Travel Guide

Ninh Binh: Detailed Travel Guide to Vietnam’s Hidden Gem

This Ninh Binh travel guide has all you need to know to plan your trip to one of the most fascinating places in Vietnam. Don’t miss it!

It boasts of the most majestic and impressive natural landscapes in Southeast Asia, yet so many travelers overlook it.

Ninh Binh is a fascinating place where apart from an inspiring scenery, you have easy access to the most rural and authentic side Vietnam.

This travel guide of Ninh Binh is packed with the most up-to-date and reliable information to plan your trip and start making your itinerary. Let’s start!

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

Sections of Ninh Binh Guide

Is Ninh Binh worth it?

First things first. If you’re still in doubt if you should go to Ninh Binh or not, my answer is YES. DEFINITELY YES. Now I can’t believe I was considering dropping Ninh Binh from my trip and it’s my #1 suggestion for anyone who’s going to Vietnam soon.

Since Ninh Binh is not frequently featured in itineraries to travel through Vietnam, I feel I need to explain why this was my absolute favorite destination in the country.

Ninh Binh province is located in northern Vietnam, about 100km south of Hanoi. With its hundreds of limestone cliffs emerging from the ground scattered across the rice fields, this region is appropriately nicknamed the “Halong Bay in land”.

Apart from this stunning scenery, Ninh Binh is a great opportunity to peek into the rural way of living. It’s all very laid-back and serene, just how the Vietnam experience should be.

How to get to Ninh Binh

How to get from Hanoi to Ninh Binh

From Hanoi, you can reach Ninh Binh city by train. There are at least 3 southbound trains available (SE5, SE7, SE19).

A more convenient option is the bus. There are regular buses from Hanoi’s southern bus terminal (Giap Bat) with prices starting at 70,000 dong. However I don’t recommend getting the absolute cheapest ones – you might get cranked in a tiny seat inside an overcrowded bus. UPDATE: a reader has reported these buses are no longer in operation. Do your research.

Both the train and the bus take 2 hours, give or take, and you can book the trip with any travel agent.

How to get to Ninh Binh from other places

If you’re coming from the south, you also have both the train and bus options. The train going to Hanoi from Hue stops in Ninh Binh so shouldn’t be too hard to get into one.

There are buses going to Ninh Binh directly from Halong Bay or Cat Ba. It’s very convenient as it allows you go to both areas without having to pass through Hanoi. There is a bus from Bay Chay station (Xe Be Bay Chay) that goes to Ninh Binh – check my experience below.

Make sure you ask where does the bus stops, as there will be buses heading to Ninh Binh town and others to Tam Coc (7km away). The latter stop in front of The Long Hotel.

My experience getting to Ninh Binh

To get to Ninh Binh I came directly from my cruise in Halong Bay. I pre-booked a ticket which included a taxi to the Bay Chay station and then a bus from there to Ninh Binh. What it was supposed to be 4 hour-trip ended up taking 6 long hours and I could use a bit more leg space. Other than that, all good.

A good travel agent can go through all the possible options with you and check what is the best. Usually it’s worth the extra commission, just ask away all the questions you have!

Best time to visit Ninh Binh

 ninh binh travel guide
Average temperatures in Ninh Binh throughout the year. Note this is for the city. In more remote areas, the temperatures can be a bit more extreme.

Almost any time of the year is good to visit Ninh Binh.

Like in all the north Vietnam, May to October in Ninh Binh is hot, humid and with high rainfall. The region can be specially vulnerable to typhoons during September. November to April months tend to be cooler and dry.

However, the rainy season is also when the rice fields are at their best vivid green, so there’s really a reason to visit all year round!

ninh binh travel guide rice paddy fields november
In the dry season, the rice fields turn gold.
ℹMy experience in Ninh Binh in November

I was in Ninh Binh in late November and it didn’t feel busy at all which was a blessing. Exploring such a laid-back place with crowds everywhere must be frustrating.

The only drawback of this time were the paddy fields. Most of the rice is harvested in September, by November all that is left are yellow-ish – and many times brown muddy – fields. It does take away a bit of the beauty, but the sights are still impressive.

As for the weather, we had mostly sunny days during all our time there. However, temperatures were not so high (around 20C). The evenings were quite chilly and it was the only time on my 2-month backpacking trip I had to wear long sleeves.

Getting around Ninh Binh

ninh binh travel guide bai dinh pagoda
Bai Dinh Pagoda at dusk.

Ninh Binh is one of those places you absolutely need to get your own transport. Otherwise you’ll miss out tremendously.

In fact, one of the highlights of the place was to make my way through the rice fields on a motorbike with the wind in my face. It’s hands down the best way to explore the surroundings. You can rent it from 100k dong/day from hotels or travel agents.

The other option is to rent a bike. Almost all the region is pretty much flat and the roads – both the main and secondary – are in decent conditions (don’t expect luxury though). Biking is a great option to get around Tam Coc – we actually did this on the last day.

However, if you want to cover all main sites prepare to cover around 30km per day. Places like Bai Dinh Pagoda or even Trang An can be just too far away.

In any case, make sure you leave the main roads and travel between places along the more authentic country lanes.

Top things to do in Ninh Binh

The city of Ninh Binh itself is not pretty and there’s basically NOTHING to see there. Two strong reasons to find accommodation elsewhere. All major attractions are outside, concentrated in four different areas.

Ninh Binh Top Attractions

AreaMain attractions
Trang An- Trang An Grottoes
- Hoa Lu Temple
- Bai Dinh Pagoda
- Thung Nham Bird Garden
Tam Coc- Tam Coc Rice Fields
- Tam Coc Boat Ride
- Bích Động Pagoda
- Hang Mua Temple
Van Long- Vân Long Nature Reserve
- Dich Long Cave and Pagoda
Cuc Phuong- Cuc Phuong National Park
- Phat Diem Cathedral

I’ll go through some of these in detail.

Go on a boat ride in Trang An

ninh binh travel guide trang an grottoes boat ride
Leaving a cave in Trang An.

This was the first thing I did in Ninh Binh and turned out to be one of my favorite things of the whole trip. You basically hop on a small rowing boat and a lady rower takes you on a 2-hour journey through caves, temples and lakes. They usually wait for a group of four to assemble.

The technique needed to maneuver the boat inside the underwater caves is impressive , watch your head! During the whole trip, the scenery is mesmerizing.

Trang An is usually the second choice of travelers in Ninh Binh in terms of boat rides. Most people do Tam Coc only (HUGE mistake in my opinion, see below why) so you can expect fewer crowds.

Still, it’s advisable that you make your way there early in the morning or late in the afternoon where most day trippers coming in gigantic bus excursions are not there.

Getting to Trang An Grottoes

Trang An is 7km away from Ninh Binh and about 11km from Tam Coc.

At first we were relying on Google Maps to get to this place and we struggled. Tip: search for the Vietnamese name, Khu du lich sinh thái Tràng An, it will pin the right spot.

How much is the Trang An Boat Ride

Entrance fee is 150,000 dong (as per December 2016). You pay the ticket at the entrance and you’re not forced to do any extra tips or payments to the rower.

There is however a parking fee of 15,000 dong for two wheelers (bicycle or motorbike).

Ride a bike

Just renting a motorbike and explore the surroundings is already a reason to visit Ninh Binh. What we did was to look in the map where the next sight was and choose a longer and more unconventional way to get there. By skipping the main roads, you’re on to enrich your travel experience much more!

Wander through the tiny paths in the rice fields or the dirt roads leading to local communities and villages. Ninh Binh is one of those places where the children wave and say “Hello” to you when you pass in front of their houses.

It’s fascinating to see where people live, how do they work on the fields and how do they spend their day. As a bonus, there are loads of cute animals too!

Go temple-hopping

Scattered across the rice fields, enclosed in mountains on sitting on top of them, there is no shortage of temples in Ninh Binh.

Perhaps the most dramatic is Hang Mua. Sitting on top of hill 500 steps above ground, this temple is both a challenge and a delight. While the temple is somewhat unimpressive, the views over Tam Coc are stunning.

If you’re looking for something less challenging, but equally impressive, the recently built Bai Dinh Pagoda is a good option. This Buddhist temple is HUGE and is mostly visited by Vietnamese people.

But there are more. Bích Động Pagoda is a set of 3 temples carved into a limestone mountain next to Tam Coc.

Despite the fact it has been heavily destroyed, the ancient city of Hoa Lu, the former capital of Vietnam during the Dinh and the Le dynasties (1st century), is also worth a visit.

Entrance fees of temples in Ninh Binh (as per December 2016)

  • Hang Mua: there is a 100,000 dong entrance fee and a 3,000 dong bicycle/motorbike parking fee.
  • Bai Dinh Pagoda: free if you walk; 50,000 dong if you opt to get around with the electric car.
  • Bích Động Pagoda: free entrance but there is a 20,000 dong bicycle/motorbike parking fee.

Visit the Thung Nham Bird Garden

We only heard this place when our lovely friend who worked as a receptionist on our hotel mentioned it. She actually took us there and offered to be our guide. Thanks so much Trang!

Almost no one visits Thung Nham Bird Garden but it’s a shame because it’s a true beauty. Tucked away in the mountains, this natural park is basically where most of the birds of the region make their nest. If you visit during early morning or late afternoon, you’ll see the trees absolutely PACKED with all types of birds. It’s a true sight and a wonder of nature.

The park also has several caves and hiking trails and is perfect for take a bit of fresh air and go on a relaxing walk. It’s just 5km from Tam Coc center.

Go wild in Cuc Phuong National Park

Cuc Phong is a rare well-preserved rainforest. The place is known for its Botanical Garden and the Endangered Primates Rescue Centre, which has around 150 primates from all over Vietnam.

It’s a great place for biking, hiking and observe a wild range of animals, from birds to an amazing variety of colorful butterflies.

The National Park sits 45km from Ninh Binh and there is a mandatory 20,000 dong fee to hire a guide.

Why I skipped the Tam Coc boat ride

It might tempting to do the Tam Coc boat ride if you’re going in the rainy season when everything’s vibrant green. I understand. However I did skip the most hyped attraction in the Ninh Binh region. Here’s 3 reasons why.

  • #1 – it’s a frequent scam spot, it’s full of hawkers. After you a pay the ticket, rowers will stop rowing if you don’t give them an additional tip. When you’re finished with your ride, other people in shore will try to make you buy “food” for the rower.
  • #2 – the general feeling is that the ride is not as beautiful as Trang An‘s. Having done that one first, I would more likely be underwhelmed anyway.
  • #3 – you can still ride a bike along the fields and do your own tour.

Where to stay In Ninh Binh

First rule is allow yourself at least 2 full days in Ninh Binh. Most travelers come here on a day trip from Hanoi which it’s a shame. You can’t even scratch the surface of how beautiful this place is in only a few hours in the most packed touristy places.

Second rule is to skip staying 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 small town closer to the main attractions – including the rice fields – and there you can experience the rural side of Vietnam.

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!

ninh binh hotel recommendation tam coc

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 to find accommodations. It’s safe, easy and reliable and you can use my shortlist of the top-rated places to stay in Ninh Binh with WiFi included.

Where to eat in Ninh Binh

I personally think food in Vietnam is one of the best I’ve tasted. And for cheap prices, which makes it great value! Specifically in Ninh Binh, the specialty are goat (con dê) dishes.

As I stayed in Tam Coc, I made most of my meals there. Here are some of the the best places to eat.

La Belle Vie

This hotel is run by a lovely family and also has a restaurant in their garden. I’ve actually tried to book my stay here but they were completely full.

The setting is lovely and despite being in the heart of Tam Coc town, it feels like a getaway. Interesting combination of Vietnamese and western dishes.

Father Cooking

Located right next to the boat area in Tam Coc, this small place is a favorite amongst backpackers (me included!). The prices are amongst the low you can find and food is good. Safe bet to eat.

Cost of things in Ninh Binh

I found the prices in Ninh Binh to be a bit lower than in big cities like Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi. You can easily get around with less than 40EUR/USD per day.

To give you a good idea of the budget you can expect, I’ll give you some examples of what things can cost.

Ninh Binh Costs

  • Vehicle rentals: motorbikes in Tam Coc can be rented from 100,000 dong/day. Bikes for half that price.
  • Gasoline: many places along the road can fill your deposit for 80,000 dong. If you go to the petrol station, this can be as low as 30,000 dong
  • Food: Local restaurants served main dishes starting at 150,000 dong. A bowl of pho (noodle soup) starts at 40,000 dong though. A Tiger beer started at 25,000 dong.
  • Water: don’t forget to hydrate. A big water bottle (1,5L) was around 25,000 dong.
  • Entrance fees: entrance to the temples was generally 50,000 dong. The boat ride in Trang An was 150,000 dong, but in Tam Coc is 180,000 dong.
  • Accommodation: I’d say you can expect to pay somewhere between 500,000 and 800,000 dong for day for a medium-quality double room in most places. Of course there are backpacker dorms cheaper and luxury rooms more expensive than this.
ninh binh travel guide cows rice fields
Some of the cute inhabitants of Ninh Binh.

Ninh Binh Travel Tips

  • Take your time to unwind.
    A day trip is not enough to truly feel the essence of Ninh Binh. Try to stay a couple of nights and don’t rush your daily activities!
  • Make sure you bring enough money.
    There are no ATMs in Tam Coc. If you’re staying there and in need of cash, you’ll need to go to Ninh Binh city (7km away) to withdraw money.
  • Keep your calm when driving!
    Vietnamese can be a bit crazy on the road and if you hear a lot of honks, you’re not doing anything wrong. They just like to announce their presence to everyone.
ninh binh travel guide limestones view

Ninh Binh Review

I’ll say it straight away: Ninh Binh is one of the most underrated places I’ve been. There aren’t many people talking about it and even I only decided to include 2,5 days of it on my Vietnam itinerary as a last minute decision. It totally exceeded my expectations.

The region boasts a breathtaking, sometimes surreal, landscape. The Karst limestone scenery is truly a wonder and always present as a backdrop on everywhere you go. The best I can describe it is like I was trapped inside a National Geographic documentary all the time.

But this is just the pretty package. What I liked the most about Ninh Binh however was what I discovered inside: authenticity. For some days, you don’t have to face the hectic streets of Saigon, the vendors in Hanoi or the the massive crowds in Halong Bay.

It’s all about the peaceful rural and real Vietnam, the one I wanted to find in the first place when I booked my flight.

I can see this dormant state quickly shift and Ninh Binh become a powerhouse as a travel destination in the upcoming years. Somehow it already is amongst some Asian tourists, but I’m sure the hype will spread to the rest of the world. The potential is all there.

Ninh Binh Guide – Other Useful Links
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First time in Vietnam?

Make sure you read my key tips and tricks before going for a safe, worry-free and memorable Vietnam trip.

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How was your experience in Ninh Binh?

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  1. I totally agree Ninh Binh is a gem not to be missed on your Vietnam Itinerary.

  2. Hey Bruno, great post!

    One minor thing: Dinh and Le dynasties existed around the 10th century in Vietnam, not the 1st century as you stated. I’m a native and I’m pretty sure 🙂

    Good day.

  3. Hi,
    Nice post!

    Just a couple of things for readers:
    – stay in Tam Coc as advised and not ninh binh (not a great town)
    – the information about the Tam Coc boat in this post is misleading. We did both and thought Tam Coc was just as good, we loved both!
    – on the Tam Coc boat, there were no touts, it was completely peaceful, and they definitely did not stop if they weren’t tipped!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience.
      Mine was a bit different, but that doesn’t mean the information is “misleading” 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this advice! We used it to plan our recent trip to Ninh Binh and had such a good time.

  5. Hi, we just came back from Ninh Binh and we are already missing it. What a great trip. We spent 4 nights there. It was just perfect to relax and enjoy nature. I had never heard about this location before. I booked it last minute and it has been an amazing discovery. I highly recommend Emeralda resort, 500 metres away from Long Van reserve. Ancient architecture, good food, kids friendly, amazing location and great service. I was a bit worry when I saw the cement factories, but was so relieved the minute I entered into the resort and explored the neighborhood. Very local, truly authentic. We booked a few double bikes from the resort and very much enjoyed the scenery and beautiful countryside. We also booked private guide tours x2 from the resort. Our guide was super good with kids and very knowledgeable. There is an ATM nearby the resort. We are looking forward to come back to Ninh Binh!

  6. So after reading this article I decided to give it 3 nights. What a massive mistake. One very very important point you should have mentioned, was the fact the place is very highly polluted, at the entrance to NINH BINH there are tons of cement factories. It is almost unbreathable , I cut it short to a day and half because of that. Also they burn all plant remains from fields. It’s just terrible, scenery nice but the air is worse than Hanoi and Saigon .
    If you don’t believe me please check the app AirVisual.

  7. Went in late Feb this year. Favourite place in Vietnam and one of the best in Asia. Stayed one week in Tam Coc. Loved motor biking around the area discovering hidden delights everywhere. Very friendly locals and gorgeous scenery wherever you turn. Great range of accomodation and uncrowned – we had our hotel to ourselves and the family treated us like, well, family. Even brought me chicken pho to my bed when I had a sick day. The Trang boat tour is a highlight-definitely take it in preference to Tam Coc if doing just one. But just waking up to that view outside my balcony was worth the trip.

  8. This was really helpful! Thank you so much! Just one question, are we able to watch the sunrise at Hang Mua?

  9. THanks for this guide along with your generous sharing of your itinerary! Totally inspired me to giving this a go! Where were you able to find reliable forms of transportation from Ha Long Bay to Ninh BInh? I’ve tried couple sites like Bao Lau and and cannot locate any rides. Would really appreciate a reliable source. Thank you!

  10. Amazing post! Thanks for sharing. I will tomorrow do the cruise in halong bay and afterwards go to Nin Binh directly. Your tips will be very helpful 🙂

  11. This post is great, it was such a joy to read!
    Now, I’m wondering if I should skip Sapa and go to Ninh Binh instead. I can’t do both. Which would you recommend?

    1. I’d recommend Tam Coc over Sapa unless you are seriously looking to climb mountains. It is stunningly beautiful scenery in Tam Coc, just as described in this top post. We combined our visit Tam Coc with Pu Luong (3 hours by car) which was by some way our top destination in Vietnam to date

  12. Hey, your blog sounds great. I have a question about your hotel in Tam Coc. You said it was 2,5 km outside Tam Coc Center but I can’t make sense of that. When I click on the Hotel link from booking, it is right in the center and also the La Belle Vie Restaurant and Hotel you point out is very close to the accomodation. So either there is a mistake in your text or I have missed something here.
    Would be happy about a quick response so I can arrange my travels 🙂

  13. Hey Bruno,

    Thanks for the inspiring info!
    Just a small correction – now entrance fee to Trang an is 200000 VND.
    Very busy on weekends, better to go on weekdays.
    Plenty of minibuses from Hanoi Giap bat bus terminal.



  14. FYI there is an ATM in the town now, located to the right of Hidden Charm Hotel on the outskirts of the town (right hand side of the road if you’re driving in).

  15. Thank you for sharing this to travellers about Ninh Binh. That is good destinations when we stay in Hanoi besides Halong Bay. Being a local i really recommend Ninh Binh for all the travellers visiting Hanoi. You may visit Ninh Binh in day tour with group tour or 2 days, 3 days with private tour. Tam Coc i think is still good spot to visit if you know something may happen and if you are happy with that. with the help or tour guide everything will be easier and you will not be in the scam.

  16. Hi, I just wanted to say thank you for this review! Me and my boyfriend are travelling the whole coast of Vietnam mid Nov/early Dec for our first overseas trip. I had seen a photo or two of this area but didn’t know where it was. We’ve now added Ninh Binh and Tam Coc to our itinerary thanks to your review.

    Thanks again from two happy Aussies 🙂

    1. Tam Coc is a must for you if you have time besides Halong Bay. With the help of the guide i do think there is no problem with the asking tip from the boat rower as i know that most of them are very nice – much better than a lot of places i have been. Sapa is also a good idea when you are in Hanoi. Please notice that there are some places which are touristic already but when you know that and accept some commercial thinngs you will be happy with your trip! Cheer!

  17. I can only agree – fantastic review, THANKS SO MUCH for the helpful tips and recommendations. I am super greatful – best insight-page I found so far on this Destination! Greetings from Germany

  18. I am in fact grateful to the owner of this site who has shared this fantastic article
    at at this time.

  19. Hello! Thank you for the informative article 🙂 I am also planning to do the exact same route that you have traveled: after finishing up the cruise in Ha Long Bay, go directly to Tam Coc/ Ninh Binh in DEC 2018. I searched in forums that there are not a lot of bus operators doing this route and one name that repeatedly shows up is Van Luc Tung bus departing from Halong Baichay Station. You mentioned that you have taken that ride too but I couldn’t find any timetable of the bus on their website. Do you have a bit more info about that?

    Thank you very much in advance!

  20. Thank you.

    Does anyone know if I can get a private english speaking tour guide to drive us around and be our tour guide for 2-3 days. We have already booked for our accommodation and have paid for a private car to take us from Sapa to Ninh Binh so do not require anyone to pick us up from Hanoi ( like all tours).

    Can anyone help or name a local agency in Ninfmh Vninh or tour guide who may be able to assist.


  21. hi – I’ve been communicating with a guide and presumed I would go on his prepaid tours around Ninh Binh (single gal in my 50s) what do you think?

  22. Hi! this article was sooo useful thank you soo much! I was wondering if you had to chose between Sapa and Ninh Binh, what would you do.. I will be in north vietnam a total of 6 days. Im plannign on taking the halong bay cruise 2 nights and staying in Hanoi as well but since going to Sapa takes at least 4 nights (2 train rides and 2 nights in sapa) i need to chose between the two option.. We will be there at the end of december. I would really appreciate your advice!

    1. Hi! Daniela . I live in ninh binh C and i pleasure to help u if u are going to go to NB. U can take two hour from Ha Noi to NB by car. If u woud like to feel clear air in the high mountain u can go to fansipang mountain in Sapa. In nb u can go to cuc phuong national forest where have a big tree vere old.. or other choise is trang an, bai dinh pagoda or tam coc bich dong cave.. many choises for u. Althought i dont speak good english but im willing to help u if u go to my hỏme town. This is my email [email protected] if u have require u can send it in my email adreess

  23. Thank you for this amazing and highly informative article. We just returned from an amazing 3 day trip to Ninh Binh and your article was more than helpful. Really great travel advice and still up to date!

  24. Hi Bruno.
    My friend and I (2 ladies 60 years old) are planning to visit Tam Coc for 3 days.
    We are travelling from Hanoi.
    A few questions for you please.
    Is it worth us hiring a car/driver for this return trip and the 3 days while there.
    Neither of us are confident enough to ride motor bikes and we are not sure how we would handle push bikes either.
    What other options are there to get around while there’s?
    Also the road from Hanoi to Ninh Binh is it a mountainous road or does it take you through the valley?
    Sadly I have now got a phobia about buses on mountain roads as I have had too many horrific experiences in Vietnam and other Asian countries

    1. Hi Ric Pollard!
      I live in Ninh Binh so I can answer some your questions. You can go from Hanoi to Ninh Binh by car, bus or train. In my opinion, you should choose to take the train because I have met many tourists traveling by train, it’s safer and more punctual. You can totally assured that the road from Hanoi to Ninh Binh is completely plain, very safe for transportation.
      If you want to go to Tam Coc, I recommend you should go to Trang An, because they have the same scene but Trang An is more beautiful and has more professional services. In Ninh Binh you can rent motorbikes, bicycles or taxis. If you choose a taxi you should negotiate the total price before travelling.
      Ninh Binh also has many beautiful places and if you want to ask more questions you can contact tomy mail address [email protected]. I’m pleasure to help you!
      Good luck!

  25. Such a great article… now I’m very much inspired to head to Ninh Binh and see it for myself 🙂 I live in HCMC so maybe a night train would be a good way to get there and spend a long weekend?

  26. Hi Bruno, thanks for detailed description, I am visiting Vietnam in Jan 19. Just wanted to check if An Trang is one way or two way journey?

  27. Hello, We will be staying in Tam Coc and want to go to Trang An. What would you recommend for easy transport and hopefully not to expensive?

  28. Thanks for the detailed post! We have been in Vietnam for a month and are heading to Tom Coc today for a couple days based on your recommendation. I’ve been surprised at how many people travel to Ninh Binh while in Vietnam, as I initially thought it was off the main tourist circuit. We’ve met several travelers who went to or are heading to Mai Chau to avoid what they described as hoards of people in Ninh Binh. Our only negative experience so far has been in Old Town Hoi An, not realizing what a crazy tourist trap it was until we arrived, and we are hoping to avoid a similar experience. Do you think the popularity of Ninh Binh Provence has increased among tourists since you posted? Or that it has long been a popular destination but worth the trip and possible to have a laid back authentic experience with the right travel choices?

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Well I haven’t been back since I was there. I know Ninh Binh is very popular with Chinese tourists for a specific time of the year and there are indeed months where it’s crowded and busy. I went in November/December and didn’t have that experience at all.

      I still think you can have a laid back experience in Tam Coc. The whole region still feels very rural and in touch with local customs and traditions that have been going for centuries. Skip the boat tours, rent a bike and explore the area on your own if you have any concerns.

  29. Thanks a lot Bruno. Your article is really really helpful for me. Thanks to it, my friends and I skipped staying in the Ninh Binh City. We chose to stay in a small, peaceful homestay near Trang An. Although there were a lot of mosquitoes here in the spring, but staying in that homestay was so interesting and made my trip unforgettable. I tried to post comment several times but faild and it redirected to another pages of your website. I hope you will take it into consideration and fix this error. Again, thank you alot for sharing your experience

    1. Thanks for letting me know about the commenting issue.

      I’m glad you skipped the nature for the ugly city! 🙂

  30. Hello, thank you for your article. I’m going to vietnam in april and want to go straight from halong to ninh binh. How hard was it to find a bus between the 2 places. The agency from where I book the cruise doesn’t seem to know all that much about the time table.

    1. You can just go directly to the bus station in Bài chay, buses are leaving every 30 mins and go to hai phong first and then over to Ninh binh. You can also take a taxi 🙂

    1. It’s because tam coc is being redeveloped 🙁 also many tour buses on a day trip go to tam coc first in the morning and Trang an after lunch 🙂 it’s better to reverse if If you don’t want the crowds. Also it’s after tet and almost women’s day so lots of people are still celebrating and Taking photos 🙂

    2. Yes, not sure what time of the day you wrote this, but the standard day tour is Tam Coc first and Trang An in the afternoon.

  31. Great post, thank you for all the useful information! We are staying at Anna Tham hotel at the moment and the family is really lovely, we celebrated Viatnamese New Years Eve last night with them and really enjoyed it! 🙂 we are following your guide and having a great time, so tnx once again! :))

  32. 25k for 1.5l water? outrageous parking fees everywhere? But seriously..25k for a bottle of water? most ridiculous thing I ever heard..

  33. Hi, I wanted to thank you very much for a very informative guide and let you know if you want to make up dates that the bises from Hanoi to Ninh Bihn that you recommend are not working no more.

  34. We went to Ninh Binh via a 2d1n organised tour from Hanoi. I can say it was meeh… overpriced for what you pay. Tour guide does not speak good English (professional on the brochure) and could not answer questions. The agenda locations are just so so eg national park, the boat tours. Lack of communication on plan (met others who were confused on what’s happening next and by whom, as you get different guides as you go). It seems that the organised tour sector here is all grouped into a unprofessional cooperative eg our return bus was another company. I wouldn’t say we were scammed but it was a rip off. Looking at other tourists there, it seems to attract the alternative lifestyle ones. I would’ve liked to have hired a motorbike and rode around but not possible with a family. I suggest to do your research and if you want to go here, do it on your own. Cheers James

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. That’s exactly my feeling with organised tours pretty much anywhere, but specially in Vietnam. You’re SO MUCH better off on your own.

  35. Hi Bruno B,
    Thank you for the detailed review of your trip. My friend and I are going on a short trip to Vietnam at the end of this month. We were planning on going to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city. But then I saw the dragon at the Hang Mua temple and now I want to go Ninh Binh. We can only spare a day for this trip. Can I take a train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh and then hire a taxi with driver from Ninh Binh to take us to Tam Coc and Trang An? How much would that cost?

    1. I suggest you don’t come just for the dragon 🙂

      Yes you can, it’s a long day trip but it’s doable. Have no idea about the taxi driver prices to tour you around for a day. There’s no fixed price and is supposed that you negotiate the price yourself beforehand.

  36. Hello,

    I wanted to know if your doing Ninh Binh, is it again a good idea to stop at Phang Nha Kay ? Do they have similar vibe ? I have two weeks in Vietnam, if I have to include Ninh Binh in my itinerary then I surely need to drop Phang Nha Kay (2 days) or Cambodia (2days) off my itinerary. Your suggestion would be useful

    1. I’ve never been to Phang Nha Kay, but all depends on your travel style and what you want to see.

      With only 2 weeks in the area, I personally wouldn’t go to neither Cambodia or Thailand and would stay in Vietnam only.

  37. Hi Bruno B,

    May I know how do you book a bus to Ninh Binh from Ha Long bay?

    Thank you 🙂


  38. Nihn Binh looks lovely.
    When I was in Vietnam I visited Sapa and liked it, but I think Ninh Binh would have been better 🙂 well…maybe next time I go there.

  39. Great article, thanks for the tips! A place of breathtaking natural beauty and unique heritage, Vietnam is a fascinating place to visit. However, there is also quite a number of crooks who target tourists in the country.

    Do be wary of cyclo scam, overcharging merchants, street vendors, unscrupulous tour companies, rogue restaurants, place is closed, karaoke scam, massage scam, motorbike rental scam, rogue taxi drivers, trading on popular names, fake hotels and many more!

  40. Another great guide. Your posts are so well written and organized. Its easy to get a lot of useful info out of them. I came for the Portugal info, but now I find myself reading all the other posts.

    I went to Ninh Binh and Tam Coc a few years ago. I have mixed feelings about the place. The scenery is so beautiful and the boat ride through the karsts was a highlight. The story we heard from some local Vietnamese is that the people who operate the boats come from families that used to be farmers in the region. Their land was seized by the government because investors wanted to make a tourist attraction out of the area. So on the one hand, it’s terrible that some of the poverty is caused by losing their livelihood, but on the other hand, supporting travel and attractions in the area might be the best way for the locals to gain some prosperity.

    1. Thanks, I tried to find information about Ninh Binh online and it was a nightmare, hopefully this is helpful for travelers going there.

      To be honest I didn’t know this story. It sheds a different light on this absolutely stunning place. It’s definitely sad that these people had to lose their lands. But it’s like you said: if they learn to this new tourism “wave” that is only getting higher, they can have the chance of a better life!

  41. The most helpful travel guide I have ever read. So well laid out and informative. Two Thumbs Up!

  42. Hello! Thank you for your post. This area was not part of my itinerary but now it is!

    I was planning to just do a day trip to this from Hanoi. It is three of us (all females), but we did not want to pay for a day tour to do one attraction and then go back to Hanoi. We was thinking of taking the bus, renting bikes, and trying to maximum our experience as we can as possible in that one day.

    I know you highly recommended two days but what would you suggest us doing in our limited one day adventure (we have a tight schedule)? We definitely want to see Trang An and I was very interested in trying to see Van Long as well. Do you think it’s too tight to do those two in the same day? Do you think that is safe for us females? Any tips?

    1. I think Trang An and Van Long might be too much. It is just too far away, specially if you don’t have your own wheels. You can definitely do Trang An and Tam Coc/Hang Mua for instance.

      I think is perfectly safe for females, go with a positive attitude and you’ll have a blast!