tier Pagoda”. What makes the pagoda unique, is that is nestled into the side of a mountain, making for excellent photographs of the archway and surrounding greenery. The pagoda is FREE to enter.
Visit Thung Nham Bird Park
This place is perfect for bird lovers. At the far end of Tam Coc, you will find Thung Nham Bird Park. The park is also filled with trees, lakes, and cute bridges and swings. As you walk around you will notice many young Vietnamese women in traditional dress and teenagers making the most out of the cute props by snapping away selfie after selfie.
The star attraction of this place though is the 40-minute boat ride to the bird sanctuary island, where thousands of birds of many species spend their days. The cost to enter is 100,000 VND ($4.30) and the boat ride to the bird island is 30,000 VND ($1.29).
Take a boat ride
Imagine peacefully rowing down the rivers, weaving in and out of an array of ancient caves. Well, Ninh Binh is famed for its selection of boat rides just like this. But the extra cool part is how the local rowers navigate the peaceful waters, using not only their hands but sometimes their feet instead.
The most popular spots to hop on a boat ride are in Tam Coc and Trang An. However, if you only have one day, we recommend sticking to the one in Tam Coc, so you don’t need to take a scooter or taxi to Trang An. The boat rides last around 2 hours and cost between 250,000 VND ($10.76) inclusive of the boat ride and entrance fees to the caves.
Sit by the campfire with a few drinks at Chookie’s
During the winter months, from November to March, you will probably feel an evening chill. There is no better way to warm up and feel cozy, than a few beers and some delicious food, whilst sitting around a fire in the outdoor seating area at Chookie’s. The setup of the chairs, make for an inviting social space, which is perfect for connecting with other travelers.
Two day itinerary in Ninh Binh
For those of you with a little more time to spare in Ninh Binh, today you will branch out further than Tam Coc to explore other areas. For day 2 of this itinerary, we recommend you rent a scooter or hire a professional driver to help you get around.
Hike to the top of Mua Caves
Whilst the cave is pretty cool to see, the main draw to this cave is the peak. Put on your hiking boots and climb up 500 steps to the top of Mua Peak for magnificent views of Tam Coc.
The views from this point are the best in the area, especially when the sky is clear and the majestic mountains and endless greenery in the background are flourishing. The views are so stunning, it has recently become a very famous Instagram spot. The cost to enter is 100,000 VND ($4.30).
Get lost at Bai Dinh Temple
Head over to Binh Dinh Temple, the largest spiritual pagoda in the whole of Vietnam. Set in 539 hectares of land, there are plenty of temples and buddha statues to explore that date back to the 10th and 11th centuries, during the Dinh dynasty. This place is perfect for history buffs!
The entrance to the temple is FREE. However, due to the size of the massive complex, you may want to hop into an electric buggy, which will take you to the entrance and back to the car park. The price of a round trip is 80,000 VND ($3.45).
Take an history tour at Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
The Hoa Lu ancient capital complex is one of Ninh Binh’s top attractions, set in majestic lands of mountains and rivers. During the 10th and 11th centuries, Hoa Lu was the capital of Vietnam. Now the complex is an integral part of Vietnamese history and architecture.
The complex boasts three main temples; Dinh, Le, and Nhat Tru. Whilst visitors can easily explore the grounds by themselves for just 20,000 VND ($0.86), it is advisable to hire a guide to fully understand the historical significance. Guides can be booked beforehand from your accommodation, or online as part of a wider tour around Ninh Binh.
Party the night away on the karaoke bus
To end your Ninh Binh itinerary, hop on board the Karaoke bus in the centre of Tam Coc. It is not difficult to miss with its neon flashing lights and party vibe that can be heard in the distance. Two double-decker buses park up on the main parking area (near where the boat rides leave from). One boasts a bar area and the other has Karaoke screens with a selection of classic songs from the 1990s and 2000s.
Put quite simply, a trip to Ninh Binh is a must! As it is in easy reach from other top destinations in Northern Vietnam, there is no excuse not to visit. Whether you decide to go for a day, or for two, there are plenty of things to see and do. From dreamy boat rides, sunset cycles, to hiking to the top of ancient pagodas. Ninh Binh has it all, so don’t miss out.