Ninh Binh is a scenic place in Northern Vietnam where you could find soaring limestone mountains surrounded by equally amazing views of tranquil rivers, rice paddies, and temples. It’s known as “Ha Long Bay on Land,” because it is also filled with thousands of steep karst towers, but instead of being “on the sea,” it is encompassed and traversed by winding rivers, rice paddies, ancient settlements, and everyday life in the countryside. Several cultural and natural sites in Ninh Binh are included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.

I didn’t expect Ninh Binh to be the highlight of my entire two-week trip in Central and Northern Vietnam, along with the caves of Phong Nha. I expected it to be quite the touristy destination being so near Hanoi, just a 2-hour drive south of the city. Some parts actually were, but they turned out to be minor annoyances, offset by the sublime natural and cultural scenery and a must-visit when seeking gorgeous inland karst landscapes in Southeast Asia. For three days, I found my way around Tam Coc, Trang An, and Hoa Lu, mostly by bicycle, and also made a detour to nearby Phat Diem Cathedral.

Detourista Notes

I’ll be writing more about my experience and travel tips in Ninh Binh on future updates. In the meantime, here are some quick notes you might find useful if you plan on going.

Mua Cave Eco Lodge (website) — I stayed here for three days that I was in Ninh Binh. It’s situated on a secluded, yet accessible, corner of the Mua Mountains and is located in the same complex as the scenic Mua Cave Viewpoint, which is one of the must-visit places to visit in Ninh Binh. They have Tonkin-village inspired cottages that are well-appointed and offers excellent value for mid-range travelers. You can read more about my experience staying at Mua Caves Eco Lodge on this page. In addition to the scenic location, it was also a convenient base to explore Ninh Binh since it sat between, the major tourist spots including Tam Coc and Trang An. You can view reviews and room rates at Mua Caves Eco Lodge on TripAdvisor, Agoda, and

Best River Tour in Ninh Binh — Not all travel agencies in Vietnam mention Ninh Binh in their tours, because the place is packed as “Hoa Lu – Tam Coc Day Tours.” Tam Coc is an area in Ninh Binh, popular for its river row-boat tours. While Hoa Lu is a village in the Trang An area that is famous for its ancient citadel in addition to its own row-boat route. I enjoyed Trang An more than Tam Coc. The karst mountains were simply more impressive and compact, plus it was near Hoa Lu Ancient Citadel. In contrast, the landscapes in Tam Coc were, in a way, more subdued, but had more views of scenic rice fields. If your itinerary allows it, I highly recommend visiting both Trang An and Tam Coc because each offers spectacular views worth seeing even on their own.

DIY bicycle tour — You can see a lot of Ninh Binh on a cheap rented bicycle by following the riverside paths, and village roads through the rice paddies. I really enjoyed going my own way because it made the experience less touristy. The central location of Mua Caves also made exploring the area by bicycle more convenient. Truth be told, I didn’t go on any of the boat tours in Ninh Binh, and I regret it a lot! I planned to do it on the latter part of my trip, because I thought I had plenty of time and started with my bicycle tour. Unfortunately, it rained heavily on my last days in Ninh Binh. I decided not to go through with the boat tour. I should’ve done it on the day that I arrived.

Don’t miss Bai Dinh — When I was at the end of my trip in Hanoi, my friend mentioned the massive temples and pagodas at Bai Dinh as one of the highlights in Ninh Binh. I didn’t go there because I didn’t know about it then. If you are visiting, do check it out!

Packaged tours are quite reasonable — If you’re pressed on time, you can visit Ninh Binh as a day tour from Hanoi. Book one that includes Trang An, Hoa Lu, and Bai Dinh. If you’re staying in Ninh Binh, you can do the same tour above. Then, go your own way (or book another tour) around Tam Coc and Bich Dong.

Previous DestinationPhong Nha, Hue, Hoi An, Da Nang.

Next Destination — Cao Bang (Ban Gioc Waterfall), Hanoi, Ha Long Bay.

For new posts and updates, you may visit my 2-week trip in Central and Northern Vietnam series page, the Vietnam page, or follow Marcos Detourist on Facebook.