Ninh Binh is a small city located to the southeast of Hanoi. Although the city itself isn’t well known for its attractions, its central location in one of the most beautiful and unspoiled parts of the country serves as an excellent jumping-off point. With world-class sites like Tam Coc, Van Long and Hoa Lu on its doorstep, it’s the ideal base for anyone who wants to get off the tourist trail and experience another side of Vietnam. Without further ado, here are the 20 best things to do in Ninh Binh, Vietnam.
20. Visit Phat Diem Cathedral
Located around 34 kilometers away from Ninh Binh is Phat Diem Cathedral. Surrounded by canals and emerald green rice paddies, it couldn’t have picked a more scenic location if it had tried. The cathedral itself is just as majestic: dating back to 1896, it showcases a variety of Vietnamese and Western styles in its giant ironwood columns and impressive gothic chapels. The sheer scale of the cathedral is breathtaking, and very deserving of at least a few hours of your time.
19. Climb the Bich Dong Pagoda
Located around 2km southwest of Tam Coc is the cave-pagoda of Bich Dong. Translating as “Green Pearl Grotto,” the pagoda is tucked away at the foot of a towering mountain. Its ornate gate is a sight to behold, as is the rest of this magical place. Unlike most pagodas, Birch Dong is separated into three distinct levels that spiral up the side of the cliff: Lower (Ha), Middle (Trung), and Upper (Thuong). Each level is worth exploring, so aim to dedicate at least 2 hours to the experience. Once you reach the top level, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view over the surrounding valley.
18. Visit the Endangered Primate Rescue Center
Fancy talking gibberish with some gibbons? Monkeying around with some monkeys? Then don’t miss a trip to the Endangered Primate Rescue Center. Located inside the Cuc Phuong National Park, the center is home to around 150 monkeys, 12 different kinds of langur, and 3 species of gibbon. All of the animals have been recused from illegal traders – the center serves not only to give them a safe refuge but to educate people on the dangers faced by wild animals in Vietnam.
17. Indulge in some retail therapy at Van Lan
The area surrounding Ninh Binh might be best known for its scenery, but it’s not short on shopping opportunities either. To pick up some of the fabulous embroideries the region is famous for, be sure to check out Van Lan, a small village between Ninh Binh and Tam Coc that’s home to numerous artisan craft makers. As well as watching them at work, you’ll get the chance to bring home a gorgeous souvenir. Haggling is normal practice, so if you find something you like, don’t be shy about asking for a better price than the one on display.
16. Check out Chua Bai Dinh
Chua Bai Dinh is a fascinating Buddhist temple located on a hill just outside of Ninh Binh. The complex itself was built fairly recently in 2014, but it’s set on the site of an old Buddhist temple. The juxtaposition of the old and the new is fascinating – aim to spend around 3 to 4 hours exploring it in full. Come on the 6th day of the first lunar month, and you’ll be lucky enough to catch the Bai Dinh Temple Festival.
15. Explore Van Long Nature Reserve
Like wildlife? Then you’re going to love Van Long Nature Reserve. Set just outside Ninh Binh, the wetland reserve is a paradise for bird spotters, nature lovers, or anyone who wants to beautify their Instagram feed with a few snaps of prime Vietnam scenery. The entire reserve is teeming with hundreds of different species of flora and fauna, including langur, Tibetan bear, chamois, Loris, red-face monkey, grass-snake, varan, slow and harmless boas, and gecko. It’s also a haven for birds, with dozens of pheasants, grey heron and teal, and hundreds of white stork and night herons calling it home. According to tourinhanoi.com, it also boasts 32 caves, all of which are worthy of exploring. If you’re into nature, be sure to include it on your itinerary.
14. Get on your bike
The best way to experience the beauty of the countryside around Ninh Binh is by bike. The roads are flat, almost empty of traffic, and surrounded on all sides by breathtaking scenery. Bikes can be rented cheaply enough from various rental companies in the town. Once you have one, you’ll find it the best (and easiest) way of navigating between the different attractions.
13. Explore the Cuc Phuong National Park
If you want to see some of the best natural beauty Vietnam has to offer, be sure to factor in a trip to Cuc Phuong National ParkCuc Phuong National Park. The country’s oldest nature reserve is home to hundreds of species of birds, reptiles, butterflies, and mammals, not to mention scores of ancient trees and rare plant species. Best visited during the dry season of December to May (outside of this, the paths can become treacherous, as can the leeches and mosquitos), it’s well-deserving of a visit.
12. Visit the ancient capital of Hoa Lu
During the 10th and 11th centuries, Hoa Lu was the capital of Vietnam. Today, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a world-famous cultural center, crammed with temples, pagodas, and gorgeous gardens. As Julie Around the Globe writes, its spectacular scenery, calm lakes, and ancient relics imbue it with a mysterious, slightly nostalgic vibe that makes it well worth the trip from Ning Binh.
11. Sample the local food
While you’re in Ning Binh, it’d be a shame not to try some of the local delicacies and regional cuisine. A plate of Com Chay (slices of steamed rice fried until crispy and served with a warm, spicy sauce as a snack) is a must, as is a bowl of Ninh Binh Mountain Snails – grown in the cliffs surrounding the town, their unique, crunchy texture and almost herbal flavor is a result of the medicinal plants they feed on. Other dishes worth a try include Yen Mac fermented pork roll, eel vermicelli, sticky rice with ants’ egg, and every possible type of goat meat you can think of, from fermented or steamed to grilled or barbecued.
10. Float along the Sao Khe River
Taking a trip to neighboring Trang An is a must while you’re in Ninh Binh. Known for its rich and varied ecosystem, it’s a nature lover’s dream. Located just 7 m from Ning Binh, it’s also ideally situated for a day trip. One of the best ways to explore its scenery, caves and grottos is to take a boat trip down the Sao Khe River. It’s an incredibly relaxing experience, with nothing but the sound of lapping water and bird song to distract you from the amazing sights along the way.
9. Tour the Turtle Conservation Center
The Cuc Phuong National Park is home to a range of attractions, including the visit-worthy Endangered Primate Rescue Center and the equally appealing Turtle Conservation Center. According to Lonely Planet, the center is home to more than 600 terrestrial, semiaquatic and aquatic turtles representing 19 of Vietnam’s 25 native species. Many have been rescued from smugglers, whose numbers have increased substantially in recent years as the demand for turtle meat (which is believed to support longevity) grows. As well as watching them in their tanks and incubators, it’s also possible to watch them enjoying their natural habitat (or as close to it as it’s possible to get) in the numerous ponds scattered around the site.
8. Explore Mua Cave
Sometimes described as a miniature version of the Great Wall of China, Mua Cave isn’t for couch potatoes. To get to the top, you’ll need to work your way up 500 stone steps. It’s not the easiest task in the world, but the majestic views over the emerald paddy fields along the Ngo Dong river make it more than worthwhile. If you’ve still got any strength left in your legs, go the extra mile by climbing to the lookout at Bich Dong Pagoda. If it’s a misty day, you won’t see much at first, but give it time to clear and you’ll be rewarded with a stunning panorama over the limestone mountains. For an extra special experience, visit at sunset…. just be sure to wear sensible shoes and bring along plenty of water.
7. Take a trip to Kenh Ga
If you want to check out the local custom of ‘foot rowing,’ be sure to pay a visit to the floating village of Kenh Ga. Not only will you get to see the ancient custom being practiced (and maybe even get to try it out for yourself on a boat tour), you’ll also get the chance to walk around the pretty streets with their colorful shops and tempting eateries. If you want a very unique cultural experience, don’t miss it.
6. Check out the Thung Nham Bird Garden
If you’re planning a visit to the Bich Dong Pagoda (which you definitely should), make time for the short drive over to the Thung Nham Bird Garden while you’re in the area. Surrounded by jungle-clad limestone mountains and mysterious valleys, the wild beauty of its location is unbeatable. The garden itself is a colorful paradise, filled with exotic plants, marshy swamps, and over 50,000 storks, cauldrons, bitterns, egrets, teals, phoenixes, and flamingos. According to localvietnam.com, the best way to discover the area is to take a boat through the flooded forest. If you can, aim to arrive either at sunset, when the birds begin returning to their nests, or at sunrise, when they leave.
5. Take a helicopter tour
Recommended by vietnamtravel.com as one of the best things to do in Ninh Binh, taking a helicopter tour over Trang An and Tam Coc is a once in a lifetime opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. The region is beautiful enough from ground level; from the sky, it’s even more dazzling. The tours need to be booked 5 days in advance and cost around $82 per passenger. It’s brief (the flight lasts around 10 minutes) but very memorable.
4. Visit Dinh Tien Hoang
Tucked up against Yen Ngua Mountain are two of Hoa Lu’s most breathtaking temples. Arguably the most popular of the two is Dinh Tien Hoang – bolstered with red lacquered pillars, decorated with bronze bells, and boasting a stone throne and statue of Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang with his children, it’s well worth the short trip from Ninh Binh to Hoa Lu to see.
3. Hike to Silver Cloud Peak
If you want to stretch your legs and see some gorgeous scenery at the same time, try a hike up Silver Cloud Peak in Cuc Phuong National Park. The hike, which takes around 4 hours in total, is definitely not for anyone who isn’t in fairly good physical condition to start with. Fortunately, it’s as rewarding as it is challenging, offering stunning views over the park from all directions.
2. Discover the Trang An eco-tourism complex
If you want to understand more about Vietnam’s unique ecology, be sure to visit the Trang An eco-tourism complex, or, as toursinvietnam.com calls it, Vietnam’s ‘outdoor geological museum’. Consisting of a vast network of caves, caverns, grottos, historic relics, and waterways, it’s guaranteed to leave a lasting impression. To get the most out of the experience, book a boat trip down the river. It should take around 2 to 4 hours, depending on the route you take.
1. Take a boat ride in Tam Coc
Located just a little outside Ninh Binh is Tam Coc, a stunning nature destination that’s renowned for its karst landscape. Limestone peaks stud the luscious green rice paddies, creating a stunning vista that’s comparable to the far more touristy Halong Bay. To explore the area in the way it deserves, it’s worth taking the advice of nomadasaurus.com and booking a boat trip. The guided tour will take you down the Ngo Dong river, gliding past emerald paddies dotted with local’s harvesting and plowing the fields with buffalo. Be sure to check out the unusual foot rowing technique the guides use – some will even give you instructions on how to do it yourself if you ask.