Aptly nicknamed the “Halong Bay In-land”, the Ninh Bình Province is frequently overlooked by international travelers. While it’s a shame that few people ever see it, for those that do, the lack of crowds only makes their trip more magical. While Halong Bay sits by the sea, the limestone karsts in Ninh Bình arise only from the ground.
Covered in lush greenery and carved by free-flowing rivers, Ninh Bình will make you drop your jaw. Testimonies from previous visitors often name it as their most memorable destination. Future visitors are encouraged to book a trip before the secret of Ninh Bình gets out.
How to Get to Ninh Binh
Ninh Bình sits on the northern coast of Vietnam and is largely covered by the Red River Delta. Although a small-sized province, it still boasts a population of over 1 million people. Within the province, the government has made 8 sub-divisions that consist of 6 districts and 2 provincial cities. Furthermore, there are 122 communes and 16 wards in the Ninh Bình Province.
Riverfront temple against a karat backdrop in the Ninh Bình Province, Vietnam. Photo by: John Ragai.
The northern location of Ninh Bình means that many visitors head to the province from Hanoi, the country’s capital city. From Hanoi, the Ninh Bình Province is about 104 km (64 mi) to the south.
There are four transportation options to travel between Hanoi and Ninh Bình — drive, take a bus, use a taxi, or hop on a train. Driving in a car or using a taxi are the fastest ways to get to Ninh Bình as the journey takes less than 2 hours. Trains and public buses are slower and travel times average 2 to 2.5 hours.
Ancient is one way to describe Ninh Bình, which has traced its Vietnamese history back to over 1,000 years ago. In fact, the area around Ninh Bình used to be the capital of Vietnam during the 10th century. At this time, the capital was called Dai Co Viet and it was ruled by Vietnam’s Dinh and Lê dynasties.
Strategically, the hills of the province provided shelter to the capital, which protected it from attacks and invasions by Chinese armies. Though the ancient capital no longer exists, history can still be seen at sites throughout the province. Most of the province’s historical sites come in the form of temples and cathedrals.
Visit the temples in the Ninh Bình Province, Vietnam. Photo by: ChrisGoldNY.
Erected throughout the centuries, these historic sites tell the story of Ninh Bình and its people. Historic sites that have become tourist destinations include the Phát Diên Cathedral, Bái Dính Temple, and the Hoa Lu ancient capital. Interestingly, the history of the Vietnam War in Ninh Bình is a story that is rarely recounted.
What is known is that the province was influenced by the Ho Chi Minh Trail and that it created a female army. Somewhat commonplace in Vietnamese history, female warriors have previously fought in the country’s battles. During the Vietnam War, women from Ninh Bình created an army to fight for peace and prosperity.
Additional tales from the war are scarce, though many locals know of nearby battles. While there may not be as many war memorials in Ninh Bình as in other provinces, visitors will still be entranced by the area’s ancient history.
- The Ninh Bình Province’s nickname is “Serenity”.
- There are 23 ethnic groups in the province including the Viet, Dao, Hoa, H’Mong, and Tày.
- The province covered a total area of about 1,384 sq km (534 sq mi)
Ninh Binh City. Photo: Gavin White
Ninh Bình Province’s capital city is also called Ninh Bình, though people often add “City” to differentiate between the two. Ninh Bình City is away from the coast and close to the province’s border with Nam Dinh, which is the province to the north. The actual city of Ninh Bình is remarkably undeveloped as a tourist destination.
Instead of having over-the-top glam, most travelers use the city as a place to stay while they explore the province’s countryside.
While Ninh Bình City isn’t that memorable as its own destination, the availability of accommodation and dining combined with its proximity to attractions makes it the prime sleepover spot for visitors in the province. Attractions that are close to the city include Hoa Lu, Trang An, Tam Coc, Van Long, and Cúc Phuong National Park.
Am Tien Valley, Trang An. Photo: Hòa Nguyễn
When travelers are staying in the city, visitors will have the choice of booking accommodations in town or the countryside. Although most of the attractions are outside of the city, Ninh Bình isn’t lacking when it comes to its selection of accommodations. Homestays, hotels, and resorts offer their services to travelers with both moderate and upscale budgets.
Well-rated accommodations in and around Ninh Bình City include the Go NinhBinh Hostel, Tam Coc West Lake Homestay, Tam Coc Garden Hotel, and the Emeralda Resort and Spa.
Serving a mix of Vietnamese and Western cuisine, restaurants in Ninh Bình are well versed in making delicious dishes. Filling portions of noodles, meat, soup, and vegetables should be enough to fuel travelers along their journey. The top restaurants in Ninh Bình are Chookie’s, Trung Tuyet, the Viet Bamboo, and the Bamboo Bar.
Famous Districts in Ninh Bình
Riverside views of Tam Coc. Photo by: Hoang Giang Hai.
When making an itinerary for your trip to Ninh Bình, chances are that the main tourist attractions will be at the top of your list. Places outside of the main provincial capital that have become popular are the districts of Gia Viên, Hoa Lu, Kim So’n, and Yên Khánh.
Gia Viên is a rural district in the Ninh Bình Province that is most well known for having the Bái Dính Temple. Run by Buddhists, the temple is a spiritual and cultural complex that is comprised of old and new parts. The temple has become a tourist hotspot because of its epic scale and beauty.
Hoa Lu is the district that served as the ancient capital of Vietnam. Holding power in the year 1010, the city used to be called Dai Cô Viêt. In today’s world, the ancient capital of Hoa Lu is located in the Tru’o’ng Yên Commune. A historical highlight within the province, many tourists head to Hoa Lu to embrace Vietnam’s culture and history.
Phat Diem Cathedral. Photo:
The main attraction in the Kim So’n District in Ninh Bình is the Phát Diêm Cathedral, which acts as the seat of the Roman Catholics in the area. Constructed in 1891 of wood and stone, the Cathedral uses a blend of European and Vietnamese architecture.
In 1972, the Cathedral was bombed and then restored. Furthermore, the cathedral houses an entire complex that includes a chapel, bell tower, and tomb.
Yên Khánh District
Another rural district in the Ninh Bình Province is called Yên Khánh. While the towns in the district are small, the karat mountains are large and in charge. Dominating the landscape, these formations provide visitors with stunning views as they ride through the countryside or drift down the river on a boat. A must-see, visitors shouldn’t skip over the Yên Khánh District.
In the Ninh Bình Province, nature takes center stage. All of the main attractions in the province are in the great outdoors because of the amazing landscapes. Favorite spots amongst tourists are the grottoes in Trang An, river and fields in Tam Coc, caves and wildlife in Van Long, and the Cúc Phuong National Park.
Take a boat tour through Tam Coc. Photo by: John Ragai.
Cúc Phuong National Park
The Ninh Bình Province is also home to Vietnam’s oldest national park, Cúc Phuong. Opened in 1962, the park is the country’s largest nature reserve. Situated close to Hanoi, Cúc Phuong is a popular day trip destination for city dwellers. At the park, visitors will be welcomed to a diverse ecosystem that houses Vietnam’s rarest species.
Booking a tour is encouraged and a must if visitors plan to spend the night in the park.
Tam Coc is easily the most photographed destination in the Ninh Bình Province. Featuring the Ngo Dong River, the water’s edge is lined with rice paddies. Beyond the paddies, magnificent limestone karsts rise up to complete the view. Visitors to Tam Coc can hire a boat to take them down the river and through the caves.
Tours of Tam Coc are offered daily, but travelers should keep in mind that this destination gets busy quickly.
Entrance to a grotto in the karsts. Photo by: ChrisGoldNY.
Resting beneath the karsts in Trang An are various caves, grottoes, and temples. Visitors can arrange to take a boat tour that will get them up close and even into some of these stunning formations. Primetime to visit Trang An is in the early morning or late afternoon. This is usually before and after the tour buses arrive, which means fewer crowds to block the views.
At the Van Long Nature Reserve, tourists will have another opportunity to venture through a network of grottoes. Boasting 32 different passages, the reserve is just another testament to the beauty of Ninh Bình. Additionally, the reserve is home to rare animal species like langurs, Asian black bears, and Bengal slow lorises.
Visitors are encouraged to book a tour with a local guide to give them the best chance of viewing the local wildlife.
Held by locals to honor their culture and used to draw in tourists, there are various festivals in the province at different times of the year. Stationed at tourist sites like the Bai Dinh Pagoda or the Hoa Lu ancient capital, these festivals draw in huge crowds – local and foreign.
On the first day of the new year at the Bai Dinh Pagoda, a festival is held to honor Vietnam’s national heroes. Known to be the biggest festival in the Ninh Bình Province, temples are decked out and people gather to watch the ornate parades. A cheerful time, celebrations tend to last for multiple days.
Bai Dinh Pagoda. Photo: Bùi Thế Tâm
In March, the Thai Vi Temple Festival honors Vietnam’s past kings; in particular, King Tran Thai Tong who drove the resistance against Nguyen Mong. Unlike the province’s other festivals, the Thai Vi celebrations are held every three years when the lunar year falls on either the Rat, Horse, Rabbit, or Rooster.
Finally, one of the more traditional festivals is held at the ancient capital, Hoa Lu. Taking place during the third lunar month and starting on the 6th day, the festival honors King Lê and King Dinh. Ceremonies include drum performances, offering, incense burning, and lantern lighting.
This festival is particularly popular amongst the local people, though tourists are always welcome to join in on the celebrations.
Cruise around the karsts of the Ninh Bình Province, Vietnam. Photo by: ChrisGoldNY.
Tourists aiming to have the best experience on their trip should visit the Ninh Bình Province in either Spring or Fall. March and April are the first months of the year when tourism spikes in Ninh Bình because of the good weather and fewer crowds. Another great opportunity to sightsee is during the fall months of September and October.
Similar to spring, the weather is nice and the crowds don’t get too big. Winter is another popular time for tourists and often one of the busiest periods for Ninh Bình because of the end of the year holidays. Crowds will be at their all-time high months, but one pro is that tourists are less likely to experience rain showers.
The worst time of the year to visit Ninh Bình is the summer months. August has the highest levels of rain and the temperatures are often sweltering.
Motorbike in Ninh Binh. Photo: cotaro70s
Spectacular, stunning, and mesmerizing, taking a trip to the Ninh Bình Province is like stumbling on a lost treasure. The landscapes here are truly something that everyone should see for themselves and there has never been a better time to go.
Crowds are still manageable, but with such breathtaking views, it’s only a matter of time before Ninh Bình becomes swamped with tourists.
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Keyword: Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam