Ninh Binh Province, a small wedge-shaped province, is around 100 kilometers to the South of Hanoi. Ninh Binh stretches from Cuc Phuong National Park to very short coastline facing out the Gulf of Tonkin. It is bordered by Hoa Binh and Ha Nam to the north, Nam Dinh to the northeast, Thanh Hoa to the south and west.
Encompassing many a sublime limestone towers along with incredible karst caves, Ninh Binh is widely known as “Halong Bay on Land” of Vietnam”. The landscape here is just different from Halong Bay in one element. The limestone islands in Ninh Binh jut out over the river instead of emerging from the sea surface like those in Halong Bay. Thanks to the flat land, from the Ninh Binh city, tourists can do some sightseeing by bicycle or motorbike.The small paths will take you through a lot of beautiful rural sites such as green rice paddies, beautifully landscaped gardens, and poetic winding rivers. That’s why Ninh Binh always draws the eye of those who love exchanging ancient culture to current rural living.
When traveling to Ninh Binh, tourists have many options worth seeing such as Trang An Ecological Area, Tam Coc-Bich Dong National Park, Thung Nham Bird Garden, Van Long Lagoon and so on. Ninh Binh is also famous for its ancient history as the first imperial capital of Vietnam from 968 to 1010 under the regime of Dinh, Le, and Ly dynasties. Besides natural wonders and historical values, Ninh Binh features a lot of cultural heritage such as Bai Dinh Pagoda, Phat Diem Cathedral… For all these reasons, Ninh Binh is a great spot to hit when traveling to Vietnam.
I. WHEN TO TRAVEL TO NINH BINH, VIETNAM?
1. Weather in Ninh Binh, Vietnam
Located in the North of Vietnam, Ninh Binh features typically tropical monsoon climate. The weather in Ninh Binh is divided into 4 distinct seasons including spring, summer, autumn, and winter. The average temperature is 74oF (equivalent to 23.4oC) and its high humidity is between 80-85%.
Summer lasts from May to July. During these months, it’s is pretty hot and sticky with the daytime temperatures in July can reach 36oC. Summer is also the wettest time of the year. Heavy downpours and tropical floods regularly happening will bring a lot of troublesome to the tourists.
When the autumn comes in late August, the temperature starts falling which makes you feel more comfortable. The cool but mostly dry runs from November to April with the cool temperature of 23oC in November and April and cold temperature of 18oC in December, January, February, and March.
2. Best time to travel to Ninh Binh, Vietnam
If you are a culture-vulture, spring (especially from the middle of February to late March) will be the best time for you. This time often concurs with the beginning of Lunar New Year. As a long-lasted custom, Vietnamese people usually visit pagoda to pray for safety, health, prosperity and good luck in the new year. Therefore, you can do sightseeing and go on a pilgrimage at the same time. It’ll be a great opportunity for you to immerse yourself in Vietnamese traditions.
If you are an adventurer seeking natural wonders, you should visit Ninh Binh from May to the middle of June. Although the weather is a bit rough, it’s still a great time to travel. The rice fields are at their best vivid yellow. The winding river shimmers in the sunlight. Take a boat tour and let yourself unwind amongst the stunning scenery.
If you’re just looking for a quiet place to hire, come and visit Ninh Binh in November. At this time, it doesn’t feel busy at all. The weather is cooler. Slight winds breathe but not disturbing the peace. The only drawback of this time is the rice fields. The farmers here finish harvesting rice in September, therefore by November, all the things left are yellow rice stubble and brown muddy in the fields. However, it doesn’t take away the charm of the place though.
II. HOW TO TRAVEL TO NINH BINH, VIETNAM?
1. How to get to Ninh Binh?
a. Take a tour to Ninh Binh – Great option for inexperienced travelers
If you’re a new traveler or don’t have a lot of experience, a tour might help you ease into traveling and save time. With a tour, the itinerary is well-prepared before. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about what to see, where to eat or how much time to spend in any one place. There are four options for you:
It takes you a few hours to explore the Old Quarter in Hanoi, but you can’t even scratch the surface of the beauty of Ninh Binh on the one-day trip. Therefore, try to stay at least 2 full days to truly feel the essence of Ninh Binh. You can book a tour online here.
Or else, meet the front desk workers in your hotel and ask for their help. Almost all hotels in Hanoi’s Old Quarter do cooperate with other travel operators. We all know that the hotels will receive the commission from both travel operators and their guests. Therefore, the prices are always higher. The strong point of this way is that the car of the operator will pick you up directly at your hotel and drive you to the right place. You also book a tour offline by yourself. When wandering Hanoi’s Old Quarter, drop in The Sinh Café Tourist which is one of the most reliable travel agencies.
b. Travel to Ninh Binh by train – Best way for people love sightseeing
Why to travel by train to Ninh Binh?
Ninh Binh Railway Station is a regular one on the North-South Express train route. From Hanoi, train leaves at 6:00, 9:00, 13:10, 19:30, 20:10 and 22:10. You can do this at your hotel, and they’ll settle it all for you. Or, if you’d rather do it yourself, you just show up at the train station and purchase them at the ticket counter. You can also book them on some following websites (they’re all available in English), which might actually be cheaper.
These websites all offer an e-ticket option and seat selection service. It takes you about 2.5 hours to travel to Ninh Binh, therefore it’s not necessary to choose a cushioned. Note that online tickets cannot be purchased outside of Vietnam.
The new train station which is around 1 kilometre to the south of the old one started operating from June 2015. And trains only stop there.Take it into account because other posts you read might make reference to hotels or restaurants in the old train station area.
c. Take an open bus to Ninh Binh – The cheapest way
Why travel by open bus?
Taking an open bus is the most economical and convenient way to get to Ninh Binh. You can ask the receptionists at your hotel to help you purchase tickets. They will book an open tour bus for you through other company but it’s not an actual tour. Therefore, make it clear whether you want to book a tour or an open bus. Or else, they will misunderstand you. The advantage of taking this route is that the open bus will pick you up directly from your hotel. The average cost is about VND 100.000/person.
Alternatively, you can purchase the tickets directly at bus stations. The cost is from VND 70.000 to VND 150.000 per person depending on the quality of the bus. Note that you might have to pay at least VND 20,000 for the extra luggage. At the weekend and on holiday, the number of the passenger often increases significantly. This fact will push you into a terrible disaster. You might get cranked in a tiny seat inside a heavily overcrowded bus. Thus, I don’t recommend getting an absolute cheap one. Instead, choose a bus offering comfortable sleeper seats and equipped with air-conditioner. The price, as a result, is definitely is higher. It’s from VND 130.000 to VND 150.000.
What to pay attention to?
The bus is a popular means of transport in Vietnam. In addition, Ninh Binh is a favorite destination. As a consequence, there is a considerable number of operators. They take different routes, offer different services, have different quality and charge different prices. Therefore, when taking a bus, especially when booking it online, you have to pay attention to some following things:
d. Take a limousine to Ninh Binh – The most convenient way
Why travel by limousine?
From my personal experiences, taking a limousine is the best option for you, especially when you want to skip staying in Hanoi. They offer the service to pick you up right from the airport. Moreover, the price is really reasonable. The average price is only from VND 130.000/person The quality of the limousine is much better than most open buses. Last but not least, they will drop you off at the popular destinations.
Note that these prices include VAT and travel insurance fare.
e. Travel to Ninh Binh by motorbike – The coolest way
If you are an experienced backpacker, riding motorbike is a way to go. Traffic in Hanoi is absolutely crazy which might make you stressful. However, don’t let it upset you. Riding motorbike across both urban and rural sights with wind blow blowing in your face will be an unforgettable experience.
f. Travel to Ninh Binh by taxi – The pricy but most comfortable way
Hanoi transport department has prohibited taxi on multiple streets in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Consequently, it might be a bit difficult to take a taxi. It’s better to use a ride-hailing app on your mobile phones such as Grab and Uber. In Vietnam, Grab is much more popular. They partner with a lot of taxi companies, which gives you a lot of option. The average price from Hanoi to Ninh Binh is around VND 982.000. If you travel in group 3 or 4 people, you can share the price. Moreover, traveling by taxi is pretty safe and comfortable.
2. How to get around Ninh Binh, Vietnam?
a. Get around Ninh Binh by motorbike
Both bus and train drop you off in the Ninh Binh city. From here, you can hire a motorbike to discover the beauty of Ninh Binh and the surrounding areas.
b. Get around Ninh Binh by bicycle
Thanks to completely flat land, cycling is the great way for you to visiting nearby sights. Both the main and secondary are in decent conditions. You can rent a bike from your hotel, travel agent or from all the addresses I mentioned above. It costs VND 50.000 and up.
c. Get around Ninh Binh by foot
Ninh Binh city is quite small so that you totally can walk around and do sightseeing. However, Ninh Binh city itself has nothing worth seeing. Most of the stunning sights are located from 10 to 20 kilometers away. You should save your strength because there are a lot of interesting things waiting for you in the next parts of your journey.
III. WHERE TO TRAVEL IN NINH BINH?
Ninh Binh’s top attractions are outside the city. They concentrate on four different areas including Trang An, Tam Coc, Cuc Phuong and Van Long. You can reach easily to all of these destinations except for Cuc Phuong National Park by motorbike. All you need to do is checking the route carefully on the map and then explore them by yourself. It’s better for you to search them in Vietnamese. Don’t forget to fill up your motorcycle before starting your trip.
(From Ninh Binh City)
Hoa Lu Ancient Capital 13 kilometers VND 20.000/person
Trang An Ecological Complex 7 kilometers Entrance fee: VND 200.000/adult
VND 100.000/kid (under 1.4 meters high)
Tourist Guide (boat fee included): VND 300.000/tour
Bai Dinh Pagoda 22 kilometers Electric car: VND 30.000/person
Entrance fee: VND 50.000/person
Phat Diem Cathedral 34 kilometers Free
Tam Coc – Bich Dong National Park 6 kilometers Entrance fee: VND 120.000/adult
Boat ride: VND 150.000/person/trip
For foreign guest: maximum 2 people/boat
Free for children under 3 years old
Thung Nham Bird Garden 12 kilometers
Entrance fee: VND 100.000/ person
Bird Garden: VND 20.000/person
But Cave: VND 20.000/person
Free for children under 0.8m
After 05 pm, tourists only have to pay 50% entrance fee
Thien Ha Grotto 21.5 kilometers VND 120.000/adult
VND 40.000/kid (under 1.4 meter high)
Hang Mua Peak 6.6 kilometers VND 100.000/ person
Van Long Nature Reserve 18.4 kilometers Entrance fee: VND 20.000/person
Boat ride: VND 60.000/boat
For foreign guest: maximum 2 people/boat
Thach Bich – Thung Nang 9.4 kilometers Entrance fee: VND 15.000/adult
Boat Ride: VND 60.000/boat
Cuc Phuong National Park 60 kilometers VND 60.000/adult
Non Nuoc Temple 1.7 kilometers VND 30.000/adult
Dong Chuong Lake 33.5 kilometers VND 30.000/adult
1. Trang An Ecological Area, Ninh Binh
a. Boating in Trang An – A must-try activity
The Mother Nature favors Trang An with magnificent green mountains and impressive emerald water. Trang An is 7 kilometers to the west of Ninh Binh city. It’s very near from Tam Coc but less tourist and much more beautiful and relaxing. This Scenic Landscape Complex covers an area of nearly 7.72 sq mi (2200ha) with 48 scattered water caves and 31 narrow valleys. The best way to enjoy this inspiring scenery is to take a small bamboo boat ride. A lady rower will row the boat for you through Toi Cave, Sang Cave, and Nau Ruou Cave. Don’t be surprised if she uses her legs to row the boat. It’s the unreal amount of effort these ladies have to put day by day to make ends meet.
Most of the boat tours follow a circular route. You basically hop on the boat and listen to the water gently tapping on the side of the boat. The weather here is cooler than other parts of Ninh Binh. The water is calm and so limpid that floating bushes of green weeds look like a grass cover. It’s advisable for you to visit Trang An early in the morning to enjoy the fresh air and soft light fall on river valleys. The sun will dazzle you suddenly as if you got lost in a fairyland. If early morning is impossible, you should come later in the afternoon to avoid annoyance from crowds.
b. Trang An – An outdoor geological museum
People cite Trang An as an “outdoor geological museum” because of its combinations of limestone blocks edging the plains and limestone rocks close to the sea. Besides, the terrain and marine sediments are essential for a lot of studies including topography, sea water rise, and global climate change. Nowadays, Trang An still remains its ecological diversity. People estimate that there are over 310 species of higher plants, algae, and fungi, many of which are rare woods and vulnerable trees used for food and medicine. In addition, there are about 50 species of bird, about 30 species of mammals together with many other species of rare animals.
2. Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
The first king of the Dinh dynasty put this area on the map in the 11th century when he moved his government from the ancient capital at Co Loa to this karst landscape. The Dinh set their capital lean on the limestone crags at Hoa Lu, just north of Ninh Binh town, because it was far from China and easier to defend. It remained to be the capital for 42 years under 6 Kings of the Dinh, Tien Le and Ly dynasties. Hoa Lu also used to be a military base which has witnessed many significant events and major changes in the nation. In 2014, Hoa Lu ancient capital is officially recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO. Nowadays, not too much remains except for some beautiful archways and two temples built in the 17th century to commemorate the ephemeral dynasty. They are the Dinh and Le Temples.
3. Bai Dinh Pagoda – The largest pagoda in Vietnam
Another recently built temple worth seeing in the area is Bai Dinh Pagoda, just 12 kilometers from Hoa Lu. It consists of an old temple located on the western slope of Dinh mountain and the largest temple complex sprawling over an entire hillside. This pagoda encompasses an ancestor-worshipping house in the center, the Bright cave on the right which worships the Buddha and a small temple worshipping Genie Cao Son. Next to it is the Dark cave worshiping the Fairy. The fanciful scenery and quiet atmosphere will clear your mind and bring you inner peace.
Everything here is massive and impressive. Within the 539-hectare premises, there are 5,000 Buddha statues. Tham The Hall, the largest hall, is 193 feet wide and stands 111 feet high. There’s also a 100-ton bronze Buddha statue, a 36-ton bell in a magnificent bell tower, and 500 statues of arhats carved of local stone.
Bai Dinh Pagoda remains a source of national pride. Up to now, Bai Dinh pagoda has held many records of Asia and Vietnam including the pagoda has the largest gilt bronze Buddha statue; the pagoda has the longest Arhat corridor in Asia and the pagoda has the largest bronze Maitreya statue in Southeast Asia and so on.
4. Thung Nham Bird Sanctuary, Ninh Binh
Thung Nham Bird Sanctuary is located in Ninh Hai Commune, 12 kilometers from Ninh Binh city to the south. This ecotourism zone is becoming more and more appealing thanks to its iconic beauty and its harmony between the creativity of the locals and the natural landscapes.
Tucked away in the mountains, Thung Nham is the house houses more than 40 species of birds, some of them on the Red List of Threatened Species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Summer and spring are the best time to visit Thung Nham. During these seasons the birds are busy building nests and breeding. Late afternoon is the time for flocks of bird to forage. Therefore, if you want to take a boat to mangrove this forest, you should go to the range after 5 pm. If luckily, you can catch sight of various types of birds from normal ones like storks, herons, warblers, starlings to rare ones like Flamingoes and Phoenix.
This site also has a rich ecosystem, including more than 100 flora and 150 fauna species. Besides watching birds, you can also explore the caves in the mountains as well as visit orchard of tropical fruits, including star fruit, mangoes, guavas, and lychees.
5. Tam Coc – The natural gift for Ninh Binh
Widely praised as “The Ha Long Bay of the Rice Fields”, Tam Coc is a highlight of any visit to Vietnam. The name “Tam Coc” means “Three Grottos” emerging out from Ngo Dong River. Tam Coc encompasses Hang Ca, the first caves, followed by Hang Giua and Hang Cuoi. The farther you travel upriver, the more dramatic the scenery is. Best time to visit Tam Coc is during March when cotton trees are blossoming into stunning red flowers. From the end of May to the middle of June is also a good time. At this time, rice fields are changing gradually from green to yellow, which form picturesque scenery. Right before harvest time, these paddies become an endless yellow silk.
The favorite way to explore Tam Coc is getting on a sampan. If possible, take the boat ride in the morning before the groups of tourists arriving from Hanoi, or late afternoon after they have left. By midday, though, the sun is blistering and the open boats offer no shade. Remember to bring along umbrellas to ward off the sun. It’s best to just bring a good hat and cover up with sunscreen. Along the route, you’ll see shy kingfishers as well as friendly farmers who are busy working along the river and around the paddies. Local fishermen are quite used to the steady stream of tourists, but they often wave their hand and say “Hello” to you. The rowers are also friendly but most don’t know how to speak English. Hard work makes them concentrated and not really willing to chat.
If possible, stay away from the boats with boxes.These are loaded souvenirs, mostly embroidered stuff which the locals make for their living on. The floating drink sellers can be very persistent. Once you start sailing, you’ll probably be pushed to buy something. Best to just quietly decline and keep your eyes on the passing scenery.
6. Bich Dong Pagoda – The unique pagoda in Ninh Binh
From Tam Coc boat pier, travel nearly 3 kilometers to the East, tourists will reach Bich Dong – a stunning temple complex. Bich Dong encompasses three-tiered cave pagoda at the base of high cliffs. Bich Dong Pagoda was built by the missionary work of 2 Buddhist monks: Tri Kien and Tri The. All three pagodas feature wooden architecture due to the architectural style of the time at the end of Le Dynasty. Their locations are according to an ascending order. The Ha Pagoda (“Lower Pagoda”) is on the foot of the mountain. The Trung Pagoda is based on a mountainside. The Thuong Pagoda is situated on the top of the mountain.
Lying near the entry is a pond. Along the short path up the high rocky hillside is a series of pagodas. The only way to access is by steep stone steps, but it is really worth climbing up for a charming pagoda and amazing view from the top.
7. Hang Mua peak – Best View of Ninh Binh, Vietnam
Hang Mua peak is around 5 kilometers from the boat pier in Tam Coc. Hang Mua draws the eye of both local and foreign travelers thanks to its natural beauty. 450 stone steps bring you to the tip of the peak. From here, you can catch a spectacular view of the entire region. The steps might be slippery and the rocks are jagged. Therefore, watch your step. Gorgeous sunset and peaceful sunrise in Hang Mua Peak is really must-see place when traveling to Ninh Binh
Be aware that the location shown on Google maps is not exact. It appears to be in the middle of the park – between the Hang Mua ticket entrance and Hang Mua caves. You have to go through the entrance and then walk towards the famous peak with the stairs. The Mua Cave Ecolodge buildings are to your left.Be aware that the location shown on Google maps is not exact. It appears to be in the middle of the park – between the Hang Mua ticket entrance and Hang Mua caves. You have to go through the entrance and then walk towards the famous peak with the stairs. The Mua Cave Ecolodge buildings are to your left.
8. Van Long Nature Reserve, Ninh Binh
Like nearby Tam Coc and Kenh Ga, Van Long is often invoked as another terrestrial Halong Bay. The 7410-acre lagoon is considered the biggest wetland nature reserve site in the northern delta. Van Long is also home to thousands of rare fauna and flora species, many of them are on the edge of existence. Although opening for tourism since 1998, Van Long still remains its untouched beauty which is an appeal to local and foreign visitors, especially international filmmakers.
As travel to Tam Coc and Trang An, taking a boat is the best way to discover Van Long Lagoon. This time, the experience is pretty different since you will get on a bamboo basket boat tours. The boat floating up and down takes you into a tranquil atmosphere with beautiful sounds of nature. Visit here in the early morning to enjoy the fresh air and let yourself unwind amongst nature. If coming here in the late afternoon, you can view flocks of stork returning to their west at sunset.
__ Jonathan A. O’Brien__
9. Phat Diem Cathedral, Ninh Binh, Vietnam
Phat Diem Stone Cathedral, around 34 kilometers from Ninh Binh city, is situated in the middle of the canals and rice paddies. As its name suggests, Phat Diem is completely built of stone and wood which are ready in the mountains of Ninh Binh. And it takes more than 14 years, from 1874 to 1898 to complete this church. Up to now, Phat Diem is still one of the most beautiful churches in Vietnam.
Phat Diem features special architectural style – an elegant combination of Western Church and Vietnamese religious building. At first sight, tourists are easily attracted by a square lake on the main road to the cathedral. There is a small island with the statue of Jesus Christ in the middle of the lake. Besides, Phuong Dinh and “Nha tho Duc me Man Coi” with their special beauty and cultural values receive the appreciation of visitors.
IV. WHAT TO DO IN NINH BINH?
1. Bicycling – Welcome to Bicycling Nivarna
Riding a bike and explore the surroundings is already a reason to visit Ninh Binh. To my personal experiences, Ninh Binh is cycling heaven. From Ninh Binh city, you can reach a lot of beautiful sites. What you should do is look at the map and search for where the next sight is. Then, choose a longer and more unconventional way to get there. By skipping the main road, you can stay away from the visitors coming in their flocks.
Wandering along the tiny paths in the rice fields or dirt roads will enrich your travel experience much more. Goats are running ahead of you. Quacking ducks rush into a pool when you pass by. Water buffaloes leisurely graze near the rice fields. Children skip along the path, wave their hands and say “Hello” to you. The bright and sunny smiles on their mouth will chill you out. Besides, it’s fascinating to see where the locals live and how they work in the fields to grow rice.
If you stay in Tam Coc, you can visit Bich Dong pagoda. If you’re eager for a stunning view, skip the pagoda. Instead, head back towards Ninh Binh from the boat station, turn left after the pond by the large tree, and climb up Hang Mua. If you have a couple of days you can fit both in, but otherwise, it’ll be too tight to fit in before sunset. Alternatively, from Tam Coc, you can ride your bike to Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam
2. Taking part in local festivals
In Vietnam, festivals give visitors the best opportunity of getting close to the customs and immersing into national spirits. Despite being on the rise, Vietnam remains to be a traditional country. There are thousands of pagodas, temples, and shrines dedicated to Buddha, various deities as well as commemorating national heroes.
Almost all festivals in Vietnam take place in spring as it’s the beginning of Lunar New Year. If visiting Ninh Binh in spring, take your time to take part in one of following local festivals:
a. Hoa Lu Ancient Festival
Where: Truong Yen Commune, Hoa Lu District, Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam
How to get there: motorbike, taxi
When: 6th, 7th, 8th March (Lunar Calendar)
(You can convert English calendar to lunar calendar by searching Google)
The Hoa Lu ancient traditional festival is also known as Truong yen, Co Lau festival. This festival is an opportunity of commemorating King Le and national heroes: Dinh Tien Hoang and Le Dai Hanh. After the Ly decided to move his government to Thang Long, the locals in Ninh Binh started celebrating this festival. Hoa Lu Ancient Festival preserves both cultural and historic values of Vietnam. Attending this festival, visitors have chances of joining a lot of special activities such as the water procession ceremony, incense offering ceremony, fire procession ceremony, drag text, cooking rice competition…
The water procession ceremony, starting in the early morning is elaborately prepared. Many days prior to the festival, people “plant” a big bamboo in the Hoang Long River (Golden Dragon River). On the top of the bamboo, they hang a yellow banner presenting the gratefulness and respect of hundreds of descendants to the Golden Dragon. Legend has it that in the past, the golden dragon under this river appeared and helped King Le when he got into difficulty. The banner also blesses the gods for gentle waters in the river and favorable weather.
b. Bai Dinh Pagoda Festival
Where: Gia Sinh, Gia Vien Ward, Ninh Binh
How to get there: taxi, motorbike
When: Bai Dinh Pagoda Festival takes place on the 1st day of Tet holiday and lasts until the end of March. This festival embarks on the spiritual pilgrimage to Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam.
Bai Dinh pagoda festival consists of two main parts. The first part is the celebration of incense offering ceremony to commemorate the sacrifice of Cao Son and Mau Thuong Ngan. The festival begins with a ritual procession to worship Cao Son, Duc Thanh Nguyen and Ba Chua Thuong Ngan from the ancient temple to the new temple. The second part is time for folk games and temple sightseeing. It’s the unique opportunity for visitors to enjoy classic traditional music including Xam, Cheo, and Ca Tru. Ca Tru is one of the intangible cultural heritage of Vietnam. In conclusion, taking part in Bai Dinh Pagoda festival, visitors will immerse themselves in a space where culture, history, and spirituality harmoniously combine together. The venue of outstanding universal value and the meeting place of those will share the same passion to discover the diversity of culture and nature.
c. Nguyen Cong Tru Temple Festival
Where: Nguyen Cong Tru Temple is on the Highway No 10, 2 kilometers from Phat Diem Town which belonging to Quang Thien commune, Kim Son District, Ninh Binh,
How to get there: motorbike, taxi
When: from 13th to 15th Lunar month
(You can convert English calendar to lunar calendar by searching Google)
Nguyen Cong Tru Temple Festival is the biggest celebration of the coastal residents in Kim Son District. This festival is the time people commemorate Nguyen Cong Tru who had a notable contribution to founding this region. Nguyen Cong Tru is one of the most brilliant nineteenth-century poets.
In this festival, residents of many villages in Kim Son burn the incense and place flowers and fruits on the altar. It’s a unique festival with the participation of both Buddhist and Christian. Along the side of Vac River, people celebrate many traditional games. Visitors can also enjoy folk dance and classical music called “Ca Tru” (chamber music)
3. Hiking in Cuc Phuong National Park
a. Cuc Phuong – The oldest national park in Vietnam.
In 1960, Cuc Phuong was officially transformed into a forest reserve and 2 years later, it’s recognized the first national park. Located 60 kilometers to the west of Ninh Binh city, Cuc Phuong National Park nestles amongst three provinces including Ninh Binh, Hoa Binh, and Thanh Hoa. Cuc Phuong possesses many fascinating cultural and wildlife heritage. Cuc Phuong National Park harbors 336 incredible documented bird species. Besides, Cuc Phuong is the house of over 2234 vascular and non-vascular plants, 122 species of reptiles and amphibian, and 135 species of mammal including the Clouded Leopard, Delacour’s Langur, Owston’s Civet and Asian Black Bear. Limestone mountains in Cuc Phuong form the habitat for some of Asia’s rarest animal and plant species. Visiting Cuc Phuong in April and May, tourists might be blessed with the chance of catching the view of literally thousands of vibrant butterflies.
How to explore Cuc Phuong National Park
To explore the park, you should travel by a combination of motorbike or bicycle and foot. The park center lies 20 kilometers from the Visitor Center, which means that it’s not much fun to walk. It’s a hilly road so that it’s also not suitable for cycling.
When visiting Cuc Phuong, you will spend the morning in the Visitor Center where you can learn more about the park from the pictures and models on display. Then, visit the Endangered Primate Rescue Center where you can observe some of the rarest primate species in the world. After that, visit the Turtle Conservation Center where 20 species of turtle and tortoises are kept for rescue and conservation. It will be amazing to learn how the center successfully breeds and releases turtles of different species and their effort in raising public awareness about the importance of protecting Vietnam’s turtles.In the afternoon, there are many options for you:
Option 1: drive 20 kilometers to the park center and then hike a 7 – kilometer trail to catch the view of the 1000-year old tree. During the trail, you can discover the Cave of Prehistoric Man where human skeletons and stone tools dated to some 7.500 years old have been found.
Option 2: Drive 11 kilometers to the forest where you begin walk 1 kilometers on the jungle path to see the ancient tree with forest observation and then explore the Muong former resident site
Option 3: Reach on foot to visit Mac Lake which is less than 2 kilometers from the central park. Then come back to the national park to observe some species of animals and birds such as green peafowl, jungle fowl, and silver pheasants…
V. WHAT TO EAT IN NINH BINH?
1. Goat Meat – An unforgettable dish
When visiting Ninh Binh, you must try goat meat which is a strange and unique dish of this region. Ninh Binh’s goat meat tastes better than other regions because of two reasons. Firstly, geographical conditions enhance the high quality. Limestone mountains and weather in Ninh Binh are really suitable for raising goats. Secondly, to have a good rare meat dish, local people use traditional cuisine which is preserved from generation to generation. The locals prepare goat meat thoroughly in many steps such as: tenderize, marinate and season… Fresh goat meat is often seasoned with a lot of local herbs such as ginger, chili, lemon, citronella, holy basil (Huong Nhu) leaves and duckweed leaves. Goat meat cuisine is often served with the fig leaf, green banana, star fruit and particularly soybean jam.
Goat meat is prepared in many attractive and delicious ways such as rare goat meat mixed with lemon (dê tái chanh), stir-fried goat meat (dê tái lăn), lemongrass and coconut goat, steaming goat meat (thịt dê hấp), grilled goat brisket (thịt dê nướng), goat hot pot, goat gruel and roasted goat.In addition to amazing taste, people favor goat meat because it is very good for their health.
You can feel the sweet soft flavor combined with the crispy goat skin when enjoying this dish.
Price: VND 150.000 – 200.000
Where to eat Goat meat?
Hoang Gia Restaurant (Royal Restaurant)
Address: Hang Ca Mountain, Truong Yen Ward, Hoa Lu District, Ninh Binh
Tel: (+84) 303 620 072
Hotline 1: (+84) 987 719 509
Hotline 2: (+84) 967 13 5555
Fax: (+84) 303 621 666
Thang Long Restaurant
Address: Bai Dinh, Trang An, Truong Yen Ward, Hoa Lu District, Ninh Binh
Tel: (+84) 303.620.186
Hotline 1: (+84) 975.155.458
Hotline 2: (+84) 123.888.0606
2. Cơm cháy (Ninh Binh Rice Crust) – Yummy Crunchy Crust
Cơm cháy is one of the specialties of Ninh Binh. To make this dish, the locals cook the rice and then slice it into many round-shaped pieces. After cooling those pieces of rice down, people soak them into hot oil pan until they turn into yellow. Cơm cháy is often served with onion leaves, chilly and pork meat. Ninh Binh burned is crispy, yummy and not greasy at all. Cơm cháy is put in small pouches, therefore you can buy several pouches and give them as presents for your friends and your family.
Price: VND 30,000 – 70,000
Where to eat Cơm Cháy in Ninh Binh?
Huong Mai Restaurant:
Address: No 850 Tran Hung Dao Street, Ninh Binh City
Tel: (+84) 912-617-799
Hoang Gia Restaurant (Royal Restaurant)
Address: Hang Ca Mountain, Truong Yen Ward, Hoa Lu District, Ninh Binh
Tel: 0303 620 072
Hotline 1: (+84) 987-719-509
Hotline 2: (+84).967-135-555
3. Ốc Núi (Mountain Snails) – The dish only found in Ninh Binh
Ốc Núi is a must-try food for you when visiting Ninh Binh. (Mountain snails). Ốc Núi appears abundantly during the rainy season, especially from April to August. Limestone mountains in Tam Diep Town form an ideal habitat for Ốc Núi. The main food of the snails is the plants that grow wildly in the mountains including a lot of valuable medicinal plants. Therefore, Ốc Núi is fresh and really good for health. Mountainous snails’ meat is chewy, crispy and sweet which can be processed into many dishes: steamed with ginger, stir-fried with chili, salad.Where to eat Ốc Núi Ninh Bình?
Chin Nhung Cuc Phuong Restaurant
Address: Dong Tam Village, Cuc Phuong Commune, Nho Quan District, Cuc Phuong National Park 430000, Vietnam
Tel: (+84) 97-673-5101
Price: VND 50,000
4. Eel vermicelli – The tasty low-calorie dish
The other food must try in Ninh Binh is eel vermicelli. To cook delicious eel vermicelli, eel used to cook vermicelli must be field eel (eel living in rice fields) but not fed eel in popular. People soak eel meat into stir-fried spices and fry them in hot oil and stew eel’s bones. The fried onion and many local herbs on vermicelli face enhance consumers’ taste. Squeezing a little lemon, seasoning with a little fish sauce, and sprinkling a little pepper are to fit your mouth. Eel meat pieces are very delicious, sweet. Vermicelli made totally from the plant is longer and a bit tougher than simple noodles. Therefore, this dish will be a good choice for people those are on diet.
Price: VND 30,000 – 50,000
Where to eat ell vermicelli in Ninh Binh?
Dung Thanh Restaurant
Address: No 999 Tran Hung Dao Street, Van Giang Ward, Ninh Binh City
5. Nhech Fish Salad – Very fresh and healthy dish
Gỏi cá nhệch is a special dish for Kim Sơn, Ninh Bình. Nhech is a type of fresh-water fish which looks like water snake but thinner. To make gỏi cá nhệch, people use a sharp knife to around the neck and peel the skin. Then cut off the head, gut and fillet the fish. Fish meat is marinated in fresh lemon juice squeeze and seasoned with some special spices. Such as garlic, ginger, salt and especially “thính”. Thính is made from rice or corn which was roast and grind to dust.
Where to eat goi ca nhech Ninh Binh?
Vu Bao Restaurant
Address: No 37 Nguyen Hue Street, Nam Binh Ward, Ninh Binh City
Tel: (+84) 88-680-9666
Price: VND 200.000 – 300,000
VI. WHERE TO STAY IN NINH BINH?
1. Hotel in Ninh Binh
a. Bai Dinh Hotel – The harmony between antiquity and elegance
Bai Dinh Hotel is a great choice for accommodation for you when visiting Ninh Binh. The hotel is not too far from the city center: just 17 kilometers away, and it normally takes about 150 minutes to reach the airport. From this hotel, you can reach a lot of sites easily. Bai Dinh Hotel guarantees good services such as 24-hour room service, free Wi-Fi in all rooms, 24-hour security, 24-hour front desk, facilities for disabled guests.
Every guest room is equipped with: television LCD/plasma screen, complimentary tea, mirror, internet access – wireless, internet access – wireless (complimentary). In addition, the hotel offers an excellent variety of recreational facilities, including hot tub, fitness center, golf course (within 3 km) and green gardens.
Address: Bai Dinh pagoda, Gia Sinh village, Gia Vien commune, Ninh Binh province, Vietnam
2. The Reed Hotel – The ideal place for your journey
Located in the heart of Ninh Binh city, The Reed Hotel is an ideal place to stay and to experience local atmosphere.The Reed Hotel offers a variety of services, including 24-hour room service, free Wi-Fi in all rooms, daily housekeeping, fireplace, taxi service. All guestrooms feature modern amenities which make you feel as comfortable as possible. Besides, the hotel’s host of recreational offerings ensures you have plenty to do during your stay.
Address: Dinh Dien Street, Dong Thanh Ward., Ninh Binh City, Vietnam.
2. Resorts in Ninh Binh
a. Ninh Binh Hidden Charm Hotel and Resort – The hidden beauty amongst mountains
Just takes you a couple of walking minutes to Tam Coc Sampan Wharf, Ninh Binh Hidden Charm Hotel and Resort is the ideal point of departure for your journey in Ninh Binh. The facilities and services provided by Ninh Binh Hidden Charm Hotel and Resort are really good including free Wi-Fi in all rooms, 24-hour security, daily housekeeping, wheelchair accessible and so on.
Some rooms include television LCD/plasma screen, additional bathroom, additional toilet, clothes rack, free welcome drink. The hotel offers an excellent variety of recreational facilities, including a yoga room, hot tub, fitness center, sauna, outdoor pool.
Address: No 9, Tam Coc – Bich Dong Tourist Center, Ninh Thang, Hoa Lu, Ninh Binh
Tel: (+84) 2293 888 555
3. Homestays in Ninh Binh
a. Hoa Lu Ecolodge Homestay – Great choice to enjoy local atmosphere
Located 800 meters from Trang An Ecological Tourism Complex, Hoa Lu Ecolodge Homestay boasts views of the mountain. All rooms come with free wi-fi, a fan, wardrobe/closet and mosquito net. Each private room possesses an en-suite bathroom with bath or shower facilities and free toiletries. Towels and sheets are provided.
The homestay offer service of rental bike and motorbike as the area is popular for cycling. In addition, the area offers a selection of activities including fishing, hiking and bamboo rafting and cooking class.
b. Tam Coc Westlake Homestay – The lovely home of backpacker
Tam Coc Westlake Homestay brings you feeling at home because it offers high-quality accommodation and great service. From here, you can reach most of the beautiful site easily.To ensure to comfort all the guests, the property provides good services and amenities. Top features of the property are free Wi-Fi in all rooms, daily housekeeping, taxi service, ticket service and Wi-Fi in public areas. The guestrooms are nicely furnished, and many even provide such comforts as instant coffee, locker, mirror, slippers. In addition, you can enjoy fresh air in lovely garden to make your stay truly unforgettable.
VI. TIPS FOR TRAVELING TO NINH BINH
1. Visitor Information
Ninh Binh Department of Tourism
Address: Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Dong Thanh Ward, Ninh Binh City, Ninh Binh.
Tel: (+84) 229.3.844.101
2. Traveling Tips
a. Bring cash with you
There are only a few ATMs which are available in Ninh Binh. And you nearly find no one in Tam Coc, Trang An, and other rural areas. In Tam Coc, there are some restaurants which charge you more 5% if you pay by credit card. Therefore, make sure you bring enough money.
b. Be aware of mini backpacker district
The area near the train station has become a mini backpacker district which is full of travel agents, touts, overpriced drinks and English-menu restaurants. It is cramped and annoying. In addition, you’re often pushed to pay prohibitive prices. It’s better to stay away from it.
c. Keep calm when driving
Riding a scooter, feeling the wind on your face and listening to funny engine sounds will blow your mind and distract your attention. However, transportation in Vietnam is totally crazy. Therefore, don’t be overexcited. Keep calm and don’t forget “safety first
d. Create a must-bring bag
e. Be aware of floating hawkers
There a lot of floating hawkers both in Tam Coc and Trang An. They often push you to buy something no matter how hard you explain that you don’t need anything. Don’t waste time or be loud. What you should do is gently reject, then be quiet and continue to catch the view. Besides, bring with you some bottle of water and snake. When hawkers sailing on boats along the river see you have your own food, they won’t insist you buy something from them.