This was my first experience travelling to Vietnam and for a pretty amateur traveller; a country this diverse was a little overwhelming.
It was difficult to pick where to visit, where to start, how long to stay and after a while we found ourselves looking at a little town in Northern Vietnam called Ninh Binh -A place not mentioned much in travel guides or review sites.
As we made friends on our travels, I found that we were the only ones, travelling to Vietnam, making a stop in Ninh Binh. So why is Ninh Binh so often missed of people’s itineraries?
Here are a few pointers I learnt on the way & why I love Ninh Binh
Go here if you want to escape the motorbikes
As a tourist I will not be the first to admit that there are an alarmingly overwhelming amount of motorbikes everywhere in Vietnam.
The honest attempt to fit in is diminished as soon as you try and cross a road, clinging desperately to your travel partner or yourself, in hope that you will make it across the other side without physical damage. WHEN WILL IT END?!
Ninh Binh is not a particularly popular destination and so it isn’t half as busy as cities likes Hanoi, Saigon or even in the quaint town of Hoi An and for this, there are almost zilch motorbikes, ESPECIALLY in low season when we visited. Go for some Zen – and the picturesque scenery
There is a reason I have called Ninh Binh peaceful, notably for its open, diverse, natural surroundings and parks. It is truly a break away from the city – just time for yourself and your thoughts.
With caves, grottoes, rivers, lakes, rice fields, pagodas and hidden temples and wildlife including some curious mountain goats it is a great place to get in touch with your outdoorsy archetype.
The private wooden boat trips steered by just feet so close to the water is another experience in itself too, and should not go unnoticed. I have a normal camera, with no adaptable lenses and the photos I were able to take made me so happy. They were some of the best from my entire trip [this is thanks to the scenery not my photography skills].
If you fancy yourself taking some impressive photos to show family or friends when you get back, or to pop in your album or on a display Ninh Binh is a must stop before your travels to/from Hanoi. Entertaining yourself: where to spend your time
Trang An Grottoes is located on peaceful waters with tiny caves splitting the tall mountains, a lot of which you can enter which is particularly challenging if you can’t fit your head in between your legs as the ceilings can get very temperamental and low. There is a less commercialised feel here than in comparison to Tam Coc and we were almost alone here with no hagglers or even many boats.
From Feburary-March hundreds of Vietnamese locals visit a temple at Trang An to worship so avoid this time if you want some peace and quiet.
Tam Coc is referred to everywhere as ‘Halong Bay of the land’, with limestone mountains but with a river surrounded by rice fields in the spring which is incredible. If you go in low season the rice fields are not the lush green colour you would expect so I would recommend visiting April-June time.
If not, go during low season and see the women hip deep in water planting the rice next to you whilst you float along the river; it allows you to see another side of this beautiful area and will make you really appreciate that their hard efforts are worth it. Bich Dong Pagoda is worth visiting for an hour or two, it’s great for exploring. There are intricate little pieces of architecture dotted around the area including some grandly decorated tombstones, dragon and lion stone carvings and some delicately hidden cave temples with something unique to offer each time.
Mua Caves is great for a bit more of a trek, with winding, steep stairs it is pretty challenging [be careful if it’s wet – or wear good shoes] but the view at the top is spectacular. In fact, the caves are not something I would visit especially, it is more the views past the caves that are beautiful.
Splashing the cash: stay at the ‘Esmeralda Ninh Binh Resort & Spa’ for roughly £100 a night for the deluxe room, pictured below. It is luxurious but it also has been created to reflect the natural surroundings of the area, with little villas dotted around the greenery and with views of the mountains from Van Long Nature Reserve, which is close enough to take a cycle through. The spa offered us some of the best massages we had on our trip so that is also not to be missed.
On a budget & living like a local: stay at the ‘Nguyen Shack Homestay’ for just under £20, with basic rooms but incredible views and only a scenic 40 minute stroll through rice fields to the centre of Tam Coc.
After reading up on other travel experiences in Ninh Binh, I learnt that the food here is some of the freshest and most wholesome of their whole visit to Vietnam. We all love food so don’t miss this place if you happen to stop by.
Consider whether or not to visit during Tet New Year [the end of January-February], where transportation is far and few between and shops and restaurants will close down on and off for around ten days which could be inconvenient.
Just visit if you want a change from the usual bustling cities, if you want to spend some time peacefully taking some photographs or catching up on that travel journal or if you just want to travel a little of the beaten track. Any more questions about my trip here, just comment below & if you’ve already visited, what was your experience like?
Thanks for reading! Hopefully you are a little more convinced to visit this picturesque little town. I will definitely be going back!!!
Where is your ‘peaceful escape’?