Memos from Asia

A Beginner’s Travel Guide to Ninh Binh, Vietnam

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Aerial view of Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Ninh Binh (Ninh Bình) is a newly emerging destination in Northern Vietnam. Located 95 kilometers South from the nation’s capital of Hanoi, Ninh Bình boasts a unique beauty of striking calcareous karsts on the edge of endless golden rice fields.

I first visited Ninh Bình back in the Spring of 2018. Since then, it has always been one of my favorite destinations in Vietnam. If you ask me to choose a place that best represents the typical scenery of Northern Vietnam, it would definitely be Ninh Bình, nowhere else!

My local travel article below is a complete guide for Ninh Bình’s first-time visitors. I will cover my favorite spots, the top-notch authentic cuisine, and other travel tips to bring you the most enjoyable trip in Ninh Bình.

Ninh Binh – A Serene Gem in Vietnam’s Northern Land

The mountainous city of Ninh Bình has been kept away from the eyes of tourists for decades. It wasn’t long ago that Ninh Bình finally embraced the chance to win the attention of both local and foreign travelers.

The milestone that marked a new chapter for this region was its appearance in the phenomenal 2017 silver screen blockbuster, Kong: Skull Island. Thanks to the undisturbed landscape, the picturesque golden rice field,s and the mighty history behind, Ninh Bình is becoming the highlight of many travel blogs and videos across the planet.

My first impression of Ninh Bình started with an 8-minute Youtube video about Trang An Landscape Complex. This is the most famous destination in the city that I would definitely recommend! The stunning and tranquil panorama that was perfectly shot in the video is mind-blowing!

Watching hundreds of wooden boats floating down the river into the mystical caves has brought me that kind of feeling I’ve never had before! Looking back at that moment whilst sitting on the couch in front of the screen, I knew that nothing could ever stop me from visiting Ninh Bình again!

If you’re looking for a rural way of life, blending into nature to find your inner peace, then come and see Ninh Bình at least once in your lifetime!

How to Travel from Hanoi to Ninh Binh?

I started by catching a 90-minute train ride from Hanoi to Ninh Bình. You can check out one of these South-bound trains: SE5, SE7, and SE19. You can electronically purchase the tickets beforehand, directly from the official website of the Vietnam Railway. The sooner you get your tickets, the better!

I visited Ninh Bình during the coolest months of Spring. The weather was dry, and the frozen breeze gusts were the most challenging part for a tropical girl like me who hails from Southern Vietnam. If you’re sensitive to the cold, then winter and Spring might not be the ideal season to visit Ninh Bình.

However, if you prefer dry and chilly weather, it’s best to avoid the humid months from May to October. Expect lots of heavy rainfall sweeping through the lands, and make sure to have a raincoat ready at all times!

Life is not like a dream! In fact, the rainy season blankets the most stunning coat in the region. This is when the rice fields transform from vivid green to a shade of turmeric-like carpet, fluctuating to the wind and running to the horizon.

Rice field and river in NinhBinh, Vietnam

If you like to hunt down some of the most Insta-worthy photos, I highly recommend popping up in Ninh Bình during summer or fall!

Five Top-Rated Attractions for First-time Visitors to Ninh Bình

Explore the Mystic Scenery at Trang An Landscape Complex

Trang An is my favorite place to explore in Ninh Bình, and I’m sure you’ll feel the same after spending a whole day here.

The only way you can tour this landscape complex is by hopping on a small boat and sneaking through the gigantic limestone karst peaks permeated with valleys. The trip usually lasts for two hours. The sailor lady will drop you off at every known attraction in the area.

Reach the Sky on the Peak of Mua Cave

Múa Cave has been a huge sensation for the past two years after hundreds of Instagrammers have promoted its majestic beauty. Leading to the peak is a stone stairway that zigzags through 500 steps from the base of the cave.

Múa Cave literally means “a cave of dance”. It will bring you an impressive panoramic view of the Ngo Dong River.

Hang Mua viewpoint at Trang An scenic area near Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Surmount Vietnam’s Largest Natural Reserve – Cuc Phuong National Park

Cuc Phuong (Cúc Phương) is Vietnam’s first and largest national park. It’s home to a rare and well-preserved rainforest. Most of the visitors to Cúc Phương are thrilled to explore the colorful Botanical Garden as well as the Endangered Primates Rescue Centre, home to 150 primates in Vietnam.

Cuc Phuong National Park in Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Biking and hiking are the best outdoor activities at Cúc Phương. If you’re up for a slow-paced afternoon, feel free to walk around and admire the amazing variety of flora and fauna.

Admire Bai Dinh – A Pagoda of Records

Encompassing a large campus covering more than 530 hectares, Bai Dinh (Bái Đính) is the most incredible Buddhist temple I’ve ever seen in my life! It took me more than half a day to explore the entire complex.

This record-breaking temple features an extensive collection of achievements. Some of the most talked-about records are Asia’s longest corridor, Asia’s largest gold Bodhisattva statue, and an extensive display of 500 Arhat statues. (VNExpress, May 25, 2019)

Bai Dinh Temple complex

Lay Back at Van Long Lagoon

Vân Long Lagoon is an off-road attraction in Ninh Bình. This place is the best representative of the untouched beauty of North Vietnam rural life. The mirror-calm water slips through 30 mysterious caves beneath the karst ranges. Vân Long Lagoon’s best experience is hopping aboard an-hour long cruise across the area.

Early morning on Van Long lagoon with many fogs

Ninh Bình Authentic Cuisine: Two Must-try Delicacies

Mountain Goat Meat (Vietnamese name: Dê Núi Ninh Bình)

I had craved for Ninh Bình’s goat dishes long before I made my way there, and I still am! The goats are raised along the hills of the limestone mountains. That’s the reason why they tend to produce a firm yet tender and fragrant meat.

Goats in the Landscape of Ninh Binh

You can choose to have it pre-seasoned with basil and duckweed before dipping for a slight boil. Once it’s done, don’t forget to season with fried sesame, chili, citronella, ginger, and lemon with a few drops of hoisin sauce!

Best goat restaurant in town: Thăng Long Restaurant (Address: Tràng An, Trường Yên, Hoa Lư, Ninh Bình).

Eel Glass Noodle (Vietnamese name: Miến Lươn)

Are you up for a serving of veggies during the rainy days? If so, why not go for a steaming bowl of eel glass noodles?

This is a soup-based cuisine featuring a large portion of eels sitting on a bed of glass noodles. The broth has a distinctive dark brown color that gives off an earthy and fragrant smell to wake-up your taste buds!

Best place to find eel glass noodle in town: Bà Phấn Restaurant (Address: 999 Trần Hưng Đạo, Ninh Bình).

Where to Stay in Ninh Bình? Top Three Accommodations by Budget

There is not a lot of accommodations in Ninh Bình. The majority of the city is covered by rivers and mountains, which means most hotels are gathered around the city center. Take note that the natural attractions will have a travel time of around 30 minutes to get there!

Go Ninh Binh Hostel – Best Choice on the Budget

I was on a budget when I first visited Ninh Bình. We decided to spend two nights at Go Ninh Binh Hostel. This is one of the best lodges to have if you’re on a shoestring. Go Ninh Binh Hostel is a great choice for the backpacker community.

You can choose to stay in a dorm room, just like I did, or a private room. Cold beers, spaghetti, guitar, and a pool table are available for use on the ground floor.

Nguyen Shack – A Precious Gem in the Heart of the Mountains

Sitting in a state of utmost tranquility at the base of the Múa Cave is a chain of bamboo bungalows with lake view. The entire area is surrounded by gigantic limestone mountain ranges. This is the perfect place to stay if you’re a nature guru who wants to find a place to take a break from the hustle and bustle back home.

Emeralda Resort Ninh Bình – A Call of Luxury

The Emeralda Resort is catered to those who like to spend a few extra bucks on a top-notch hospitality service. Traveling in style is exactly the best way to describe your trip to the Emerald Resort.

It’s the perfect alternative for families or couples who are expecting to gaze at sweeping natural landscapes. There are an exclusive spa and wellness center where you can pamper yourself after a long day of travel.

Are you excited at your upcoming Ninh Bình trip? With this complete Ninh Bình travel guide in hand, there’s nothing to worry about! Make sure to check the weather for the most enjoyable journey!

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