Ninh Binh is one of 3 most visited destinations in Northern Vietnam, the other two are Sapa and Halong bay. Ninh Binh tourism is famous for the charming and majestic nature in Trang An, Tam Coc, Phat Diem church, Bai Dinh pagoda, Hoa Lu ancient capital and Cuc Phuong national park.
Sound like a lot to squeeze in just a few days? Don’t worry because I will help you with a complete itinerary with reasonable time schedule from my experiences in Ninh Binh.
Ninh Binh travel itinerary
From Hanoi, you can easily get to Ninh Binh by motorbike or bus (less 100km or 60 miles from Hanoi). Usually, tourists stay in Ninh Binh for 2 or 3 days. Following is a popular itinerary for 3 days:
Day 1: Morning, catch a bus to Ninh Binh and arrive at Hoa Lu (in Ninh Binh) in less than 2 hours for about $5. Visit Hoa Lu for the rest of the morning. Afternoon, you should choose between Trang An and Tam Coc, which are quite similar. I prefer Trang An, it’s more beautiful with a boat ride next to mesmerizing rice fields for 3 hours. If you leave early frm Hanoi by motorbike, you can visit Hoa Lu, Trang An and Bai Dinh pagoda on the same day.
Day 2: Head to Phat Diem church and have lunch nearby. In the afternoon, back to Ninh Binh and visit Bich Dong (a cave near Tam Coc) and Bai Dinh pagoda (if you haven’t visited in 1st day). If have only 2 days and have to catch a bus back to Hanoi, you should visit just Bich Dong cave then return the motorbike and catch a bus. And if you have 3 days, you have 2 choices for overnight either at Ninh Binh or Cuc Phuong national park.
Day 3: Visit only Cuc Phuong, trek in the forest and the catch a bus back to Hanoi.
How to get to Ninh Binh from Hanoi
There’re 3 popular ways: bus (easiest), train (very inconvenient) and motorbike (most interesting).
There’re many buses departing from Giap Bat and My Dinh stations to Ninh Binh all day. The bus will take you into Ninh Binh city, or you can tell them to drop you somewhere nearest to Hoa Lu (or Trang An).
You may consider:
– Sinh Cafe. at 38 Ly Nam De street – Hoan Kiem district – Hanoi. Tel:+8498.8757.689
– Hung Thanh at 287 Tran Khat Chan – Hai Ba Trung district. Tel: +844.3633.7575 or +844.3633.7614
Train is cheap and safe, but inconvenient. You can get Ninh Binh on SE7 (6.15am) and SE5 (9am) in over 2 hours.
You can contact following agencies to buy the ticket:
– TSC (add: 114 Pho Duc Chinh street – Ba Ðinh district – Hanoi): +844-37162868
– Mua Xuan (add: 41 Ma May Street – Hoan Kiem district – Hanoi): +844-39263138 or +844-22109775
– Hanoi train station at 120 Le Duan street – Hoan Kiem district.Tel: +844.3942.3949 or +844.3942.3697
Hotels and motels in Ninh Binh
There’re quite many hotels and motels in Ninh Binh, you may want to check out:
– Hotels on Truong Han Sieu street – Ninh Binh city.
– Queen Mini hotel is near the train station.
– The Long hotel and restaurant is opposite Tam Com dock. +8430.3618.077
– Thien Truong hotel and restaurant halfway between Hoa Lu and Trang An. This is my favorite hotel and restaurant for tasty dishes and cheap rooms. Contact +843.0362.1929
– House on stilts (Nhà sàn) in Cuc Phuong (a traditional house of many mountainous ethnic groups in Vietnam). Contact the management of the forest: +8430.384.8006 (i’m not sure they can speak English)
Some upscale hotels:
– Thuy Anh 3-star hotel at 2 Truong Han Sieu – Ninh Binh city. Tel +8430.3871.602
– Ninh Binh legend (4-star) on Le Thai To street. +8430.3899.880
What to eat in Ninh Binh
There’re 2 must-eat specialties in Ninh Binh: cơm cháy (quite like scorched rice) and goat meat. I would recommend Thien Truong restaurant mentioned above for a nice try and “nice” price as well. But if something else fits better on your schedule, try out:
– Khanh Anh restaurant on Dong Thanh street – Ninh Binh city.
– Thang Long restaurant is near Trang An.
– Truong Giang restaurant at 127 – Tran Hung Dao street.
Attractions in Ninh Binh
Hoa Lu and Tam Coc are the two most visited places for both locals and tourists. But my experiences advise you the opposite if you plan to visit all. Take a look at my order of preference below:
1. Trang An known as “inland Ha Long Bay or Ha Long Bay on land” with waters, mountains and caves . You will visit Trang An on boats, flowing slowly through many caves in over 3 hours. Personally, this is the best place in Ninh Binh.
2. Tam Coc is quite similar to Trang An where you also visit by boats through many caves, watch the mountain so pick one if you don’t have all the time.
3. Bai Dinh pagoda – the biggest pagoda in Vietnam and South East Asia. The pagoda is holding many records of Vietnam and Asia, such as biggest Buddha statue, biggest bell,…
4. Phat Diem stone church is a combination of Eastern and Western architectures. On the go, there’re many beautiful churches as well. (Ninh Binh and Nam Dinh are the capital of Christianity in Vietnam).
5. Hoa Lu was the capital of Vietnam over 1000 years ago, which remains with only Dinh king temple and Le kinh temple.
6. Cuc Phuong national park, a well preserved large forest, has many rare and endemic animals. The best way to have the best out of the experience in Cuc Phuong is to stay overnight and wake up early for the trek through the forest.
– Trang An tourist resort: $8/person
– Cuc Phuong national park: $2/person
– Temples of Dinh king and Le King (in Hoa Lu ancient capital): $0.8/person
– Tam Coc: $8, boat charge included