This week my boyfriend and I found ourselves with two days free of classes, so ceased the opportunity to make an overnight trip to a place we’d been looking forward to visiting for a long while: Ninh Bình. Ninh Bình province is located approximately 95KM south-east of Hanoi; a mouth-wateringly beautiful region which attracts those interested in nature, history and culture. Ninh Bình city itself isn’t anything special, but 10KM west of the city is a site of natural beauty called Tam Cốc which I feel should be on all traveller’s bucket lists.
There are several ways to get to Ninh Binh from Hanoi. Most backpackers opt to take the train (costing £10) or the bus ($3.50), both of which take roughly 2.5 hours (see links for further detail). Both of these options depart from central Hanoi, however they take you to Ninh Binh city centre which will leave you relying on taxis for the rest of your stay. We drove our motorbikes down which took us about 3 hours and cost us $2 in fuel. Having our bikes when we were in Tam Coc was definitely an advantage as there is a lot of beautiful scenery best explored independently, and a fair bit of distance between various attractions which could be costly if relying on taxi. It is possible to hire bicycles in the town of Tam Coc to take you around.
There are plenty of choices when it comes to accommodation, however only a few options will really make your stay that bit more memorable. We had been highly recommended The Tam Coc Garden Resort by friends, however as the resort was unavailable during our time in Ninh Binh so we stayed at The Mua Cave Ecolodge Resort which was simply fantastic. At an inexpensive 600,000 VND (£17) per night, guests receive their own private cabin which is both cosy and romantic. The price includes breakfast and also free access to the Mua Caves which costs visitors 50,000 VND. The hotel is rather remote which offers tranquility in a peaceful and natural environment. Our host was kind, informative and did everything possible to make our stay as enjoyable as possible (including polishing wine glasses for us when we bought our own bottle of wine back to the hotel with us). Although it is not advertised very clearly, the Ecolodge also has a restaurant which I highly recommend to those visiting the caves. The food is authentic and delicious, allowing you to sample real home cooking at a very reasonable price (you must try the sweet and sour chicken with the Com Rang, or friend rice!)
When it comes to things to do/see, Ninh Binh has plenty of choices to indulge in. The main attraction is to go on the Tam Coc river cruise which is said to have some spectacular scenery. However, due to its popularity amongst tourists, visitors say that they feel harassed by vendors and at times obliged to buy their knick knacks. The Trang An Grottoes are said to be much less touristy, much less expensive, but equally as beautiful. Sadly, due to poor weather we were unable to do either on this visit, but it gives us the perfect excuse to come back another time! Instead we visited two pagodas: the Bich Dong pagoda and the Bai Dinh pagoda. The Bich Dong pagoda is a lovely spot, and accessible from the Tam Coc ‘harbour’. The Bai Dinh pagoda on the other hand was out of this world: almost the size of a small town, the pagoda is a historical and cultural landmark for the Vietnamese which contains beautiful architecture, statues and views.
If my words haven’t tempted you enough then hopefully these snaps will validate all reasons why you must go to Ninh Binh!