I’m about to share my full travel details to Vietnam’s hidden gem. This is a detailed Ninh Binh itinerary to see this fascinating place in two magical days.

Some of the most memorable days of my 2-month backpacking trip in Asia were spent in Ninh Binh, Vietnam.

The whole province is an extremely low-key and amazingly scenic place, yet still not packed with tourists. It’s the perfect place to get to know the real authentic Vietnam.

Being a recently discovered travel destination, information online about Ninh Binh is still scarce and confusing. To make things worse, Google Maps can mislead you and the locals struggle to understand English.

It can be challenging to plan a trip independently to Ninh Binh. Yet anything is WAY better than to explore Ninh Binh on a soulless and rushed organised tour together with dozens of other travelers. As a matter of fact, try to stay away from tours in the whole Vietnam.

I’ve shared a complete Ninh Binh guide before.

Now I’m going deeper and sharing my full trip itinerary for you to explore this hidden gem in Vietnam in 2 days and have the same amazing experience that I had.

route ninh binh itinerary travel guide scenery
Prepare to feel like you are in a National Geographic documentary ALL THE TIME.

Ninh Binh Itinerary & Travel Plan

Some things to know about this itinerary:

  • The itinerary is based on my own trip in December 2016. I spent a total of 2,5 days exploring Ninh Binh and could’ve easily stayed more!
  • It’s for independent travelers making their own way in Ninh Binh. This is the way it should be explored!
  • It’s suited if you have your own wheels, whether is a bike or a motorbike. I strongly recommend the latter, at least on the first day.
  • It’s NOT a rushed itinerary. You can squeeze in more places if you want. However I think is important to allow some time to really take in the scenery, explore the area calmly and even get wonderfully lost!

Sounds like this can suit you? Great, let’s start the engines!



What to do in Ninh Binh – 2-Day Itinerary

I’ve put together a map to help you navigate around Ninh Binh area.
It contains all of the main sights and places worth going – IN ENGLISH – split in 2 different days.

Yes, two days. Anything less and you’ll need to cut down on some sights and/or rush your trip. And who the hell wants stress on the countryside?!

There’s also some additional sights in case you’ve got more time or want to switch up something. Find it below or use this URL.

Day 1 in Ninh Binh – ORANGE pins

  • Trang An Grottoes
  • Hoa Lu Ancient Citadel
  • Bai Dinh Pagoda

Day 2 in Ninh Binh- PURPLE pins

  • Tam Coc Rice Fields
  • Bich Dong Pagoda
  • Hang Mua
  • Thung Nham Bird Park

Additional places worth seeing in Ninh Binh – BLUE pins

  • Tam Coc Boat Ride
  • Phat Diem Cathedral
  • Van Long Nature Reserve
  • Cuc Phuong National Park

I know these shopping lists don’t help much, so now let’s go in detail about these sights!



Booking.com

Day 1 in Ninh Binh

This first day only has 3 places, but each one of them will need a couple of hours to explore. I strongly suggest you get around on a motorbike as distances between these sights are significant.

Trang An

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Trang An Landscape Complex is an impressive set of large limestone karst cliffs covered by forest. In the entire area, you can find temples, dozens of valleys and about 50 different caves.

The best way to enjoy this inspiring scenery is to take a boat ride. A lady rower will row the boat for you, the technique they use to manouevre the boat inside the underwater caves is truly amazing. It’s unreal the amount of effort these ladies has to put every day for a living.

Since the whole trip lasts for about 2 hours (!), I helped the rower for some time by using the spare oars.

Trang An was definitely a main highlight of Ninh Binh and apparently a much more beautiful and relaxing ride than Tam Coc‘s (see below). Being surrounded by the huge mountains in almost every direction while on a tiny boat is truly a spectacular feeling. Don’t miss this!

Trang An Boat Ride – Tips

  • 📍 Where: Trang An is 7km away from Ninh Binh and about 11km from Tam Coc. You can get there by bike, just make sure you head to the pin in the above map – simply searching by “Trang An” in Google Maps will lead you to another place.
  • ⏱ How long: The ride has a duration of 2-3 hours.
  • 💰 How much: The entrance fee is 150,000 dong + a parking fee for your vehicle.
  • 💡 Tip: Most day tours from Hanoi start arriving around 10, so it’s advisable that you make your way there very early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

Hoa Lu Ancient Capital

🇻🇳 VIETNAM | 🈴 Heritage. Hoa Lu was the first capital of Vietnam and home to three full dynasties of Emperors starting on the 10th century. The surrounding mountain ranges provide a natural protection to the old citadel. Looks a pretty badass city entrance to me.
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Uma foto publicada por BRUN🌎 (@bruno_mb) a

Hoa Lu is the ancient capital of the Dinh and Le dynastys, dating back to the 11th century. It’s located roughly 14km from Ninh Binh and close to the Trang An boat ride.

Today, the remains of this ancient city are just that: remains. The buildings still standing include the royal temples of Dinh Tien Huang, housing a statue of Emperor Dinh Bo Linh and his sons as well as the royal temple of the early Le Dynasty.

Still, more than the buildings or temples, I found Hoa Lu to be beautiful because of the scenery. The ruins are just too ruiny to be memorable IMHO. It’s still worth to have a stroll around and imagine how the city was a millenium ago.

Bai Dinh Pagoda

what to do in ninh binh itinerary bai dinh temple
Bai Dinh: Where temple hopping within temple hopping is possible.
Photo by EmeraldaResort.com

Located 15km away from Ninh Binh city in a mountain area, Bai Dinh Pagoda is a HUGE religious complex. In fact, everything is massive here. Within the 539-hectare premises, there are 5,000 Buddha statues, a 36-ton bronze bell and dozens of Buddhist temples, each more opulent than the other. Usually visitors explore the compound by electric car (!).

It’s the absolute largest pagoda in South East Asia. Climbing to the top gives you an amazing open view over the Ninh Binh province.

Just like Ninh Binh in general, I honestly don’t know how Bai Dinh can fall this much under the radar. But it does and I guess that’s a good thing!



Booking.com

Day 2 in Ninh Binh

Contrarily to the first day, this one can be done on a bike as distances are shorter. All the sights are in or around Tam Coc.

Tam Coc Rice Fields

 what to do in ninh binh itinerary tam coc paddy rice fields
5 minutes exploring Tam Coc aannd you’re drawn into the authentic Vietnam.

The boat ride in the Tam Coc rice fields are the main reason tourists come to Ninh Binh. The area is surrounded by hundreds stony outcrops similar to the ones found in Halong Bay. For this reason the area is nicknamed “Halong in Land”.

I skipped the boat ride when I heard it’s a hotspot for scams and hawkers. Apart from the ticket fee, the rowers often “ask” (aka demand) tourists a tip on the middle of the ride. Plus, when you get back on shore, you’re coerced to buy some food for your rower. Since I had already experienced the awesome boat ride in Trang An, I decided I could live without it.

A great alternative option to explore the rice fields is on a bike. It’s hassle-free, way more adventurous and cheaper in the end. Cycling along the paddies, waving to the people working on the fields and getting up close with some cute animals on the way felt like the absolute right choice!



Bich Dong Pagoda

what to do in ninh binh itinerary bich dong temple

If you’re coming from Tam Coc, the road to Bich Dong Pagoda is simply gorgeous. At a given point, you’ll be surrounded by huge rice fields with limestone cliffs as a backdrop. Definitely worthy of stopping for some selfie moments!

Bich Dong Pagoda itself is a set of 3 temples enclosed in an mountain. To explore the highest one you need to pass through a series of caves. At some point it’s pitch dark inside, so watch your step!

Inside you can find several Buddhist images carved in stone and hollow stalactites on which you can play some tunes. Some of these caves were used by the Viet Minh to hide from the French during the First Indochina War.

Bich Dong Pagoda – Tips

  • 📍 Where: Bich Dong is located about 2km after Tam Coc center, a 2-min walk from the place we stayed.
  • ⏱ How long: Aim to stay 1 hour maximum, as the site is not that small.
  • 💰 How much: There is no entry fee to the temples, although we had to pay 5,000 dong to park our bike. Motorbikes are double the price.
  • 💡 Tip: Bring comfortable shoes to climb up to the third temple on the very top.

First time in Vietnam?
 
Make sure you read my key tips and tricks before going for a safe, worry-free and memorable Vietnam trip.
26 Things To Know Before Visiting Vietnam!

Hang Mua

what to do in ninh binh itinerary tam coc hang mua
Layers @ Hang Mua temple.

Everyone addresses this place as the Hang Mua Caves, but to be honest the caves are nothing special. In fact if I had it skip completely, I wouldn’t have missed anything. Even the ones in Thung Nham Bird Park are better IMHO.

The real appeal of this place lies on the temple on top of the mountain. You can see the set of stairs to get there from a distance. It’s a fair climb of almost 500 (!) steps. Yes, it’s exhausting, specially because they are uneven – some are really tiny, others can be made for giants.

But don’t get discouraged. Once you have had this proper workout, you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular 360° view over the Tam Coc valley. The views over the countryside and paddy fields are truly amazing. There’s no better place to catch your breath and find your inner zen again. Totally worth the effort, believe me.

Hang Mua – Tips

  • 📍 Where: 5 km from Tam Coc. The road there is literally between rice paddies. If it feels you’re in the wrong way, you’re not!
  • ⏱ How long: Allow at least 1-2 hours here, depending on your pace.
  • 💰 How much: The entrance fee is 20,000 dong.
  • 💡 Tip: No need to say you’ll need water and some good comfy shoes to climb up to the temple. I wouldn’t recommend going up if you see the weather is rainy-ish. There’s not much shelter on the way up and with gloomy weather you probably can’t see much anyway.

Thung Nham Bird Park

route ninh binh itinerary thung nham bird park sunset
Natural mirror.

During my research about Ninh Binh, I’ve NEVER heard of this place. It was the lovely girl on the reception of our hotel that not only suggested us to go to Thung Nham, but offered to be our guide there!

For those who love nature and an adventurous bird-watching trip, the natural reserve of Thung Nham (Nham Valley) is a must go. Deeply enclosed in the mountains, it’s a place with great natural beauty with many underwater caves and rivers. The Hang But (Buddhist Cave) is one of the largest. With lots of stalactites and stalagmites inside sitting beside an underground river, going inside is quite an adventure.

A total of 150 different animals (beware of the snakes!) and more than 40 species of birds – some of them critically endangered species – can be found in Thung Nham. There are so manny there’s even a place inside dedicated to them – the Bird Park.

We took the boat to watch the birds at dusk, the peak time for foraging birds. Picture a small rowing boat on the mangrove forests, with HUNDREDS of birds hanged on the trees, all wrapped around in a drop dead gorgeous forest. The only noise comes from the birds while the sun is setting in the background. Magical.

I went there knowing absolutely nothing about this place and came back mesmerized (can’t thank you enough Trang!).

Thung Nham Bird Park – Tips

  • 📍 How to get there: Thung Nham is about 7km from Tam Coc. Head in the direction of Bich Dong Pagoda and turn left on Anna Tham’s Hotel sign. 5km later, you’ll find the ticket booth for the reserve.
  • ⏱ How long: I’d say a minimum of 1 hour, but you can spend a whole afternoon here.
  • 💰 How much: Entrance fee is normally 100,000 but drops to half after 5pm. There’s a parking fee as well. Once you are inside, you have 2 options to get to the Bird Park: you can either walk (a 1,5km trail, free) or go on a boat ride (30,000 dong).
  • 💡 Tip: Early morning and late afternoon (around dawn and dusk) is when most birds come to the park. Definitely the best time to visit, specially if it is spring or summer.

Additional sights in Ninh Binh

Damn, that’s pretty.
Photo by: observingeye @ Flickr.

The previous sights are the standard to visit the region. If you’re feeling more adventurous or have a little bit more time, then you can expand your route. And oh boy, there’s a lot to see and do in Ninh Binh!

Right off the get go, you can go on the infamous Tam Coc boat ride. I’d recommend you to only if it’s the right season and the fields are vivid green. Good luck with the hawkers though!

Located east of Ninh Binh city, Phat Diem Cathedral is considered to be one of the most beautiful churches in Vietnam. It’s western-inspired and it’s worth to visit if you’re into architecture or just want to extend your religious-site hopping spree.

1,5 hours from Ninh Binh lies Cuc Phuong National Park. It’s a well-preserved rainforest, filled with hiking trails, prehistoric caves and ancient trees. It’s also a site with rich fauna: turtles, butterflies and critically endangered primate species can be found here.

Finally in Van Long there’s the option to go on a much more off the beaten track boat ride than Trang An and Tam Coc. It’s relaxing and perfect for bird-watching. The natural reserve also holds the world’s largest population of Delacour’s langurs, a critically endangered primate species.



Driving around Ninh Binh

what to do in ninh binh itinerary driving bike
Badass level: Vietnamese

Ninh Binh is pretty much all flat which makes driving around fairly easy. And pleasant! Actually you could just wander around skipping all sights and the surreal backdrop for your drive would still make the trip worth it. I felt like in a movie set all the time!

That said, Ninh Binh city can be a bit crazy, just like everywhere else in Vietnam. We had to go there to withdraw money – there are currently no ATMs in Tam Coc – but other than that there’s no reason to go there anyway.

My recommendation is to drive slowly, ignore all the noise around you and don’t make any sudden maneuvres. If you stick to this, you’ll be fine.

How much does a bike cost in Ninh Binh?

We rented a motorbike for 100,000 dong per day in Tam Coc. Not the most visually striking one, but it did its job. A bike will cost you roughly half of it. Gas is very cheap, you can fill the deposit for about 70,000 dong.

Read more about getting around on my Ninh Binh guide.

Where to stay In Ninh Binh

Don’t stay in Ninh Binh city. I can’t understand how people come to such a nature-gifted place and stay in an uninspiring and ugly city.

Instead, base yourself in Tam Coc, in the countryside. It’s a much more pleasant small town closer to the main attractions – including the rice fields.

The only downside from the place we stayed (below) was the location: 2,5km from Tam Coc center, with all the shops and restaurants. On the other hand, we had a quieter location with much better views!

Anna Tham Hotel View
 
Beautiful views and clean HUGE rooms, but the best is the lovely family who will treat you like one of them. It’s a 5-min bike ride from center Tam Coc in a quiet location. Book now

Find your accommodation in Ninh Binh

I usually use Booking.com to find accommodations. It’s safe, easy and reliable and you use my shortlist of the top-rated places to stay in Ninh Binh with WiFi included.
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Heading to Ninh Binh?
 
Make sure you check out my post
Ninh Binh Detailed Travel Guide!



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Was this Ninh Binh itinerary useful to you? How are you planning to explore the area? Share your feedback in the comments below!

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44 comments

  1. About to hop on my rented scooter with my wife and begin exploring this truly amazing area. Thanks for your tremendous travel tips, incredibly helpful. Off we gooooo…..

  2. O M G. SERIOUSLY: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.
    Im bringing my partner for (surprise) honeymoon…..has bn overwhelming where/when/etc.
    This: A LIFESAVER!!! SO excited. SO happy to have it outlined so efficiently!!
    (hands held in prayer, bowing, 3 times) lol
    Will let you know how it goes!

  3. I loved this and was verry useful. I was on my one for two days with a scooter and now I knew exactly where to go and how to get there. Most amazing places I have seen and the tips were good and useful!

  4. I loved this! Very detailed and clear. I liked your layout and break down of cost, distance and best home base. Do you have any more blogs on SE Asia. Im going to do 2 months (vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia, and Thailand) thanks a lot for the tips.

  5. Excellent itinerary, thank you so much. We followed it to visit some of the places listed. Definitely do the boat ride in Trang An over the one in Tam Coc. We climbed the Hang Mua peak at 6am (opening time) before the heat got too much. Took about 30mins climbing at a casual pace. Once at the top we easily stayed there for 2hrs soaking up the view, the calmness & loving the cooling breeze. Others started arriving from 9am, having to share the smallish area with a dozen others would have ruined it, especially when photographing, so highly recommend early start or late afternoon.

    Yvonne, New Zealand

  6. Very valuable infomormation! Thank you very much! This article was very helpful for my travel plans, and Ninh Binh has been the highlight of my trip in Vietnam so far. Cheers!

  7. Going to tour Hanoi. This trip sounds like a good side trip. Travel by train and rent bike/motorbike in Ninh Binh? Or motorbike Hanoi>Ninh Bihn?

    1. Well I would say that depends if you’re comfortable riding motorbikes for a long time and if you’re well experienced in Vietnam’s traffic. Personally, I would take the first option.

  8. Thank you for this fabulous guide! I am visiting Vietnam for the first time in June 2018, and I think Ninh Binh needs to be on our list! It looks unbelievable. One note – the google map link isn’t working for me, can you make sure it isn’t broken?

    Have you been to Phong Nha? How would you compare Phong Nha to Ninh Binh?

    1. I’ve checked the URL in incognito mode, and I could open it – can you check again?

      Never been to Phong Nha sadly!

    2. Having trouble accessing the map too– I think the whole article is hyperlinked to the Instagram post, so when clicking on the map it leads to that post. Are you able to share the URL here?

  9. Thank you for sharing this itinerary and your love for Ninh Binh. We spent two weeks in Vietnam and carved out two days to stay in Tam Coc because of this article and it was hands down our favorite place! We even followed your advice and stayed at the Anna Tham hotel and adored Trang and her advice. She was wonderful and so was the surrounding area.

    1. Ohh that’s so good to know. I’m very happy you could had that experience too, these days in Ninh Binh were one of my best travel memories ever!

  10. Thank you very much for this article !
    I will arrive in Hanoi from Paris with a colleague next Thursday at 6am in Hanoi (0:00 French time). We have a few days before to start our meetings for work on Monday. After reading you, I am wondering whether we could visit Halong bay and Ninh Binh area within these 4 days (considering jetlag…). How did you travel from Halong to Ninh Binh ? How long does it take and do you think we could start with Ninh Binh and then have a one night cruise in Halong ? Sorry a lot of questions ☺️
    Your experience is so precious. Thanks again for sharing. Murielle

    1. My other article about Ninh Binh explains it all. I took a direct bus from Halong, lasted for about 4 long hours I believe. I would do the other way around, this way you could have a relaxed cruise night in the end.

  11. If you go to to Trang An, I would suggest getting up at 4am or going late late in the afternoon.. We arrived here around 9am and there were so many people, we just kept going. The crowd waiting for the boats extended around from the ticket booth about 100 yards, then further out into the street and across the road. We just decided to skip the boat tours here, as you will probably as well when you see the crowds..

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, even though it was not great.

      I know there’s a time of the year when Ninh Binh and Trang An in particular is very popular with Chinese tourists. You might have been unlucky, as I didn’t have this experience at all. I arrived around midday and there was no queue at all.

  12. This is a fantastic post! Wife and I visiting Vietnam for the first time. We just might skip or cut down time at more touristy places like Halong to fit this in. One quick question as I’m nervous about bikes – can I rent a self-drive car instead?

    1. I’m sure you can, but they are much harder to find (or maybe I was just not looking for them). Bikes are much more common.

  13. Hello, I’m heaving to Hanoi next month and planning to visist ninh binh and stay for 1 night in tam coc. But i couldnt really find a way to tam coc from ninh binh train station, could you advice your experience?

  14. Thanks, this was a brilliant post. I will be travelling to Ninh Binh next month with my mom and would like to go to Trang an Grottos(boat ride) and Hang Mua but she is deathly afraid of motorcycles or scooters so I’m wondering if you think it would think a day tour would be best. I also don’t think 1 day will do the area justice so do you think it would be feasible to do a day trip which basically covers your day 1 itinerary and not go home with tour group but stay in area to do your day 2 itinerary (which you said would be easier with a bicycle) then book a bus home? In your opinion how difficult (i’ve travelled quite a bit my mom has not) would it be to get around to both Trang an and Tam Coc without motor vehicle if we were to get ourselves there…are there any kind of taxis?? We are short of time on this trip so wondering what your opinion is about skipping the Ha long Bay overnight boat trip for an extra day here…I have done Halong Bay and don’t mind skipping it as I found it very touristy and found it quite expensive being that half the tour it was night time and you were unable to see anything anyway but because my mom hasn’t seen it I don’t want her to miss anything…I know they call it Halong on land but is it really quite close in beauty?? One last question…if we were to arrive in area night before are we allowed to climb Hang Mua in time to reach top for sunrise…Thanks again for the great information

    1. Hi, just wondering if you were able to get around by taxi or rental car in Trang an and Tam Coc? I’ll be heading there with my family in April and same thing we are too large of a group and they are too afraid to ride on the back of a scooter. Your firsthand experience would be greatly appreciated, thanks!

    2. Wow that’s a lot of questions.

      You can find guides willing to tour you, just need to ask around. A taxi will be happy to drive you around the entire day if you negotiate a price beforehand.

      Regarding the “beauty” question, that’s a bit subjective, but I find it beautiful, yes.

  15. Terrific piece of information…thanks!..I am leaving Hanoi tomorrow heading to Ninh Binh on my motorbike! …I was wondering if there are more cheapest housing options of even free..staying at farms with locals…I would like to the explorenthe are for a week and looking forward to strech my modest budger the most!!…any ideas?
    Thanks!

    1. I’m not familiar with any of those to be honest. Accommodation is dirt cheap in Ninh Binh anyway, but I suggest you book a night and then ask around to see if you can find anything 🙂

  16. Traveling to Ninh Binh, we need at least 3 Days. You cannot travel about 2 days for your places you talk above. And travel by motorbike is best choices and amazing in Ninh Binh. Let’s eat goat meat and drink Kim Son Sticky wine when you travel to Ninh Binh

  17. Brilliant blog. We used this and found more amazing things.
    To anyone nervous about motorbikes – they are small and automatic so very easy for non riders. Stay away from main roads – there are many miles of minor roads with very little traffic you can go all day through valleys and picturesque mountains.
    We stayed at Emeralda resort Gia Van so this comment refers to north thru NPs
    Be amazed at Lang Noi village building huge cathedral 100 construction workers. Lovely people interesting place. All off tourist trail.

    1. Thank you a lot for sharing your experience Rick! I confirm it’s very easy to drive around – nothing like Hanoi or HCMC! – and the views are unbeatable.

  18. I’m planning a trip in November, and I’m curious about the motorbikes. My husband used to ride a motorcycle, but it’s been a long time since either of us have been on one. Are the motorbikes you are referring to more like mopeds, or would you recommend these plans for more experienced riders?

  19. Thank you very much for this post!
    We are in Tam Coc right now and found your guide super useful. We had to do a few adjustments due to the weather but pretty much we are following your steps 🙂