Ninh Binh province is approximately 95km and about 2hours from Hanoi capital by car (via the new opening Hanoi-Ninh Binh Expressway). The province is bordered by Hoa Binh and Ha Nam to the North; Nam Dinh to the East and Thanh Hoa to the West and South and also has a short coastline abutting the Gulf of Tonkin. With relatively small size topography but Ninh Binh has mountains, forests and sea and a diverse system of fauna and flora. Otherwise, the province has also its long historical background. So it is worth saying that Ninh Binh contains the quintessence of both history and natural scenery in Vietnam.
Ninh Binh is one of the famous destinations in Vietnam that we highly recommend not to ignore for all people who love to learn the Vietnamese history, discover the stunning natural beauty and many outdoor interesting activities. The following must-see sites are extremely suggested to all visitors for reference, choice, and possible to make a nice journey.
Paddling sampan tour in Tam Coc (three caves) (Estimated visiting time: 2-3 hours)
Tam Coc or three caves is a flooded cave karst system and one of the most well-known sites if you visit Ninh Binh province. People call Tam Coc as “Halong Bay on land”. To visit this site, you must take a padded boat ride about 2-3 hours along Ngo Dong River with a chance to admire the Limestone Mountains, get the stunning photos of rice fields, gorgeous caves and breathe in the fresh air.
Bich Dong pagoda (Estimated visiting time: 1-2 hours)
Bich Dong pagoda is one of the famous spiritual sites in the region. In case you have more time after visiting Tam Coc, this pagoda is also a highly recommended (not suggested for the disabled people or people who can’t climb up the stairs). From Tam Coc wharf, it is easy to take a bike ride/motorbike (about 2km). Then it’s time to take about 100 steps up to the top of the mountain to reach the Bich Dong pagoda. Besides the elegant and spiritual beauty of a local pagoda, admiring the magnificent views overlooking rice fields and taking some selfie photos are great experiences.
Rowing boat tour in Trang An Landscape Complex (Estimated visiting time: 2-3 hours)
Known as “Halong Bay on land” and recognized by UNESCO as the world heritage site in 2014, Trang An Complex becomes one of the most must-see & attractive landscapes in Ninh Bình. Trang An has an outstanding and diverse ecosystem with two main types: limestone mountains and aquatic ecosystems. So there are a lot of types of rare and precious plants, bird species, floating animals that need to be protected.
At Trang An complex, embark on a rowing sampan and cruising (about 2hours) along the crystal-clear waters of the river, passing through a series of limestone caves, green rice paddies, while enjoying the sounds of soaring birds overhead. The good time for visiting this area is in the rice harvest season from September – October.
Hoa Lu Temple (Ancient capital in Vietnam) (Estimated visiting time 1 hour)
Hoa Lư was the ancient capital of Vietnam in approximately the 10th and 11th centuries. It belongs to Trang An complex and was recognized by UNESCO as the world heritage site in 2014. Here you will spend your time learning more about the Vietnamese historical stories by exploring King Dinh Temple,
King Le temple, and Nhật Trù Pagoda.
This temple is a must-see spot for the visitors who love exploring the Vietnamese historical sites as well as the local temples. You might skip it if not interested.
Spiritual sightseeing at Bai Dinh Pagoda (Estimated visiting time: 4hours)
Bai Dinh pagoda is one of the largest complexes of Buddhist temples in Vietnam and becomes a popular must-see spiritual destination for Buddhist pilgrimages from across Vietnam. The pagoda comprises of some temples and over 500 intricately carved statues of Buddha and a 10m high bronze statue. And every year, Bai Dinh pagoda welcomes thousands of visitors, especially in spring (from January to March of Lunar Year). Visitors come to pray for a lucky year and might combine with other sightseeing tours. You should spend at least a half-day to explore this pagoda.
Explore Van Long Nature Reserve (Estimated visiting time: 2 hours)
Van Long is one of the largest waterlogged nature reserves. This wetland has a very diverse and unique ecological system. So it becomes one of the favorite residences of many rare kinds of fauna and flora. Otherwise, Van Long possesses a bright and peaceful landscape with Limestone Mountains and wonderful caves.
With regards to Van Long tour compared with Trang An tour or Tam Coc tour, these three journeys are similar in general. Visitors must take a small sampan rowed by the locals to explore the beautiful scenes and the caves around. However, Van Long is a beautiful natural preserve with a smaller scale that hasn’t been discovered and over-run with tourists like in Trang An or Tam Coc. Besides, an afternoon tour is highly suggested instead of the morning one so that you might admire the sunset beauty over the rice field as well as see a lot of birds during this time. Last but not at least, this trip is highly recommended for the guests staying at Emeralda Resort Ninh Binh which is near to the Van Long pier. So exploration of Van Long should be a must-see in the visitors’ itinerary.
Taking the unique photos from the top of Mua Cave (Estimated visiting time: 2 hours)
In order to more clearly understand how the picturesque landscapes of “Halong Bay inland” are, a short climb-up-mountain tour at Mua Cave is a must-visit in the itinerary. This short trip is easy to combine with other tours in Ninh Binh such as with Van Long or Trang An or Tam Coc etc. However Hang Mua is dedicated to the people with no-health issues, loving to climb up the stairs (around 486 stone steps – no cable car) and especially fancy taking the unique photos of the most beautiful sceneries around & admire the sunset from the top of Mua Mountain.
Cuc Phuong National Park (Full day visit at least)
You are a nature lover looking for a place of various flora and fauna. You are an adventurer looking for a hiking or trekking trip through a jungle. And you are a photographer looking for the unique pictures of the birds, the rare insects, and animals, etc. Cuc Phuong National Park is an ideal site for you.
Cuc Phuong is the oldest national park in Vietnam. It is situated in the monsoon tropical climate region, hot and humid. So it is rich in biological diversity and has its own particular character. Otherwise, this is the ideal habitats of plants and animal species. The best time you should visit this park during the dry season from December to May. You should not go in the rainy season as the roads will be slippery and there are many mosquitoes.
Explore Thung Nham Bird Park (Estimated visiting time: 4 hours)
Thung Nham bird sanctuary or the country of birds is an attractive destination with full of cultural and spiritual factors, landscape and biodiversity. The park is surrounded by the tropical forests over limestone mountain chains with a lot of valleys and caves. And it becomes one of the favorite residences of thousands of birds with many different kinds. Especially in the sunset time, visitors can see the white storks hovering, finding shelter in this wetland. And the best season to visit Thung Nham is in the autumn when the weather is dry and cool.