Just until a few years back, Ninh-binh or Tam coc was said to be Vietnam’s best kept secret and not a lot of people knew about it, but the stunning scenery and the natural beauty has surely put it right on top of everyone’s list. However, there aren’t a lot of article or guides about what to expect, so here it is, a detailed guide to Ninh-binh, Vietnam!
Okay so first of all, Should you plan in Ninh-Binh in your Vietnam itinerary?
If you ask us, you absolutely must. It is one of those places that is not on most of the itineraries to vietnams but is a hidden gem(not so much hidden now). It is one of those places where you get to see the actual rural way of living in Vietnam and you get to experience the serene beautiful authentic Vietnam.
Where is it?
Ninh-Binh province is in northern Vietnam and is about 120 Kms south of Hanoi. It has hundreds of Limestone cliffs emerging from the ground and spread around paddy fields and it is called “Halong Bay in Land”.
How to get here? Here are your options:
- It takes around 2-2.5hours to reach from Hanoi. You can take a cab directly from Hanoi International Airport to Ninh-Binh or tam-coc for about 70 USD, which is not that bad if you are in a big group or if you have taken a long tiring flight in to Vietnam. However there are other better options which are much cheaper.
- When you come out of the airport and walk a little, you will see a number of small tourist buses, so you can just ask if they have a seat left or you can book in advance online. Although we don’t recommend booking in advance because you flight might get delayed or immigration might take time (although it took us only 2minutes) and so on. These transfer will only cost you about 10 USD. Yeah the price difference is shocking, so chose wisely.
- You can also take a cab from the airport to the city centre, from where you can find a number of buses(from Giam and trains(SE5, SE7, SE19) that go to Ninh-Binh.
Where to Stay:
There are a lot of options from hotels to hostels for as low as 20 USD on a twin sharing basis. The majority of these hotels are in Tam Coc because that is the more “Touristy” area but we highly recommend staying at a home stay or a hotel in Ninh-binh. It is a bit less crowded and the experience is more authentic in a way. You can also check out Mua caves Ecolodge. It is a wonderful place to stay and is right at the base of hang-mua, which is a beautiful view-point. We will get to it later though.
But staying in Tam-coc means you will have a lot of options of restaurants to eat at and also to rent out motorbikes and bi-cycles, which are probably the best way to explore the whole area. I know we are talking about Ninh-Binh and Tam coc like they are far apart, but they are a few kms and you can easily walk between the two places, so don’t worry of you have booked your accommodations in Tam coc.
Things to know before :
- The weather is unpredictable. so take an all weather jacket or a rain coat and some warm layers with you. Northern Vietnam gets quite chilly during the rains but it still so beautiful and you will want to go out in the cold and explore, so gear up.
- Do not trust google maps and ask for directions from the place where you are staying. We had to travel 8 kms extra because of google maps, which doesn’t seem much, but when you are on a motor-bike/scooty and have been riding in the cold and rains, it seems quite a lot.
- The tam-coc boat tour is a little over-rated because whatever you see on a boat tour, we can probably see from the roads. But if you really want to go for a boat tour, we recommend that you reach there early in the morning before the tour buses get there and crowd the entire place.
- The Best way to experience Ninh-Binh is to do it at a slow pace. Sure you can take a day tour from Hanoi on one of the tour buses, but we highly recommend that you stay here for at least two days and enjoy the slow laid back life.
- For getting around, the best way is to rent a Bicycle, for as low as 50k VND for a day or to rent a scooty for about 100k VND-150k VND per day. We will write a detailed 2 day guide for Tam coc. You absolutely must have your own transport otherwise you will end up missing a lot because the real beauty of Ninh-binh is taking the narrow roads, whichever roads call you, through paddy fields with wind and drizzle in your face.
- There are plenty of supermarkets in Tam-Coc and in Ning-binh city. Buying water and other basic things from these supermarkets is recommended because prices of a same water bottle varies from 10K VND to 50K VND. We also recommend buying from a supermarket that has price tags on items.
- The best time to go to Ninh-binh is right after the monsoon season is over, so before November or after February , because the paddy fields are at their best during that time.
- Accommodation: There are plenty of hotels and home-stays for every budget. starting from as low as 300k for homesteads to about 600k. obviously there are luxe accommodations and even cheaper dorm rooms as well.
- Food: If you are a non-vegetarian, expect to find an insane amount of options to choose from and the prices are also quite cheap. Buy yeah, it you are a vegetarian, then you will struggle a bit. A 500ml water bottle is around 20k VND in most places. Just to give you a fair idea, if your buy a 3kg water melon from a local market, it will probably be around 500k VND.
- Getting around: Bikes can be rented for about 150k VND and bicycles for as low as 50k VND per day.
- Entrance fee to Pagodas: For. most of the pagodas entrance is fee but you will have to pay a parking fee which can be from 20k VND to 50K VND. However, The entry to Hang mua is 100k per person.
- Boat tours cost about 150k per person in Tam-coc and about 120k-130k in Trang An. The Trang An boat tour is not as crowded as Tam-coc and hence is a better boat tour if you are keen on doing one.
For a detailed itinerary for Ninh binh follow this link: