Exploring Ninh Binh: A Tapestry of Rice Fields, Caves and Temples

 In Best Time to Visit, History, Holidays, Things to do, Travel, Travel Journal

Vietnam’s northern area, Ninh Binh, is a place that symbolizes natural beauty, a rich history, and a vibrant culture. To fully experience this paradise, consider exploring Vietnam tour packages that include Ninh Binh in their itinerary.

Situated amidst majestic limestone karsts, green rice paddies, and flowing streams, Ninh Binh provides tourists a captivating haven away from the busy city.

We explore the best times to go, where to go, what to do, how to get there, the history of Ninh Binh, and the distinctive shopping experiences it offers in this extensive guide.

Ninh Binh is a province located in the northern region of Vietnam, approximately 90 kilometers south of Hanoi. 

Renowned for its stunning natural landscapes, rich history, and cultural heritage, Ninh Binh is often called the Halong Bay on land” due to its limestone karst formations and scenic riverways.

 The province is characterized by its picturesque countryside, emerald-green rice fields, and ancient relics dating back to the Dinh and Le dynasties when it served as the capital of Vietnam.

History of Ninh Binh


Ninh Binh boasts a storied past that dates back centuries, with its roots linked with the rise and fall of numerous dynasties in Vietnamese history.

During the 10th and 11th centuries, Ninh Binh served as the capital of Vietnam under the Dinh and Le dynasties, playing a pivotal role in shaping the country’s cultural and political landscape. 

The region’s strategic location amidst fertile plains and limestone mountains made it an ideal stronghold for ancient rulers. 

Throughout Ninh Binh, there are remains of this remarkable past in the form of old citadels, temples, and archaeological sites.

Best Time to Visit Ninh Binh


The best time to visit Ninh Binh is during the dry season, from November to April. During this time, the weather is pleasant, with cooler temperatures and minimal rainfall, making it ideal for outdoor activities and sightseeing.

However, travelers should be mindful of the peak tourist season, which typically occurs from December to February, when crowds can be larger, and accommodation prices higher.

For those seeking a quieter experience, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of October and May, when the weather is still favorable, but tourist numbers are fewer.

How to Reach Ninh Binh


Ninh Binh is easily accessible from major cities in Vietnam, including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The most convenient way to reach Ninh Binh is by taking a train or bus from Hanoi, which is approximately a two-hour journey.

Alternatively, travelers can hire a private car or join a guided tour for added convenience and flexibility.

From Hanoi, buses depart regularly from Giap Bat or My Dinh bus stations, offering a budget-friendly option for travelers.

For those arriving by air, the nearest airport is Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, from where onward travel to Ninh Binh is readily available.

Things to Do in Ninh Binh


There are many things to do in Ninh Binh as well as experiences for travelers to immerse themselves in the region’s natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant culture.

1. Cycling Tours: 

One of the best ways to explore Ninh Binh’s rural countryside is by joining a cycling tour. Pedal along winding paths through emerald-green rice fields, picturesque villages, and ancient temples. 

Cycling allows travelers to take in the tranquil scenery leisurely while interacting with locals and experiencing the authentic charm of rural life.

2. Hiking and Trekking: 

Ninh Binh’s limestone karst landscape provides excellent opportunities for hiking and trekking enthusiasts.

 Embark on scenic trails that lead to hidden caves, lush valleys, and panoramic viewpoints. 

Popular hiking destinations include Mua Cave, which offers sweeping views of Tam Coc from its summit, and Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam’s oldest national park, renowned for its diverse flora and fauna.

3. Boat Rides in Tam Coc and Trang An: 

No visit to Ninh Binh is complete without experiencing a boat ride along the serene waterways of Tam Coc or Trang An. 

Board a traditional sampan boat and glide along the Ngo Dong River, passing between towering limestone karsts and through picturesque caves. 

In Trang An, explore a UNESCO-listed landscape of karst formations, temples, and tranquil grottoes, all while being rowed by local boatwomen.

4. Explore Hoa Lu Ancient Capital: 

Discover the fascinating history of Ninh Binh by exploring Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, the former seat of power during the Dinh and Le dynasties. 

Wander through the ancient citadel’s ruins, visit temples dedicated to Vietnamese emperors, and learn about the region’s significance in shaping Vietnam’s cultural and political landscape.

5. Attend Local Festivals: 

Experience the vibrant culture of Ninh Binh by attending local festivals and celebrations. The Perfume Pagoda Festival, held annually from January to March, attracts pilgrims from across Vietnam who come to pay homage to Buddhist deities and seek blessings for the upcoming year. 

Other festivals such as the Trang An Festival and the Bai Dinh Pagoda Festival offer colorful processions, traditional performances, and culinary delights that showcase the region’s cultural diversity among other festivals in Vietnam.

6. Relaxation and Wellness: 

After a day of exploration, indulge in some relaxation and wellness activities to rejuvenate the body and mind. 

Treat yourself to a traditional Vietnamese massage or spa treatment at one of Ninh Binh’s wellness centers, where skilled therapists use natural ingredients and ancient techniques to promote relaxation and healing.

Places to Visit in Ninh Binh


1. Tam Coc: 

Tam Coc, often referred to as the “Halong Bay on land,” is one of Ninh Binh’s most iconic destinations. Here, visitors can embark on a memorable boat ride along the Ngo Dong River, flanked by towering limestone karsts and lush rice paddies. 

The journey takes you through a series of caves, including Hang Ca, Hang Hai, and Hang Ba, where sunlight filters through openings in the rock, creating a magical atmosphere.

 The tranquil surroundings and stunning scenery make Tam Coc a favorite among nature lovers and photographers alike.

2. Trang An Landscape Complex:

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Trang An Landscape Complex is a vast area encompassing limestone karst formations, caves, and archaeological sites. 

Visitors can explore the complex by taking a scenic boat ride along the winding waterways, passing through natural grottoes and ancient temples. 

Highlights include the Trinh Temple, which dates back to the 10th century, and the Bai Dinh Pagoda, one of the largest pagodas and temples in Vietnam

Trang An offers a mesmerizing blend of natural beauty and cultural heritage that leaves a lasting impression on all who visit.


3. Hoa Lu Ancient Capital:

Hoa Lu served as the capital of Vietnam during the Dinh and Le dynasties in the 10th and 11th centuries, making it a significant historical site in Ninh Binh. 

Today, visitors can explore the ancient citadel’s ruins, including the temples dedicated to the Dinh and Le emperors. 

The Dinh Temple and Le Temple are architectural marvels adorned with intricate carvings and statues, offering insight into Vietnam’s feudal history and religious practices.

Hoa Lu Ancient Capital provides a fascinating glimpse into the country’s royal past and is a must-visit for history enthusiasts.

4. Bai Dinh Pagoda:

Situated at the foothills of the limestone mountains, Bai Dinh Pagoda is a sprawling complex that ranks among the largest Buddhist pagodas in Southeast Asia. 

The pagoda features intricate architecture, with towering stupas, ornate gateways, and intricately carved statues. Visitors can explore the various halls, pavilions, and prayer halls, each adorned with exquisite artwork and religious relics. 

Bai Dinh Pagoda is not only a place of worship but also a cultural landmark that reflects Vietnam’s spiritual heritage.


5. Van Long Nature Reserve:

For nature enthusiasts and birdwatchers, Van Long Nature Reserve is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. 

This Ramsar wetland site boasts pristine natural landscapes, including limestone cliffs, tranquil lagoons, and verdant forests. 

Visitors can take a boat trip along the reserve’s waterways, where they may encounter rare bird species such as the Delacour’s langur, as well as other wildlife like monkeys, otters, and reptiles. 

Van Long offers a peaceful retreat into nature and is ideal for ecotourism and outdoor adventures.

Shopping in Ninh Binh


While Ninh Binh is renowned for its natural beauty and historical sites, it also offers a unique shopping experience that allows visitors to bring home a piece of the region’s cultural heritage. Here’s a closer look at shopping in Ninh Binh:

  • Local Markets: Exploring the bustling markets of Ninh Binh is a must for travelers looking to immerse themselves in the local culture and pick up some authentic souvenirs for an authentic experience of shopping in Vietnam.

 Stroll through the vibrant stalls, interact with friendly vendors, and bargain for the best deals on traditional items that reflect the craftsmanship and traditions of Ninh Binh.

  •  Tam Coc Market:

Located near the Tam Coc Wharf, Tam Coc Market is a bustling hub of activity where locals gather to buy and sell fresh produce, handicrafts, clothing, and household items. 

Visitors can explore stalls filled with colorful textiles, embroidered fabrics, and traditional handicrafts, as well as sample local snacks and street food delicacies. 

  • Phat Diem Market:

Situated near the Phat Diem Cathedral, Phat Diem Market is a bustling marketplace that attracts visitors with its diverse array of products and lively atmosphere.

 The market offers a wide range of goods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood, meats, spices, and household items. 

Phat Diem Market is also a great place to sample regional specialties such as goat meat, mountain snails, and fermented shrimp paste (mam tom), providing a culinary adventure for adventurous food enthusiasts.

  • Ninh Binh City Market:

The market offers a wide range of goods, including fresh produce, meats, seafood, clothing, electronics, and household items.

Explore the narrow corridors as you explore stalls offering everything from modern electronics and accessories to traditional crafts and souvenirs.

The vibrant and bustling Ninh Binh City Market offers a window into the everyday routines of Ninh Binh’s urban life.

The Culinary Scene of Ninh Binh


The culinary scene of Ninh Binh is a delightful reflection of its rich agricultural heritage, diverse regional flavors, and vibrant street food culture.

1. Goat Meat Dishes:

Ninh Binh is famous for its goat meat dishes, which are considered a local specialty. From hearty goat hotpot (lau de) to grilled goat skewers (de nuong), there are numerous ways to enjoy this tender and flavorful meat.

 Local restaurants and street vendors often serve goat dishes accompanied by fresh herbs, rice noodles, and dipping sauces, creating a satisfying and aromatic dining experience.

2. Mountain Snails:

Another popular delicacy in Ninh Binh is mountain snails (oc nui), which are harvested from the region’s limestone mountains and prepared in various ways.

Grilled snails with chili and lemongrass (oc nuong sa ot) and stir-fried snails with garlic and herbs (oc xao toi) are just a few of the delicious snail dishes you can sample in Ninh Binh. These savory and aromatic dishes are often enjoyed with a cold beer or rice wine (ruou).

3. Rice Dishes:

Com chay (burnt rice), a crispy rice dish served with various toppings such as shredded pork, fried egg, and pickled vegetables, is a popular street food snack in Ninh Binh. 

Additionally, com nieu (clay pot rice), a traditional rice dish cooked in a clay pot with meat, vegetables, and seasoning, is a hearty and satisfying meal enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.

4. Fresh Seafood:

Visitors can enjoy a variety of seafood dishes prepared using locally sourced ingredients such as shrimp, crab, fish, and shellfish. Grilled fish with herbs and spices (ca nuong) and steamed clams with lemongrass and chili (hen xao) are just a few examples of the delicious seafood specialties you can savor in Ninh Binh.

5. Street Food

Exploring the vibrant street food scene is a must-do activity for food enthusiasts visiting Ninh Binh.

 From bustling night markets to roadside stalls and food carts, the streets of Ninh Binh come alive with an array of tempting snacks and quick bites.

Sample savory pancakes (banh xeo), crispy spring rolls (nem ran), savory steamed rice cakes (banh cuon), and refreshing tropical fruits, all freshly prepared and bursting with flavor along with authentic Vietnamese cuisine. 

Ninh Binh offers travelers a diverse array of experiences, from its breathtaking natural landscapes and rich historical heritage to its vibrant cultural traditions and unique shopping opportunities. 

Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or immersion in Vietnamese culture, Ninh Binh promises an unforgettable journey into the heart of Vietnam’s tranquil countryside.

What is the best time to visit Ninh Binh?

The best time to visit Ninh Binh is during the dry season, from November to April when the weather is pleasant and rainfall is minimal.

What are the must-visit attractions in Ninh Binh?

Must-visit attractions in Ninh Binh include Tam Coc for its scenic boat rides, Trang An Landscape Complex for its UNESCO-listed natural and cultural sites, Hoa Lu Ancient Capital for its historical significance, and Bai Dinh Pagoda for its majestic Buddhist architecture.

How can I get around Ninh Binh?

You can explore the region by renting a motorbike or bicycle for flexibility and ease of access to attractions. Alternatively, taxis and xe om (motorbike taxis) are available for shorter distances.

What should I pack for a trip to Ninh Binh?

For a trip to Ninh Binh, consider packing lightweight and breathable clothing suitable for the tropical climate, including comfortable walking shoes for exploring attractions like caves and hiking trails. Don’t forget essentials such as sunscreen, insect repellent, a hat, and a reusable water bottle.

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