There is a reason why the Ninh Binh province is known as the inland Ha Long bay. The limestone karsts were formed in the same way (the area used to be covered by the sea!) but they are now on land making the height of the karsts even more impressive. Although we had an amazing two-day cruise around Ha Long bay, we had THE most magical time in Ninh Binh.
In this post I’m going to share my full travel details and top tips for visiting Vietnam’s hidden gem. This is a detailed Ninh Binh itinerary to explore Tam Coc in two amazing days.
The whole province is an extremely low-key and beautifully scenic place. As it is currently not too touristic, it is the perfect place to get to know the real authentic Vietnam. Another great way to experience rural Vietnam is by doing a trek and homestay in Sapa. Find out more about my top 15 things to do in Vietnam.
WHERE TO STAY:
I stayed at the Golden Dragon hotel. It was amazing value for money, with beautiful rooms (and breakfast included) starting at only $20 a night! The price includes a manual motorbike (if that’s how you like to get around). Otherwise the staff are incredibly helpful at booking taxis. If you want to be central you should aim to stay near Tam Coc.
Start your journey in Ninh Binh with a visit to the most epic viewpoint in Vietman, the Hang Mua Caves.
If there’s one climb you should do in Vietnam, it’s the hike up to the viewpoint on top of the Hang Mua Caves, giving you panoramic 360-degree views of the countryside. Don’t be put off by the steep 500 stair climb, it is 100% worth the 20 to 40 minute hike. Another must do hike in Vietnam is Bai Tho Mountain.
TOP TIP: If you only want to climb one side go left as it has the better view. Also go early (it opens from 6am). I was there from 8 to 9:30am and it wasn’t that busy then, it also wasn’t too hot.
Hang Mua Caves entry is 100k dong (around $4.30) per person plus 10k dong for parking.
Spend the afternoon admiring the limestone karsts from below and exploring the Trang An Grottos. These consist of a variety of caves and temples surrounded by canals, lakes and epic limestone karsts. There are 4 tours to choose from, and you will spend around 2 to 4 hours cruising around in a rowboat with a local lady.
There are 1000’s of boats available, but you’ll probably have to share as you need a minimum of 4 people per boat.
Trang An Grottos entry is 200k per person (around $8.60).
Start the day with another relaxing boat ride, but this time along Tam Coc. This time you can have a private boat. Tam Coc isn’t as big but I found it to be a lot less crowded and thus more quaint. You don’t need to do both as they are quite similar, but if you have the time I found them both enjoyable.
Tam Coc entry is 190k per person (around $8.15).
You can then choose to hire bikes or simple walk (this is what we did) to explore the area in the afternoon. Tam Coc to Bich Dong is 2.8km, and then Thung Nham, a bird park, is another 4km.
Going by foot or bike will give you ample opportunity to soak up the rural setting and beautiful rice paddies nestled below the epic limestone karsts.
Nestled into a mountainside, the ancient Bich Dong Pagoda is near 3 natural caves and has a beautiful arch marking the entrance.
TOP TIP – You don’t need to go early to get a photo here. The archway is quite famous on Instagram and as it’s at the entry you just need to be patient and wait for people to enter or leave before taking your photo.
Finish your day at the Thung Nham Bird Park. There are a few caves to explore and the Birds Observation point gives an amazing opportunity to observe the hundreds of birds who live here.
Thung Nham Bird Park entry is 100k dong each (around $4.30).
I hope you have a magical time in Ninh Binh, this province is well worth a visit, especially as it remains relatively low key for now. Find out more things to do in Vietnam.
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