Ninh Binh, Vietnam

The stunning Ninh Binh landscape

Ninh Binh, a mesmerizing area known locally as ‘Ha Long Bay on land’ thanks to its magical landscape with sheer limestone mountains rising from the rice paddies.  In addition to its natural beauty, Ninh Binh also has a rich history dating back thousands of years.  It was once the capital of Vietnam during the Dinh and early Le dynasties with many historical relics and monuments from this time remaining around the area.

It took 5 hours to get from Cat Ba Island to Ninh Binh arriving at our homestay around 3pm.  We were immediately unimpressed with the accommodation ☹️ A rock hard bed, the room much too basic for our liking and inconvenient to restaurants.  We went for an early dinner a few blocks away getting home before dark because there are no streetlamps around here.  Walking to our room and stepping over dead cockroaches in the hallway did not help either of us get a good night’s sleep, but we found a hotel to move to the next day so got through one night.

The next day we got up at 5:30am and took a Grab to the base of Hang Mua (Sleeping Dragon) mountain.  Hang Mua and its famous twin pinnacles is one of the top attractions in Ninh Binh province.  Climbing 500 uneven stone steps carved into the rock to reach the summit was exhausting but we were rewarded with stunning panoramic views over the limestone mountains and rice fields below.  Of the two peaks, the one with the Dragon on top is the tallest, looking down on the other peak with a small pagoda on top.  So you climb to one peak, then back down to the split and then climb up to the other peak!!!  You will want to do this climb early in the day because even at 7am the temperature was 31C, with the humidity making it feel like 43C.  By the time we were finished climbing both peaks we looked like we had fallen in a lake!  But it was absolutely worth the effort for the breathtaking views over this unique part of the country.  Tickets to Hang Mua cost 100,000 VND (USD $3.93) each and can be bought at the entry gate.

  • The start of the climb


Returning to the homestay after our epic climb, we packed up and moved over to the Emeralda Tam Coc Resort.  The resort located in the heart of Tam Coc town is a 5* property which in Vietnam does not equate to ridiculously high prices, especially when you call the hotel direct for their best rate.  We had 3 more nights in Ninh Binh and were just too unhappy with the lack of amenities at the homestay, and all the bugs.  Fortunately, they only charged us for the one night and had no problem with us leaving early.  An added bonus at our new hotel is a gorgeous swimming pool large enough for me to swim laps, and with fantastic views!

The other popular attraction here in Ninh Binh is taking a sampan ride on the river through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Trang An Landscape Complex, guided by a boat person who rows the boat with their feet.  The Tam Coc boat launch area was right outside the window of our hotel room, we enjoyed watching the boats come and go all day long.  The morning of our planned boat trip we awoke to torrential downpours.  Fortunately, the rain did not last and by the time we finished breakfast it had stopped so we bought boat tickets and were on our way.  The clouds and rain kept the temperature down to a very comfortable 26C for a fabulous trip down the river.  We spied the peaks with the Sleeping Dragon and Pagoda that we climbed to the other day and the yellow rice fields bordering the river were stunning.  The river passes through 3 caves before reaching a turnaround point, the total length of the journey being around 6km.  The boat ride cost 550,000 VND (USD $21.60) and true to what we had read, our guide firmly asked for a tip before getting back to the dock.  (I included the tip in the price above)


Our time in Tam Coc coincided with the beginning of the Ninh Binh Tourism Week celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the area’s recognition by UNESCO as a World Cultural and Natural Heritage site.  This year’s highlight was a ceremony carrying agricultural products up the river as offerings to the Agriculture God.  The opening day procession is a unique cultural trait of the wet rice civilization to pray for favorable weather and abundant harvests.  In addition to the boats laden with food offerings there were boats with drums and flags leading the procession.

One of the best things about full time travel is discovering unexpected gems, Ninh Binh is one of those places.  Recommended to us by fellow nomads, this part of Vietnam was not on our radar and we are grateful we added it to our itinerary.  The end of May was a great time of year to come here with the rice fields starting to turn yellow and ready to be harvested.  When rainy season arrives soon the river will rise and flood all the rice fields rendering them unusable until the water recedes, then the next seasons rice crop can be planted.

We have enjoyed our visit to Tam Coc and wish we had booked a little longer here, there are more hikes we would like to have done plus renting scooters to tour the historic sites scattered around the countryside would have been interesting.  It looks like we have found another area we want to return to!  I can see why people say that Vietnam calls them back time and time again ❤️




And that’s a wrap for our Vietnam travels, it has been an amazing 3.5 months.  We have seen a fair bit of the country, but there are many places left we still would like to visit.

Next up, South Korea, a new country for us…..










We could have taken a couple of buses and a ferry to reach Ninh Binh, but instead we called on our reliable driver Ken once more to take us door to door from Cat Ba Island to Ninh Binh.  The cost for the trip was 3,315,000 VND (USD $130)  Ken can be reached on WhatsApp at +84 96 908 10 94.  He drives a nice SUV and is also a tour guide, originally from Ninh Binh, if you require more than just getting from A to B.

If you want to see where we stay in our travels, head over to our accommodation page.



2 thoughts on “Ninh Binh, Vietnam

  • June 26, 2024 at 2:24 pm

    Hey Nomads, you both are looking really well and happy. Wow….3 1/2 months in Vietnam, and hopefully you saw everything there is to see. That mountain hike has to be difficult in this humidity. So on to South Korea. You will find it completely different, and a great experience. I was only in Soul for a long weekend when I lived in Hong Kong and loved it.

    Lucy and I are going to Calgary to see the Stampede. Too bad we will miss you.

    Enjoy and stay safe!

    Bruce and Lucy

    • June 27, 2024 at 10:18 am

      Thanks Bruce! There is still more we would like to see in Vietnam so I suspect we will be back there one day. So sorry we will miss you in Calgary, enjoy the Stampede, the greatest outdoor show on earth!! Safe travels!


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