Ninh Binh was the most fascinating area we visited in Vietnam. The minute we arrived at our lovely bamboo homestay, we felt at home. Surrounded by massive rock formations, water, ricefields and the sound of nature, we knew that this is a place for us.
Coming from loud and busy Hanoi, Ninh Binh is the perfect getaway for a few days. From Hanoi we took a bus to Ninh Binh. The busdrive took about two hours and then we took a taxi to our homestay. We stayed away fom the town as we wanted some quiet days and stayed in a very quiet and rural area about 20 minutes driving from Ninh Binh.
When we arrived in the Quoc Khanh Bamboo Homestay we were amazed by the scenery. The surrounding was marvellous and we spent the afternoon just enjoying the view.
The easiest and fastest way to go around in the area of Ninh Binh is to rent a scooter for about 150,000 vnd per day. Every accomodation has some to rent. Also bikes are popular and the landscape invites for a bikeride. There’s also the posibility to take a taxi, a private driver or to book a tour. All of that is very easy to arrange from everywhere.
Hoa Lu is an ancient city and the former capital of Vietnam. It used to be the economic, political and cultural center of the Dai Co Viet kingdom during the 10th and 11th centries. There’s not much left of the original buildings but the impressive entrance gate and the main temple complex is worth to see!
The entrance is 15,000 vnd
Bai Dinh is a huge complex of Buddhist temples situated on the Bai Dinh Mountain. From the parking area, small open buses will get you to the entrance of the complex. From there you can walk around freely. The buildings, statues, archades, the buddha statue and especially the 34 m high Pagoda are really impressive. From the top of the Pagoda you can enjoy the breathtaking view over the whole complex and the surrounding area.
We’ve been been there on a Sunday just a few weeks after the new year has started and met hardly any other tourists but a big crowd of local people. As this spiritual and cultural complex is the largest one of buddhist temples in Vietnam, it’s a pilgrims site which is especially popular around the celebrations of new year and spring.
Make sure to take your time and take enough to eat and to drink!
The entrance is 30,000 vnd for people who are taller than 1 m and 20,000 vnd for under 1 m.
Hang Mua (Mua Caves)
This sight was our personal highlight! The actual caves are not really impressive but we recommend to walk through the cave to the other side of the mountain and enjoy the sounds of nature!
Much more impressive than the caves, are the views from the peak above. About 500 steps lead up to an altar and a dragon statue on one side and a small pagoda on the other side. The climb is exhausting as the stairs are not even but it’s absolutely worth it. Just take your time and bring enough water.
The area opens at 7 am and last entrance is at 4 pm. It costs 100,000 vnd per person. We arrived there just before 4 pm to spend the time around sunset and avoid the biggest crowd. Check the time of the sunset in advance to make sure you still have enough time to climb up and down again with a bit of light. We had great weather as it was quite cool but if it’s warm and sunny we would not recommend to climb up in the biggest heat of the day.
In Trang An you can start to discover the beautiful area by boat. Three different tours are offered and you will be rowed around on a small rowboat for about three hours.
- Route 1 will take you through 9 caves and to 3 spiritual places (Trinh Temple, Tran Temple and Khong Temple)
- Route 2 will take you through 4 caves and to 3 spiritual places (Hang Cung Vu Lam, Suoi Tien Temple, Thanh Cao Son Temple) and Skull Island, the filmset of the film Kong: Skull Island
- Route 3 goes through 3 caves and to 3 spiritual places (Trinh Temple, Suoi Tien Temple, Hang Cung Vu Lam). The filmset of Kong: Skull Island will be visited as well
Inform yourself about the routes in advance and choose the one you are most interested in. The caves all look more or less the same. The longest cave of Trang An will be visited in tour nr. 3. We chose tour nr. 2 as it was recommended to us and because we wanted to see the famous Kong: Skull Island filmset.
We arrived there early morning on a Monday and there weren’t many people. Still there were people coming continuously and you’re rowing one boat after the other. If you can look away from all the boats and people and look up and around, the tour is marvellous though. The stone formations, the nature and caves really left us speechless.
It’s open from 7.30 am-4 pm entrance is 200,000 vnd and 100,000 vnd for children under 1m. It was the first and only activity where we actually payed for our son who was 10 months old at this time.
If you’re looking for a cheaper or less crowded alternative to Trang An, go for a Tam Coc boat trip. The tour takes about two hours and will bring you through three caves and marvellous surroundings.
Bich Dong Pagoda
If you still have some time you can now visit the Bich Dong Pagoda. It’s just 3 km away from Tam Coc and definitely worth a visit if you don’t rush back to Hanoi or continue your trip already.
Bich Dong Pagoda consists of the 3 pagodas Ha, Trung and Thuong in ascending order. When entering the pagoda, you will first walk over a stone bridge and walk through a beautifully decorated gate. You will have to climb some steps and walk through a cave to see all of the pagodas and to reach the top. Take your time and enjoy the view once you made it to the top!