Ninh Binh is a province just southeast of Hanoi and, like Hanoi, the town of Ninh Binh serves as a base to the surrounding area. The village itself is nothing remarkable, but it’s the best place to launch from for touring to the nearby Tam Coc, Hoa Lu and the further but impressive Trang An. Ninh Binh is lesser known than other destinations in North Vietnam, like Sapa and Halong Bay, but it’s a sure hit with nature lovers looking for a day into the limestone environment.
Tam Coc Limestone Landscape
Tam Coc is easily one of Vietnam’s top nature destinations, which also makes it a bit more touristy. It shares the same landscape like that of the picturesque Halong Bay, however, Tam Coc features limestone hills between brightly colored rice paddies, unlike the larger limestone cliffs sitting on the sea in Halong Bay. Travelers commonly favor Tam Coc over its crowded cousin up north for obvious reasons, but some also find the environment to be more impressive. You can tour the area by rowboat, about a two hour trip that’s best taken in the morning for the quietest conditions. Although it is less traveled than Halong Bay, it has started to get touristy so expect standard hard sells for drinks, snacks, and photo fees. If you’re up for going a bit more north, we recommend you to head for Trang An. Here you’ll have less Western tourists (more Vietnamese though) and a great experience.
Hoa Lu is another beautiful location to spend some time, although it’s generally considered less impressive than its counterparts Tam Coc and Trang An and only squeezed in if there’s extra time. Hoa Lu actually used to be the ancient capital of Vietnam way back in the 10th century, memorialized by a beautiful citadel inside of which you can find many temples to explore. The natural setting is not as extravagant as Tam Coc or Van Long, but the area is very peaceful.
If you’re not a fan of Western tourists, your best choice is probably to head to Trang An for that reason. When there, you obviously want to be in a boat on the water which is one of the better experiences in the whole of Vietnam. Don’t expect to be the only one on the river though, as it also is a popular spot for Vietnamese nationals. Normally you have to fill up a boat for 4 people, so depending on with how many people you’re with, you might need to wait (or pay) for another person to join. As it is not that expensive, it becomes very easy to get your own private boat tour which gives you all the freedom you need so you can stop whenever you want. Don’t miss out on the amazing Grotto complex where you’ll be able to see a few stunning caves with the typical stalactites. In the contrary to Tam Coc, you can enjoy a very relaxing day on the water without being disturbed by people trying to sell you something at every corner. So if that resonates with you, Trang An is your pick!
Ninh Binh may be relatively off the radar, but nature buffs shouldn’t miss it. The more developed Halong Bay becomes, the more popular Ninh Binh is expected to become. For this reason, and because nature destinations are so sensitive to tourism, now is the best time to float through this striking environment.