IG account: @theworldthroughawanderer
Ninh Binh is a province of Vietnam, in the Red River Delta region of the northern part of the country situated approximately 100 km south Hanoi, the capital. Also called the Halong Bay in land, this destination has a lot to offer to adventurers and nature seeker travellers who prefer laid back country life rather than the most commonly visited and busier Halong. Boasting green rice fields, hundreds of limestone cliffs emerging from the ground and ancient pagodas Ninh Binh has been declared UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ninh Binh is reachable by bus and train from different places but the most travelled route is the one from Hanoi, a two and half ride costing 6 to 10 dollars. Personally I have been travelling from Cat Ba island and I did take first a small ferry to reach Hai Phong city, then from the bus station I jumped on a local bus that took me there in three and half hours. Travelling by local bus is a good option if you want to save a bit of money and live a local experience but is not always easy to find the right one as many times Vietnamese people do not speak any English and you won’t find a lot of information on internet about it. Anyway, in Vietnam the keyword is patience, arm yourself with a good dose of it and everything will be fine.
Ninh Binh itself has not much to offer since the majority of attractions are situated in the countryside where I strongly suggest to find an accomodation and rent either a motorbike or a bicycle to discover around otherwise you will miss a lot. There are plenty of places where to rent a motorbike and it will cost you 100,000VND per day, roughly 5 USD and usually homestays also allow you to use bicycle for free.
The most famous activity in Ninh Binh is cruising in a paddleboat tour in Trang An or Tam Coc. The second is the most common choice between people so expect less crowd in Trang an. The journey takes up to three hours for 150,000VND (7$) and a Vietnamese lady manoeuvring the boat will take you to beautiful lakes, caves and few temples between enormous, jungle-covered karsts.
Ninh Binh is also home to the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia: Bai Dinh Pagoda. You’ll need plenty of time to properly explore this huge site featuring thousands of Buddha statues, elaborately carved bells and large views of the countryside. The pagoda usually attracts especially many local Vietnamese devotees and during the year offers ritual processions, blessing ceremonies, traditional music, and dance performance. The entrance is free, however if you’re travelling by motorbike there is a parking fee that I avoided parking outside the building.
Bich Dong Pagoda, another temple not to be missed, is located at the foot of a large mountains and it is an iconic symbol for the region. Entering into the temple you will cross a small bridge surrounded by a peaceful lotus pond making your way through the impressive arch gateway. Once inside you will find a small courtyard from where a 100 steps stairs will lead you up the mountains where an old buddhist temple is located inside a gloomy cave. Reaching the top of the stairs at Bich Dong Pagoda you will be welcomed with a stunning view out of the valley of the distant mountain peaks and vast rice fields.
Hiking the peak at Mua Cave was by any means the highlight of my visit to Ninh Binh and was totally worth the effort to get up to the 500 steeply stairs to enjoy the majestic 360-degree view of Tam Coc valley. The climb takes up to 20 minutes but I suggest to take it muck slower if you really want to enjoy the surrounding. At the half point of the hike you’ll find two different ways, one on the right heading to a small pagoda situated on a rock and one on the left leading at main viewpoint and to the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva statue on dragon mountain. Here I enjoyed one one of the best landscape in my entire life. You’ll have to pay 100,000VND for the ticket but every cents will be totally worth at the end!
Ninh Binh is also the ideal place to get lost in the countryside experiencing rural and authentic Vietnamese daily life, observing people working in the fields, woman selling fruits on the streets and kids cycling to school and as always that’s for me is the best way to get in touch with the soul of a country.
Where to stay:
While your permanence in Ninh Binh I highly recommend to book an homestay to live in contact with local people. Ninh Binh Friendly Homestay is the perfect option if you would like to wake up in the middle of the fields and enjoying the country silence.
Situated about 200 metres from Bai Dinh Pagoda and featuring rustic double or family room bungalows, a refreshing swimming pool and delicious Vietnamese food this place will make you fall in love and desire to stay longer in the area. Every room has air condition, a big modern shower and free access Wi-Fi plus few room enjoy of a beautiful mountains view.
But what will make your experience unforgettable are the friendly and helpful owners that will make you feel like at home even far away from it.
All pictures are mine.
IG account: @theworldthroughawanderer