Approximately 60 miles southeast of the historic Vietnamese city of Hanoi lies the Ninh Binh Province. A stunning landscape littered with massive rainforest-covered islands that loom above emerald rice-paddies.
Going by the same name, Ninh Binh itself is the capital city of the province. With a population of 160,000 (give or take) the city of Ninh Binh itself doesn’t have all that much going on. It’s beautiful (everywhere here is), but the town primarily acts as a base for tourists exploring other surrounding areas.
Keep reading to see why you should visit Ninh Binh and all the best things to do when you are there!
Background On Ninh Binh
We’ve all seen the pictures. The tantalizing, lush, jungle-covered mountains towering above the waters of Vietnam popping up on our Instagram feed. These stunning images have put Vietnam at the top of many travelers “must visit” lists.
With exotic rainforests, winding rivers and the hustle and bustle of lively cities, it’s understandable why so many adventure-driven people set off to explore Vietnam every year.
Northern Vietnam, in particular, has gained popularity, as Ha-Long Bay was nominated in 2009 as one of the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World, but if you’re visiting Vietnam and want to explore more than just the most well-known areas, then Ninh Binh is a perfect place to add to your list of must-see destinations.
Northern Vietnam is stunning, everywhere you look there are jagged limestone scenery and picturesque villages, but areas such as Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Sapa, and Ha-long Bay have gained such popularity that if you would prefer to explore a less-traveled region then Ninh Binh is the ideal choice.
1) Take A Boat Trip In Tam Coc
Tam Coc resides not far from the town of Ninh Binh and boasts the picture-perfect scenery that comes to mind when you think of Vietnam. Rice paddies interrupted by masses of limestone cliffs make for the perfect Instagram picture, and by far the best way to view the landscape is by boat.
A traditional boat-ride through Tam Coc takes about 2 hours and is an ideal way to snap some quality pictures or just relax and enjoy the panoramic views. Towards the end of your boat-ride, you’ll get to see the floating market, a huddle of boats manned by local villagers selling brightly colored souvenirs and treats.
The rainforest atmosphere is like a scene out of King Kong (which was partially filmed in Ninh Binh), and the locals have a unique way of rowing the traditional boats using their feet!
2) Climb To Hang Mua Peak
The word “climb” might be a bit of an exaggeration, but when it comes to reaching Hang Mua Peak make sure you wear appropriate shoes! The peak is accessible via a flight of 500 steps, many of them steep and dilapidated (which adds to the charm) and, if it rains, the stairs can become very slippery, so mind your step! Whilst climbing, prepare for some of the most stunning views you’ll ever see!
The peak overlooks a lotus flower pond with a heart-shaped bridge only distinguishable once you start nearing the top. There are also several pagodas located on nearby peaks. Enjoy a cold beverage after your climb, as there’s a small shop overlooking the lotus pond that sells refreshments.
3) Visit The Endangered Primate Rescue Center
At first glance, many visitors are discouraged from visiting the Primate Rescue Center because they do keep primates in cages. However, don’t be put off! The reason behind keeping the primates enclosed is that they are breeding rare species and rehabilitating them back into the wild; this is a rescue center and not a zoo!
The center is dedicated to the rehabilitation, breeding, research, and rescuing of endangered and critically endangered species. You can take a private or small-group tour, where your guide will explain the different types of primates and the reasons behind their dwindling numbers.
The Rescue Center is very informative and well kept, not to mention you can see adorable baby langurs and monkeys up close! A definite must-see for all the animal lovers out there.
4) Take A Tour Of Hoa Lu
Hoa Lu district is located near the Red River Delta and is historically relevant as the city of Hoa Lu was once the ancient capital of Vietnam. If you enjoy perusing antique architecture, Hoa Lu is the spot to be, as there’s a number of beautiful temples and citadels to occupy your time.
Not as many tourists visit here, as many of the day tours to Ninh Binh surpass Hoa Lu in favor of the more popular destinations. So, if you’re in the region and you don’t enjoy crowds, it’s a great place to add to your itinerary.
5) Explore Cuc Phuong National Park
Also located in the Red River Delta region of Ninh Binh you will find Cuc Phuong National Park. Cuc Phuong was the first National Park in Vietnam and is also the country’s largest nature reserve.
Spanning approximately 222km, the National Park is laden with thousands of different species of animals, flowers, plants, and trees, and is a must-see if you enjoy nature.
While in Cuc Phuong, take a walking tour and visit the ‘Cave of Prehistoric Man’. You will have to climb yet another long set of stairs to reach it, but the end result is well worth the hike.
Excavated in 1966, this cave contained human remains and artifacts that date back 7,500 years. You can venture deep inside, where there is no daylight and lots of bats, so don’t go in too far if you’re scared of the dark!
6) Check Out The Turtle Conservation Center
If animals are your thing, then don’t miss an opportunity to check out the Turtle Conservation Center. If you’re already in Cuc Phuong then this place makes for a pretty awesome stopover, and a chance to learn some fun facts. Established in 1998 the Conservation Center was set up as a rescue center for turtles and tortoises who were being sold on the black market as part of the illegal wildlife trade.
The center is informative, but not overly touristy, so you can get up close to view the turtles and read about the different species. You’ll leave the Turtle Conservation Center with a new-found love for our reptilian friends!
7) Visit Van Long Nature Reserve
Speaking of wildlife, Van Long Nature Reserve is the place to see if you like birdwatching. Even if you aren’t a bird enthusiast, Van Long is a wetland reserve that boasts stunning scenery, and you can take local boat rides here too.
It is also a great place to try to spot wildlife. Van Long is home to the biggest community of Delacour’s langur, which is a critically endangered species endemic to Northern Vietnam.
The locals will tell you that you’re very lucky if you manage to spot a primate here in the wild, but they are out there, so keep your eyes open!
8) Eat Local
Anywhere that you travel, one of the biggest recommendations is to try the local cuisine. Eating locally is a great way to learn about a new culture and live as the locals do!
Stop at a restaurant while in Ninh Binh and try some of the cuisines. The area is well known for its mountain goat, which is often served on a goat-shaped skillet. Supposedly, the goat meat here tastes the best because the lush limestone mountains are ideal for grazing.
9) Book A Tour
If you are not staying in Ninh Binh itself, consider booking a tour via a local tour guide company. There are loads to choose from, and this is a particularly appealing option if you don’t want to take local transport to and from the area.
Most tours will provide you with a bus or “limousine” service to get you around, not to mention the added benefit of having a tour-guide to inform you about the areas you are visiting.
There are options for an action-packed day tour, or alternatively if you have more time, two or three-day excursions are also offered. If you’re an adventure fanatic with time on your hands, do set aside a couple of days to fully enjoy the area.
Ninh Binh province is huge, there are lots to do and see, and if you want the full experience then it’s worth visiting for more than one day.
Getting Around Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh is a magical place to visit if you are exploring Northern Vietnam. The landscapes that you find here are picturesque, the wildlife is fascinating, and the locals are friendly and always happy to show you around.
Located only a two-hour drive from the city of Hanoi, it’s an ideal place to explore, particularly if you want to stay away from the more crowded tourist areas like Ha-Long Bay. While Ninh Binh is a bit less well-known, it certainly isn’t any less incredible! You’ll have plenty to do and see.
If you decide to visit Ninh Binh, make sure that you plan how you are going to get around. The province is vast, and there is often a twenty to thirty-minute drive between different destinations.
The best way to allow yourself to see as much as possible is to book your trip using a tour company, as they will provide you with transportation.
Make sure to wear suitable clothing and footwear too, and depending on the time of year you visit, prepare yourself for a chance of rain. Make sure to bring a camera, you’re going to want to snap pictures of the incredible landscape and scenery, and if you’re lucky you might even get to see an endangered monkey in the wild!
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to visit Ninh Binh, Vietnam. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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