Adventurers will enjoy Ninh Binh’s playground, while nature lovers will find it to be a haven. Here was the original capital of Vietnam, and it is now a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site with mossy pagodas, dramatic limestone karsts, and fantastical scenery. Are you up for a challenge? These five things to do in Ninh Binh are a must.
The Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
Hoa Lu was the name of Ninh Binh’s historic capital. It happened at the height of Imperial China’s Great Separation. Vietnam was divided into 12 states after gaining independence. The concept for the first Vietnamese state was developed by Emperor Dinh Bo Linh. This was the Dinh Dynasty and was known as Dai Co Viet.
Stroll through Hoa Lu Ancient Village
If walls could talk you’d want to know what Hoa Lu’s brick- and vine-covered structures would say. Located just 20 minutes by car from the Trang An area, this is the site of Vietnam’s very first capital city. Hoa Lu reached its peak in the 10th and 11th centuries, when the surrounding karst landscape offered natural protection from invaders. Today you can stroll through two atmospheric structures that survive from the old citadel. The compound’s leaning archways, layered banyan trees, and rolling brick courtyards will transport you back in time.
Conquer the top of Hang Mua
Although Mua viewpoint is up a high mountain, the vistas are worth the 200,000 VND admission fee and the 500 steps up. You’ll be rewarded with a 360-degree vista of Tam Coc valley from the summit. When the mist clears, you may marvel at the patchwork quilt of lush rice fields and winding rivers that weave in and out of the ancient karsts below. The viewpoint is occasionally shrouded in mist.
Cruise on a paddleboat tour in Trang An or Tam Coc
The nicest scenery in Ninh Binh can only be reached by boat. A paddleboat excursion in Trang An or Tam Coc is a must-do activity while in Ninh Binh. You will be paddled through the calm current by your own boatperson as you are surrounded by massive, jungle-covered karsts. Along the journey, the boats pass through temples and float by grottoes.
The scenery here is truly inspiring. King Kong has visited this place. Well, they filmed King Kong: Skull Island here anyway. He trekked through the limestone hills rising out of the river. A lot of animals live in these parts.
Wander the Bai Dinh Pagoda
Southeast Asia’s largest Buddhist shrine, Bai Dinh Pagoda is a vast structure. During Buddhist holidays, this unique attraction is packed to the brim with Vietnamese Buddhist pilgrims. To see the entire site, you’ll need a lot of time. Be prepared to be in awe of the numerous Buddha sculptures, intricately carved bells, and 13-story watchtower providing panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Go for a hike in Cuc Phuong National Park
One of Vietnam’s first national parks, Cuc Phuong is around one hour from Ninh Binh City. The cost of a park entry ticket is only 20,000 VND. You can choose from a variety of destinations within, such as primate and reptile rehabilitation facilities, as well as trails that take you past a number of old trees, some of which are more than a thousand years old. Plan a relaxing stroll into the forest for half a day, and then treat yourself with a typical meal inside the park.
Explore the Van Long Wetlands
The Van Long Wetlands is a mysterious marshland refuge located in the shadow of a sizable limestone mountain. The reserve is a haven for a broad range of feathered friends and is very well-liked by bird watchers. To see the rural scenery and get a closer look at this peaceful environment, schedule a boat tour.
Thung Nham Bird Garden
The first courtyard will appeal to the bird enthusiasts among us with its exhibition of feathered friends. These sections are home to a variety of birds. On the many limestone karst hilltops around, there are flocks of diverse birds that can be observed feeding and relaxing. Teals and cranes will be visible. If you’re lucky, the occasional flamingo! Get your men’s binoculars ready!
Go temple trekking at Bich Dong Pagoda
One of Ninh Binh’s most recognizable sites is the elaborate gate of the Bich Dong Pagoda, which is situated at the base of a sizable mountain. A vast lotus pond is crossed by a stone bridge, and in the summer, the pond bursts with vivid pink petals. The historic Buddhist temple and a peaceful courtyard are just beyond the gate. Look for two further 18th-century temples embedded in the rock as you ascend and circle the mountain via the stairs.
Dich Long Cave and Pagoda Complex
Among which brings so much pride to the place is the Địch Lộng Grotto (also known as Co Am Pagoda), known to be the third most beautiful standing grottos in the entire Vietnam. Such recognition was given by King Minh Mang of the Nguyen Dynasty (1791-1841). Its beauty is often praised in songs and poems, and throughout the centuries that had passed, the grotto continued to nestle in Gia Thanh Commune, Gia Vien District, gracing the entire Ninh Binh province and fascinating all the visitors that come by. History talks of how a humble woodcutter gave this haven a name.
Phat Diem Cathedral – A master piece of art in Ninh Binh
The spectacular Phat Diem Stone Cathedral has four roofs and is supported by six sets of iron and wood pillars. Sometime between 1875 and 1899 saw its construction. There are ponds, lakes, artificial caverns, and churches all around it.
Phat Diem is modeled after the traditional Vietnamese pagoda architecture, not even a Catholic cathedral. Approximately 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Hanoi are located in the Kim Son Dist of Ninh Binh. It is regarded as a special complex that successfully blends traditional eastern and modern European architectural styles.
Book a local homestay
The homestays in Trang An and Tam Coc will treat you to expansive rice paddies and verdant surroundings while Ninh Binh is renowned for beer nooks and neighborhood restaurants. The welcoming inhabitants of Ninh Binh will be delighted to share their insider knowledge of the area with you. Try Emeralda Resort, Chez Beo, or Nguyen Shack for a great get-away from the action.
Taste the local specialities
The province’s hallmark meals, com chay and de tai chanh, should not be missed while visiting Ninh Binh. Com chay is a fried rice crust that may be dipped into a hot stew or enjoyed as a tasty snack. The most popular protein in Ninh Binh is goat meat, which is used to make de tai chanh. Goat meat is mildly cured in lemon juice and combined with sesame seeds, lime leaves, and chillies. Order a dish of banh cuon, which are fresh rice paper rolls stuffed with diced pork and mushrooms and topped with mint and a mild fish sauce, for a truly authentic local breakfast.