From the places we visited during our time in Vietnam, Ninh Binh was our favorite area. The landscapes are stunning, and there is so much to do and to discover. We spent a lot of time outside, walking around and hiking up to take some breathtaking views of this incredible place surrounded by rice fields. In this blog post, we share our top things to do in Ninh Binh and where to stay and eat in this area.
Best time to visit
Ninh Binh can be visited all year round. The dry season in the north of Vietnam is from November to March. During this time temperatures are cooler and it’s less rainy. We heard that the rice fields get harvested around May / June, which means that right after the harvesting the fields are not green and nice anymore. We were in Ninh Binh in early December and besides from one day of rain, we had the perfect weather. Sunny and warm but not too hot to go walking and hiking.
How to get there
We traveled to Ninh Binh by bus from Ha Long Bay. Traveilng by bus in Vietnam is very pleasant. There are different options of price and comfort. The cheaper options are of course less comfortable. We tried both the cheaper and more expensive options. We first arrived in Hanoi by plane and from there traveled to all places we visted by bus. We booked the bus tickets in advance via Bookaway or 12Go.Asia.
Visa to enter Vietnam
To enter Vietnam every traveler needs a visa. So far Vietnam has no such thing as an online visa. You have the following options to get your Visa. If you travel to Vietnam from home directly you can get your visa at the Vietnamese embassy in your home country before your trip.
If you are already traveling and want to visit Vietnam as we did, you have to apply for your visa at the airport so it’s basically a visa on arrival. But to be able to do so you have to fulfill the following requirements:
- A passport that is valid at least 6 months
- Approval letter (printed) that has to be claimed online before your arrival in Vietnam – we got ours here
- 2 Passport photos per person
- 25 USD in cash for Visa fee per person
Be prepared that it will take you some time at the airport to wait to get the visa. Besides that, it is always good to bring a pen to fill the formula for the visa application.
Top things to do in Ninh Binh
One of our favorite places in Ninh Binh that you shouldn’t miss when visiting the area is the Mua Caves. You find it outside of the village of Tam Coc. The entrance fee is 100’000 VD, which is 4.30$ per person.
We came to visit this place for sunrise and can highly recommend it. There were only a few other people, and the view for sunrise is stunning. The Mua Caves open very early, so it’s no problem to come here for sunrise at around 5 am.
When you enter the place, there are a few cafes which you pass to get to the stairs. To reach the top, you have to walk 500 steps—another reason why we recommend you to go early in the morning because it’s colder. If the number of steps sounds frightening, take the challenge. The view from the top is so rewarding and well worth to take these steps.
At some point, the stairs divide. On the left, you will find the famous viewpoint over the river as well as the dragon, and you will get the perfect sunrise view. On the other side, there is a little tower from which you have a stunning view over the rice fields.
Bich Dong Pagoda
The Bich Dong Pagoda is about 10 min drive from Tam Coc village. It’s mainly the entrance of the Pagoda, which is very beautiful and surrounded by a little lake with sea roses. Unfortunately, they were not blooming when we were there, but it was lovely anyway.
To visit Bich Dong Pagoda is free. We arrived there at around 7.30 am, and we had the place entirely to ourselves. There was a man who charged us for the parking. We don’t know if this is official, but it was only 10’000 VD (0.40$), so we just paid for it. Besides that, there was a very persistent woman who tried to sell us some souvenirs.
We loved the entrance of the Pagoda so much that we highly suggest visiting it too, even though we have to admit that from our perspective, the Pagoda itself is less spectacular.
There are two options for taking a boat tour in the area. Either you can go on a boat tour from Tam Coc village, which we heard is shorter and less expensive but also less spectacular. We didn’t do this one.
The other option is a boat tour from Trang An, which we chose. This boat tour took around 3 hours and costs 200’000 VD (8.60$) per person. At Trang An, you have to choose from three different routes. We chose number 2 and were very happy with our choice.
The landscapes are stunning, and the boat tour was super relaxing. Usually, there are four people on the boat. So when you arrive, and you’re not a group of four, you have to wait for other people joining you for the same tour. We waited around 20 min, which was fine. If you want to take a private tour, you have to pay for all four seats in the boat.
During the boat tour, we had three stops where we left the boat to visit some beautiful pagodas. There are always toilets at these stops.
We highly recommend doing one of the offered boat tours in the area because it’s a beautiful experience and very impressive to see how the locals row the boats with their feet.
Where to eat in Tam Coc
Our favorite restaurant in Tam Coc was NGON Vegan Restaurant. We didn’t expect to eat such excellent vegan food in a tiny village like this, but it was super delicious, and we came back several times.
Besides that, we had delicious Banh Mi at Tuấn Tú Routard Restaurant. They have classical Banh Mi but also excellent vegan options with tofu and mushrooms as well as our favorite Banh Mi with peanut butter and bananas.
Where to stay in Ninh Binh
We highly recommend you stay in Tam Coc, which is a little village next to Ninh Binh. First of all, it is a charming place, and second, it is close to all the sights you want to see during your time here. We only crossed the city of Ninh Binh and didn’t feel like there is a lot to see. The area around Ninh Binh is where beautiful places and landscapes are. We stayed in a charming place called Ham Rong Homestay, which was even outside of the Tam Coc village. We enjoyed so much how quiet this place was, and we could even walk to the Mua Caves and other spots from here.
How to get around
We walked a lot during our time in Ninh Binh. Depending on where you stay, this is easily possible. The area is pretty flat, and there are beautiful paths along with the rice fields where you can enjoy walking.
One day we rented a motorbike because we wanted to explore a little further. It is easy to drive there, and we paid around 5$ for the day.
Traveling in Vietnam is easy and not expensive. We stayed fifteen days in Vietnam and overall spent 50$ per day for food (20$), accommodation (18$), transport (9$), and sightseeing (3$).
The following are some prices to help you plan your travel budget:
- Bus from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay: 6$ per person
- Bus from Ha Long Bay to Ninh Binh: 21$ per person
- Bus from Ninh Binh to Hoi An: 17$ per person
- Hotel shuttle from Hoi An to Da Nang International Airport: 10$
- Scooter for one day: 5$
- Meal at a local restaurant (fried rice): around 5$ for two people
- Meal at a touristic restaurant: around 15$ for two people
Getting cash in Vietnam
Getting cash is easy, as there are plenty of ATMs available. Unfortunately, they charge you a fee of somewhat between 2.50$ and 4.50$ per withdrawal. During our stay, we had to get cash four times (each time the maximum of 3’000’000 VND). To save money on fees and because most places only accept cash, we suggest always taking the maximum amount of money the ATM offers with each withdrawal.
To get the best exchange rates and save money on fees at the ATM and while paying by card, we use a pre-paid credit card from Revolut.