The Karst scenery and historic first capital of Vietnam – Hoa Lu in Ninh Binh.
Ninh Binh (Ninh Bình) is the capital of the province of Ninh Binh. The city lies 100 km south of Hanoi in the Red River Delta, near the famous karst scenery of Tam Coc and Trang An. Ninh Binh belongs to the another most visited places in northern Vietnam and attracts lots of tourist every year. The population in the province of Ninh Binh forms a typical cross section of the Vietnamese people. Ninh Binh is very easily accesible from Hanoi, you can travel by train, bus or also by motorbike.
Rent a bicycle and ride in the lowland areas around Tam Coc and Trang An.
Archaeological remains found in the caves date back about 30,000 years. Part of that heritage is Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam. Ninh Binh is a more touristy place, many tourists come here just to visit the area around the village of Tam Coc and Hoa Lu town. There is not that much to see in Ninh Binh city itself, so most sight-seeing is centred around the historical sites and the enchanting hilly landscapes surrounding them. They are breath-taking . There is a lot of accommodation in the city with very reasonable prices ranging from 5-20 USD a night but also some luxury accommodation, like bamboo houses, cottages and villas.
The most important historical places you will find near the Ninh Binh town.
The most interesting place to see is certainly the area around Hoa Lu (the capital city of Vietnam in the years 968-1009), this area is very large. Places you can visit include Bich Dong pagoda, Am Tien Temple (Chùa Am Tiên), Hang Mua caves+viewpoint (with a magnificent view of the surroundings), Bai Dinh Buddhist Complex or Trang An and Tam Coc. In Trang An or Tam Coc you can take a boat ride, it takes about 2 hours, and you’ll see a lot of tourists and travellers here.
Boat rides and cycling are the main attractions in Ninh Binh.
On the way down the Ngo Dong river, you will pass three caves, the first cave Hang Ca measures 127 m, second Hang Giua 70 m and third Hang Cuoio 40 m. There are also floating shops on boats, where local people offer a variety of drinks and food . The area around the river is suitable for cycling or walking. Rent a bike and ride here in the lowlands – between the hills and the paddy fields this is a magnificent landscape.
Ninh Binh and its surroundings in the lowlands is suitable for biking or walking.
Bich Dong Pagoda is located 2 km north of Tam Coc, it is an important pilgrimage site for the Vietnamese. Hoa Lu is part of a defensive earthen wall and was protected and surrounded by limestone mountains. Currently the ancient citadel no longer exists, and few sights in Hoa Lu of the 10th century remain. Yet this area is definitely worth seeing, there is a lot of rice fields, limestone mountains and the scenery is amazing.
Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex is written in UNESCO World Heritage List.
Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex, which is located about 12 km from Ninh Binh city center, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, registered as a natural and cultural asset. It consists of a spectacular limestone karst landscape, with the historical city of Hoa Lu and rice fields. Trang An Landscape Complex is one of the most visited places in northern Vietnam. There are 48 caves located in Trang An area and it’s a well-known place for diverse ecosystems. One of the biggest tourist attractions are boat trips, you can choose from the 3 boat roads, buy a ticket and go. These boat trips are good organized and every day thousands of visitors visit this place. If you want to stay near Trang An Complex, you can choose these very good accommodation: Buffalo Eco Garden, Trang An Farmstay or Hoa Lu Eco Homestay.
Ninh Binh – one of the places, where the „Kong: Skull Island“ (2017) was filmed.
Ninh Binh, Ha Long Bay and Yen Phu Lake in northern Vietnam, 3 interesting sites, where the famous Kong: Skull Island (premiere in March 2017) movie was filmed. Some of these places were Van Long Nature Reserve, Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex or Tam Coc – Bich Dong. In Vietnam, it was a big movie hit and for many local people it was a big attraction. In Trang An, there are some left-over cartoons from the filming of the movie and you can visit this small island during your boat trip in this area.
Visit one of the major Vietnamese cultural festivals in Ninh Binh.
Ninh Binh also holds a lot of festivals and cultural events. For example there is Hoa Lu ancient festival (on March 6th, 7th, 8th lunar year), it is an opportunity to commemorate the King and national hero Dinh Tien Hoang and Le Dai Hanh. Another festival in Ninh Binh is Bai Dinh pagoda festival, it takes place on the 1st Tet holiday. Apart from at this time, tourists can only visit the pagoda.
Van Long Nature reserve – a place of wetlands and cultural heritage
Van Long Nature reserve is located about 20 km from the town of Ninh Binh. It’s a place like Tam Coc, where you can ride a boat in a beautiful hilly area. This nature reserve is a bit less visited than Tam Coc. Van Long has about 30 caves and one of the prettiest is Ca, a 250 meters long cave on the Hoang Quyen mountain. In winter this is the home of migratory birds, flying in from the cold north. You can also find there some very good accommodation: Emeralda Resort Ninh Bình or Ninh Binh Nature Homestay.
Mua Caves (Hang Múa) – one of the best viewpoint from Mua Mountain.
Ninh Binh is located in the lowlands, and in the karst areas of Tam Coc and Trang An you can find the best view to the whole area – Múa Mountain. There is a beautiful sightseeing point and Mua Caves. There are about 500 steps and after the clibming to the mountain you will have an fascinating view of the entire area of the Ninh Binh town, especially in the areas of Tam Coc and Trang An. Hang Múa Cave is just 5 km from Ninh Binh’s city center and about 2 km from Tam Coc, and you can get there by bicycle, motorbike or mototaxi.
Mua Cave and viewpoint are next most visited places in Tam Coc area.
Hang Múa (Mua Cave) has its meaning as a „dancing cave,“ because this place was formerly considered a place where King Tran enjoyed dancing and singing performances in this cave. Hang Múa is built according to the model as the „Miniature Great Wall of China“. Below the very top of the mountain, you can stay in the nature, there is a beautiful accommodation for tourists – Mua Caves Ecolodge or Nguyen Shack – Ninh Binh. There are also some restaurants and car parks nearby.
Bái Đính Temple Spiritual and Cultural Complex on Bai Dinh Mountain.
Bái Đinh Temple Spiritual and Cultural Complex is located approximately 15 km from Ninh Binh town. It is one of the largest Buddhist complexes in Southeast Asia and the visit itself (if you do not make it fast) can take up to half a day. The best way to get there is to ride a motorbike, but you can also ride a bicycle, the route is not very demanding. The historical sights can be reached on foot or you can use a small electric bus for a small fee (approx. 1.50 USD) before entering the sights. The car park is located just off the Bai Dinh complex (marked on the map below).
Bai Dinh Pagoda is a religious complex covering a total area of 539 hectare.
Bái Đính Pagoda and temple complex includes several very interesting historical, but also newly built pagodas, palaces or sculptures but also a bell – „Great Bell“ with the weight of 36 tons was cast and located in the Bell Tower. In addition, there is a 70-ton bronze drum on the floor of the Tower. Visitors have the chance to see the largest Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva statue in Bodhissattva Temple. The most important emphasizing point of these great religious works are Tam Temple and Phap Chu Temple. If you are in Ninh Binh, you should definitely visit this historical site, you can travel on motorbike from Trang An scenic complex.
These temples cover a total area of 1,000 square meters. The height of Phap Chu Temple is up to 22m and it contains five partitions. In the center of this temple is a bronze Buddha Sykamuni statue, 10 meters high and about 100 tons heavy (certified as the largest statue in Vietnam). Also at the Bai Dinh Complex you can find very good accommodation: Ninh Binh Family Homestay, Tam Family Homestay or Ninh Binh Mountain View Homestay
Hoa Lu Ancient Capital – one of the most important historical places in Ninh Binh.
Hoa Lu Ancient Capital in Ninh Binh is one of Vietnam’s most important historical sites. It is located just 5 km from Trang An scenic landscape complex, so it is good to join a visit of these 2 places in one day. Easily accessible by motorbike or by bicycle or by taxi from Ninh Binh town. Hoa Lu Ancient Capital will tell you the story of the first three centralized feudal states of Vietnam: the Dinh Dynasty, the Le Dynasty, and the Ly Dynasty. In fact, during Vietnamese history, two dynasties were ruled by the Le family, so to distinguish these two we call them the Early Le Dynasty and the Later Le Dynasty.
History of Hoa Lu Ancient Capital in Ninh Binh.
From the middle of the 10th century, northern Vietnam independently ruled their land apart from the Chinese dynasties. However, due to political separations, the country was divided into 12 parts ruled by 12 different generals. These different kingdoms continuously fought one another in order have absolute power but for many years the country remained divided. Then, there was a man named Dinh Bo Linh who gathered an army to fight the 12 armies. Dinh Bo Linh was very talented, and step by step he defeated all of the generals. Eventually, in 968 he reunified the country, became a king, and named the country Dai Co Viet, which means the great country of the Viet people. This is the first absolute monarchy of Vietnam.
Thung Nham Bird Park – ecotourism/tourist area, west of Tam Coc.
Another place you can visit in the Tam Coc area is Thung Nham Bird Park / Garden, ecotourism area. Located just 5 km west of the Bich Dong Pagoda and easily accessible by bicycle or motorbike, you can also take a boat trip to the park (marked on the map). It is a park/sanctuary and ecotourism area where birds can be observed, but it can also be described as a tourist resort where you can also stay. Up to 40 species of birds are listed, and other animals are protected, but that does not mean that you will all see them. The best time to watch these birds is reported from May to July.
Thung Nham is a place created and adapted for tourists and bird watching.
The birds‘ observatory itself is at the end of the park (marked on the map). You can walk, but you can borrow a bicycle on site. In the vicinity and in the sanctuary are also caves that you can visit, but also restaurants, refreshments, all adapted for tourists. However, during my several-hour visit I did not see many birds, but the caves are quite interesting. See below, such as Tien Ca Cave, with a very low ceiling, located a few hundred meters from the entrance to the park on the left side. Fee for visitng this park/sanctuary is about 5 USD (may change). There is also the beautiful Tam Coc Rise Field Resort, close to the entrance to the Thung Nham Bird Park.
Cuc Phuong National park is very a good stop, 30 km from the city.
Approximately 30 km west of Ninh Binh is the oldest national park of Vietnam – Cuc Phuong. There are plenty of available caves, and it is the home of wildlife and different species and plants. On the lake its possible to hire a kayak, boat or rent a bike nearby. You can get to this park on a motorbike from Ninh Binh town or directly from Hanoi. The bus departs from Giap Bat bus station in Hanoi and the journey takes about 3 hours to the town of Nho Guan (3km from the park). Admission to the park is notional – 20 000 dong. The official website of Cuc Phuong national park – Cucphuongtourism.com.
Camping, biking, hiking and nature observation in Cuc Phuong park
Accommodation and camping is available in and around the park, many offering bicycles for rent. When you buy a ticket at the entrance ask for permits for camping. Cuc Phuong park is also ideal for observing about 300 bird species, and from April to June you will see several hundred species of butterflies.
You can travel on motorcycle + boat to the Perfume Pagoda (Chùa Thiên Trù).
When you stay in Ninh Binh more days, it could be a good choice a trip on a motorcycle to Perfume Pagoda (Chùa Thiên Trù). It’s very important Buddhist site in a beautiful location, away from the town of Ninh Binh approximately 60 km. A lots of travelers visit this place, it is possible to buy a day trip from Hanoi, it can be purchased for around $ 25. It’s a tourist place, but beautiful. However, if you are in Ninh Binh and traveling on a motorcycle it is very easy to get here.
Several interesting Buddhist monuments, but also a huge cave.
This place can be reached only by boat, you need to board in the Yến Vi harbor. For the boat ride, which is about 3.5 km long you will be charged about apx. $ 6/ person. The main attraction is the Perfume Pagoda and Động Hương Tích cave. You can make a hike (about 1 hour trip) to this cave at the highest point y or you can go by cable car (apx. $ 3). Take a look at the photos of the Perfume Pagoda.
How to get from Hanoi to Ninh Binh (Train, Bus, Taxi):
1. From Hanoi to Ninh Binh by train – this is the most frequented route to southern Vietnam. Train go from Hanoi Railway Station (120 Lê Duẩn). Trains continue to central and southern Vietnam. Travel by train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh takes also about 2,5 hours by train. Read all information before you buy tickets. Recommended – this is the one of the most frequented train route, recommended > book and buy your tickets online.
2. From Hanoi to Ninh Binh by bus – My Dinh, Giap Bat or Nước Ngầm bus stations. Some private companies go from various stations. Travel by bus takes about 2,5 hours. There are local and tourist comfortable buses (Hoang Long, Grouptour…). Search and book bus/train tickets at 12go.asia or Baolau.
From Cat Ba Island to Ninh Binh by bus – you can travel by very comfortable and luxury buses of Cat Ba Express to Ninh Binh. These buses depart from 4 Núi Ngọc, Cat Ba Island and it takes about 4,5 hours to reach Ninh Binh. You can also travel from Ninh Binh to Cat Ba Island by bus.
You can book and buy bus tickets from Cat Ba Island to Ninh Binh online.
How to travel from Ninh Binh to Sapa:
there are some buses from Ninh Binh to Sapa town, or you can travel by train via Hanoi + Lao Cai
there is no direct train from Ninh Binh to Sapa, trains from Hanoi arrive to Lao Cai
Ninh Binh and Sapa have no airports, travel by plane is not possible
Ninh Binh is located just 100 kilometers from Hanoi in the lowlands, and the weather is almost the same as in Hanoi. The wettest and hottest months are June, July and August. The best months to visit are September, October, November, when the temperature is around 25 °C.
September- October – rice harvest season and colourful rice fields. Some spring months are also suitable. Winter months are also good (dry season) but you should know, these months may be cold and rainy. ➜ Current weather in Ninh Binh
Accommodation in Ninh Binh:
Ninh Binh has a lot of types of accommodation. Rooms, hostels, hotels, but also a very nice ecohouses are mostly middle category in low price ranges in the whole area of Trang An or Tam Coc. There also some luxury eco-resorts. It is not a problem to get a private room for one person for 10 USD a night, but also very nice expensive rooms in resorts.
a motorcycle trip and boat to the Perfume Pagoda (Chùa Thiên Trù, 60 km from Ninh Binh)
Ninh Binh – tourist map:
Frequently asked questions about Ninh Binh:
How to book bus/train tickets or taxi/car from Hanoi to Ninh Binh?
You can book tickets or private car from Hanoi to Ninh Binh online onBaolau or 12go.asia.
How to book a tour to Ninh Binh / Tam Coc / Trang An?
You can search and book a tour to Ninh Binh and Trang An Complex, Tam Coc, Hang Mua online with Tourradar. With Tourradar you can book various tours + trips in northern and central and southern Vietnam.
How to move in Ninh Binh?
The best way is to rent a bicycle or motorbike, it is very easy to move in Ninh Binh or Trang An Complex, because this are lies in lowland. IDP is necessary if you want to drive a motorbike in Vietnam. You can book your motorbike in Hanoi or Ninh Binh online with Bikesbooking.
What is the travel time from Hanoi to Ninh Binh?
Travel by tourist bus or train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh takes about 2-3.5 hours.
Travel by private taxi or car from Hanoi to Ninh Binh takes about 2 hours.
How much does it cost to travel from Hanoi to Ninh Binh?
Travel by train or tourist bus / minivan from Hanoi to Ninh Binh costs about $3-15/pp.
Travel by private car from Hanoi to Ninh Binh costs about $55-80/car.
How far is Ninh Binh from Hanoi?
Travel distance from Hanoi to Ninh Binh is about 90 km by tourist bus or train.