Ninh Binh is in Northern Vietnam. It is about 2 hours south of Hanoi. Outside the city center, there is an abundance of rice fields and limestone cliffs that enclose several rivers.
How to get to Ninh Binh
You can get to Ninh Binh in a lot of different ways from Hanoi. By, bus, train, tour van, or renting a motorbike and driving yourself.
Each option takes about 2-3 hours.
- The bus and train have similar prices (around $3-4) to arrive to Ninh Binh from Hanoi.
- From the train, station you can expect another $2 taxi ride to arrive in the backpacker friendly village of Tam Coc.
- Hiring a boat to take you down the river should cost $9 a person.
- Entrance fee to the top of Hang Mua (Lying Dragon Mountain) is $4.50.
Where to stay
Staying in Ninh Binh City might be cheaper, but there is not much to do and you’ll find yourself driving further to explore the beautiful countryside on the outskirts.
The peaceful village of Tam Coc might be a better location because it is near all of the action. There is an abundance of backpacker hostels, cheap hotels, restaurants, and tour agencies that cater to the fellow backpacker.
Not to mention how incredibly scenic it is – surrounded by limestone terraces, open green fields, and various waterways.
Tom Coc literally sits on the edge of the river where some of the boats depart from and is about a 5-minute drive to the Hang Mua (Lying Dragon Mountain) viewpoint.
How much time do you need in Ninh Binh
You can see and do the major attractions in Ninh Binh on a day trip from Hanoi. It’s one of the reasons why Ninh Binh is so popular for the backpacker on a budget of time, the accessibility from the various locations of Northern Vietnam (Hanoi, Halong Bay, Sapa).
However, if you really wanted to experience everything Ninh Binh has to offer, I’d recommend staying the night and spreading it out over 2 days.
When is the best time to visit Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh is great to visit year-round; although you might encounter more grey skies from the months of December through March.
Hiking to the top of Hang Mua might be best in the morning as it is a steep hike and rather taxing in the heat of the afternoon sun. Weekdays might offer less foot traffic, as it is a popular weekend destination because of its proximity to Hanoi.
What to do in Ninh Binh
There are several amazing sights in Ninh Binh. Some of the more popular ones include:
- Taking a guided boat tour down the rivers and through several caves of the limestone cliffs (about 90 minutes).
- Hiking to the top Hang Mua (Lying Dragon Mountain) to see the incredibly scenic river system from above. There is even a great cave at the base of the mountain where you can have a picnic inside of the cave on one of the 5 tables set up. (Pack your own lunch!).
- Visit Bich Dong – a few elaborate pagodas and a temple in the hills of Ninh Binh. You might have to share the view with some of the local goats!
Ninh Binh tips
Although Tam Coc is the best place to stay because of its proximity to the attractions in the countryside, it can also be known for taking advantage of tourists.
Nothing too scandalous, but backpackers should expect to pay more in this area than the city of Ninh Binh. Travelers will also have to pay more than Vietnamese tourists, so just expect that.
If arriving by train, I recommend buying a return ticket from the train station directly because tickets sold from an agency in Tam Coc will cost nearly double for commission!
If you are taking the guided boat tour, you might be hassled to buy snacks midway through and pressured to tip your guide. But take this with a grain of salt because this is nothing extraordinary in a growing tourist destination in Vietnam.
Why should Ninh Binh be on my bucket list?
Ninh Binh is a MUST if you are in Northern Vietnam, even if it is just for a day. There is so much beauty in this countryside range.
When I think about Vietnam, the Ninh Binh countryside is what comes to mind. It is surrounded by rice paddy fields and limestone cliffs towering from the ground – the Halong Bay on land.
This place is growing fast in popularity after being featured as the location from the hit movie, Kong Skull Island. Come see it before the tourism explodes.