Finally, escape to the nature! This is exactly what we expected from Ninh Binh and its surroundings, and that is what we got from it. Despite the bad weather, we spent 3 amazing days in this place and saw the true beauty of nature. Ninh Binh and Tam Coc are famous for their limestone rocks, which are surrounded by river, rice fields and temples. Among the most popular activities in Ninh Binh are boating, climbing to prospects or simply exploring the surrounding area.
How we got to Ninh Binh from Hue by bus
We will never forget this bus trip. We went to Ninh Binh by bus from Hue and we bought tickets through the hotel owner. She told us that we will go with the best tourist bus that had comfortable seats and the driver didn’t drive like a crazy, but the opposite was true. The bus arrived with an hour delay, its seats were in disastrous condition and only three other tourists were going with us , the rest were local people. The driver drove like a madman and stopped in every small village to take someone, so we didn’t sleep well. And when we arrived in Ninh Binh, we tried to make an appointment with him to stop at the crossroads, from which we would have a short walk to accommodation. But of course he did not stop because we found out that they were arranged stop with taxi drivers. To make things worse, Tom had a fish sauce spilled on his backpack it and smelled terribly. The sauce got on his little backpack, sweatshirt, and even his legs. At 5 am we washed his backpack and the rest of things and hated the Hung Thanh Travel company.
Best places to visit and see in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc
Bich Dong Pagoda
Early in the morning we rented bicycles in our hotel and headed for the pagoda. The most interesting thing is that this place was not famous for the pagoda, but the entrance gate at the end of the bridge (see photo). On the way to the pagoda, we drove through a stunning landscape full of rice fields and rivers, and we fell in love with this place. The farmers were just sowing rice and it was interesting to watch them going through the mud, throwing it away and planting new rice.
Ecotourism zone Trang An
Trang An is a beautiful landscape that is even listed in UNESCO World Heritage Site. Amazing limestone peaks are surrounded by rivers and are hiding long caves. There are also built several temples, pagodas and small villages. The most famous attraction is a boat ride, which costs 250k per person and you can choose from 3 routes. Route number 1 is the longest and has the most places to visit. We recommend it for those who have time and do not mind spending on the boat up to 2.5 hours. Route number 2 lasts around 2 hours and is not so busy. Along its route you will visit several temples and caves.
We chose route number 3, because it promised the most beautiful and longest cave (up to 1 km). At the same time, we were supposed to visit the floating temple, which wanted Anet to see and take a photo. Boat is for 4 people (you can go in smaller group, but you have to pay for extra places). The captain was an elderly lady who we really admired. It was awesome that in her age she paddled like that and carries young butts. But the possibility of renting a boat without her was not possible.
We set out and we soon understood why the route would take so long. The lady paddled quite slowly, but at least we had enough time to admire the landscape. The cave was full of stalactites and very low ceilings, so we could see them very close. The view from the boat to the limestone mountains was much better than from the land and the temples along the way were interesting. So we enjoyed the boat for two hours and we definitely recommend it!
Viewpoint Hang Mua (Mua cave)
This is the most popular viewpoint in Ninh Binh and we were finally lucky with weather, sun came out and no fog! Admission costs 100k and in addition to the ticket you get to the area with tourist attractions (mainly photos), pond with water lilies (but in February were water lilies dead) or pool. If you come here on a motorbike or bike, don’t stop on parking spots on the way there but drive as close to the gate as possible.
There are several demanding stairs leading to the mountain, but the view is worth it! We just got there at sunset, so we was a crowd of tourists, but eventually we found a more remote seating place. Everyone seemed to enjoy the nice weather and set out here.
Bai Dinh Pagoda
Another day and it is raining again, but took our bikes and drove 19 km to Bai Din Pagoda. It is a complex of temples on Mount Bai Dinh and is considered to be the largest Buddhist complex in Vietnam. We walked up the mountain because it wasn’t very high. To our disappointment, we did not see much through the fog. Among our favorite places were the Stupa (Bao Thap), Buddha Statue with a stunning view of Stupa and The Three Periods temple.
Where to stay in Ninh Binh
This is a bit confusing, as none of the listed places are located in Ninh Binh, but in or near city Tam Coc. So when you are looking for accommodation, we recommend you enter Tam Coc. We stayed at Anh Homestay, which was halfway between Ninh Binh and Tam Coc and at the same time 2 km from Mua Cave viewpoint. We paid 5 EUR per night with breakfast and Mrs. owner was the best in the world. She provided us with bikes (1,2 EUR/day), Anet could borrow her dresses from and she also made a delicious breakfast. Availability and more information about accommodation can be found here.
Bus from Ninh Binh/Tam Coc
From the town of Ninh Binh we continued on the island of Cat Ba. We recommend buying tickets at Daiichi Travel Office which can be found in Tam Coc. It has cheap prices, convenient buses and great access. We were really satisfied with them, which happened to us for the first time in Vietnam: D