Ninh Binh city is the capital of the province of the same name: a small wedge-shaped province south of Hanoi, which stretches from Cuc Phuong National Park in the west to a sliver of land facing out to the Gulf of Tonkin. Built on both sides of Highway 1 and the railroad connecting Hanoi with Ho Chi Minh City, Ninh Binh itself is a fairly uneventful place, but it is surrounded by a stunning landscape of lush green paddy fields and striking limestone outcrops and is the hopping off point for sights and attractions including Tam Coc and Trang An, Bich Dong, Hoa Lu, Phat Diem Cathedral, Van Long and Cuc Phuong National Park.
Many of the sights are within 12km of Ninh Binh city, and the land is flat, so they can be reasonably easily reached on a bicycle or motorbike. To really appreciate the scenery you need to get out and about, and – outside of the boat trips – the best way of doing that is by bicycle. Although the most direct way to most of the sights involves driving along main roads, it’s possible to find routes via the backstreets, particularly between Ninh Binh City and Tam Coc and from Tam Coc to Hoa Lu.
The paths take you through villages and alongside rice paddies and lakes, with the ever present karst formations in the background. Make sure you get a good map, but bear in mind this may not help you and you may need to resort to asking passers-by or using GPS.
Most hotels will provide a map and rent bicycles for a few dollars and motorbikes for around US$7. Alternatively, arrange a tour or guide from your travel agent or book onto a day trip or longer 3-day tour from Hanoi.
The town itself isn’t especially noteworthy and while there are a couple of decent places to stay, increasing numbers of travellers are choosing to base themselves in Tam Coc to be even closer to some of the main attractions of the province. This can be a good idea if you’re planning on spending more time in the area than just the single night that many travellers decide to go for.
Cuc Phuong National Park is the best place: 45km from Ninh Binh city and 30km from Tam Coc town, this is the 1st National Park of Vietnam open since 1962. It’s famous for the bio-diversity and true nature. 1 night in Cuc Phuong resort & spa (4 star) or homestay in Khanh village is suggested.
Van Long Nature reserve: Only 12km from Ninh Binh city, this is the largest watery reserve of North Vietnam, also home to thousands of bird species. Some of them are in red-book. Only 1 part of the reserve is open to tourists. Photo-hunting of the flying birds during sunset backgrounds is highly recommended activity. Buffalo cart can be used to transfer tourists from entrance gate to the damp. 2 nights in Emeralda resort (5 star) or Queen hotel (3 star) nearby is a good choice.
Cycling – Motorbiking
Short distance (5-7km), medium distance (12km) or long distance (32km) – you have 3 choices but anyhow, it’s an easy cycle/motorbiking. The most popular route is cycling on the dyke with shortcut into villages. It’s tranquil and peaceful. A beautiful picture of Vietnam countryside appears with buffalo damping in the mud, bamboo trees, communal houses, old well, rice fields and red flamboyant during summer. You can hear the echo of wind among the karst mountains when taking a reststop during the cycle. Homestay in Dong Tam village and modern Yen Nhi hotel (3 star), Tam Coc resort (4 star) are our best choices.
Ninh Binh is countryside hence in some hamlets, you can join farming activities with locals. An example is Dong Tam commune where you can visit 1 family, joining cooking class and enjoy homemade dishes. In the afternoon, you will help the family with some farming on rice fields. Homestay in Dong Tam is our only choice.
Yen Mo golf course of 18 holes in the Southeast of Ninh Binh is our only choice. Compared with other Vietnam courses, it’s not big and not much terrain to swing. However, it can be a good option for halfday relaxation if you stay in Ninh Binh in 2 days. It takes 45 minutes driving from Ninh Binh city, and Legend hotel (4 star) or Queen hotel (3 star) are the best choices in the city.
It’s reasonable for United Nations to opt Ninh Binh is the host for Vesak International Meetings in 2014. Ninh Binh is the home to Bai Dinh the biggest pagoda of Vietnam as well as thousands of temples. It even has Bai Dinh hotel (4 star) inside Bai Dinh pagoda with the capacity of 500 guests. Hoa Lu is also the ancient capital of the country during the 10th century. In addition, Christianity can admire Phat Diem Rock Church (25km from Ninh Binh city) as an unique example of the adaption of Christinanity imported into Vietnam in the 17th century.
Hanoi 110km in the North, Mai Chau 135km in the West and Halong 170km in the Northeast can be reached by open buses. Travelers can take night train from Ninh Binh Railway station to Hue and Da Nang (Hoi An). The train stops at Ninh Binh at around 9PM then you have 5 minutes for embarkation.