5 Best Places to Visit in Ninh Binh

There is usually a bit of confusion surrounding the best places to visit in Ninh Binh so let’s clear that up first. Ninh Binh is the name of both the province and the capital city of that province, while areas around it like Tam Coc, and Hoa Lu belong to the province, not the city.

Many tourists come to Ninh Binh City imagining hundreds of things to go and see, but in reality, the city is just a hub for excursions to other destinations around the province. The close proximity of Ninh Binh Province to Hanoi is the reason why tourism is booming in this region, with many tour operators from Hanoi offering a quick tour of many of Ninh Binh Province’s beautiful and bizarre sites. 

Hoa Lu Citadel

Here are our top 5 best places to visit in Ninh Binh

1. Tam Coc – Hoa Lu

What is Tam Coc – Hoa Lu?

Usually offered together as a package because of how close they are to each other, Tam Coc and Hoa Lu offer stunning Vietnamese scenery and vibrant Vietnamese history respectively. Tam Coc and Hoa Lu have become vital experiences on any Vietnam tour in recent years, with tourism booming in the region and locals benefitting from it.

What activities are in Tam Coc – Hoa Lu?

Tour packages offer similar itineraries: a visit to the ancient capital of Hoa Lu with its two temples, a local sampan boat ride down the Ngo Dong River and a scenic bike ride down the village roads of Tam Coc. These are great excursions to get a feel of Ninh Binh Province for one day, but those with more time could spend another day in Tam Coc, perhaps at the magnificent Bich Dong Pagoda or Thung Nham Bird Park.

Hoa Lu Tam Coc Day Trip

Tam Coc Panorama

When to visit Tam Coc – Hoa Lu

Tam Coc’s golden rice fields are definitely one of the best places to visit in Ninh Binh, but this site is only available between about late April and early June. Any excursions outside of this time should ideally be earlier in the year, as rice is only planted in February and the fields are barren after the harvest. Hoa Lu Tam Coc Day Trip is a good option for your trip to Ninh Binh.

2. Cuc Phuong National Park

What is Cuc Phuong National Park?

There was a big hype at the opening of Cuc Phuong National Park in 1962. It was the first national park to be opened in the country and the person to cut the ribbon was none other than Mr. Ho Chi Minh himself. Since that time, Cuc Phuong has received a fair deal of controversy; illegal logging, endangering protected animals and a political battle between the government and the native Muong tribe to name a few. However, Cuc Phuong National Park remains a beautiful wooded area of historical and ethnic significance.

Mac Lake in Cuc Phuong National Park

What activities are in Cuc Phuong National Park?

The struggle of animals in Cuc Phuong is highlighted by the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre, a collection of enclosures that support 150 primates through several different endangered species. The Turtle Conservation Centre just over the road does a similar service for everyone’s favourite reptile. The lives of pre-historic men can be seen in several caves dotted around the park; these served as homes thousands of years ago but some have been discovered only very recently. The 6km return trek to the thousand-year-old tree is always popular, but the more adventurous can opt for a 16km return trek to a Muong village on the outskirts of the park.

Trekking in Cuc Phuong National Park

When to visit Cuc Phuong National Park

October to March are the dry months, with December and January having the potential to be a bit chilly. If it’s trekking you’re after, then perhaps avoid a visit between July and August when the rainy season is in full force, and possibly April to June too, when it becomes increasingly hot and makes a 16km trek sound very unappealing.

Cuc Phuong National Park in Butterflies Season

3. Mua Cave and Lying Dragon Mountain

What is the Mua Cave and Lying Dragon Mountain?

Meaning ‘Dancing Cave’ in Vietnamese, Mua Cave is said to be the site where King Tran would come to watch musical performances. Like most examples of Vietnamese folklore, there is a lot more speculation and whimsy than actual historical evidence, but it’s a nice story all the same. Mua Cave is more of a name than anything physical, as the main attraction here is the 450 steps of Lying Dragon Mountain, certainly the best place to visit in Ninh Binh for the view.

Mua Cave

What activities are at Mua Cave and Lying Dragon Mountain?

Basically, just climbing up the steps. The ‘cave’ aspect is nothing to write home about, but the 450 disjointed steps that wind up the mountain like a dormant dragon are well worth a climb. They pose a small challenge for most tourists, but the reward of a panoramic view of Tam Coc, Trang An and Ninh Binh from the top outweighs the effort. There is a long dragon statue above the panoramic viewing platform that some people like to climb up to, even though there are no stairs leading up to it.

When to visit Mua Cave and Lying Dragon Mountain

Located about 6km from the centre of Ninh Binh City, a 15-minute taxi ride can bring you to the foot of Lying Dragon Mountain. Rain can make the stone steps quite slippery, so try to avoid the rainy season between June and the end of August. The best view from the top will be one that features clear skies and golden rice paddies stretching for miles between the mountains; if this is the view you’re after, then head during harvesting season between the end of April and early June.

Views from Dragon Mountain

4. Van Long Nature Reserve

What is Van Long Nature Reserve?

For anyone looking to bag extra travel points by getting off the beaten track, Van Long is for you. Known by locals as the ‘Waterless Bay’, Van Long Nature Reserve is a vast expanse of wetlands and caves with classic Ninh Binh scenery in the background. This is a great alternative to Tam Coc, where foreign tourism is so highly prized; by comparison, you might get a few shocked looks if you turn up at Van Long.

Sunrise in Van Long Nature Reserve

What activities are at Van Long Nature Reserve?

There are plenty of ways to see the full majesty of Van Long but the main one is to jump onto a local rowing boat and sit back. The leisurely ride will take you down the wide river and through some of the 32 wet caves in the region, letting you glimpse at the magnificent limestone mountains along the way. Animals thrive in the area as there is very little to disrupt their habitats; monkeys and flocks of birds are a common sight. For anyone nervous about using the very basic boats that are available for the ride, you can drive, cycle or walk along the adjacent path that offers similarly stunning views.

Rowing Boat in Van Long Nature Reserve

When to visit Van Long Nature Reserve

There is very little rice here because of the high water level in most areas, so don’t bother holding your visit until the harvest season. As long as you avoid the wet season from June to the end of August, you should have a great time.

5. Phat Diem Cathedral

What is Phat Diem Cathedral?

Believe it or not, many coastal cities up the length of Vietnam are predominantly Christian, and Ninh Binh Province is famous country-wide for its heavily Christian population. These were the places that foreign missionaries from France and Spain arrived at by sea, spreading the word of Jesus among the locals and inspiring vast cathedrals in his name. Large cathedrals can be seen in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, but Phat Diem Cathedral in Phat Diem City, which took 24 years to build, is almost definitely the most interesting one.

Phat Diem Cathedral

What activities are at Phat Diem Cathedral?

The blend of traditional European and Vietnamese architecture in Phat Diem has led to one of the most bizarre and amazing cathedrals you will ever see. Phat Diem Cathedral's mixed construction is the main draw here, and a walk around the cathedral and its grounds will enlighten visitors to the largely unfamiliar world of Vietnamese Christianity. Inside, the walls and the ceilings look 100% Vietnamese, but the red lacquer and gold at the altar look like something straight out of St. Paul's Cathedral in London. 

When to visit Phat Diem Cathedral

The regular Christian holidays draw the biggest crowds at Phat Dien Cathedral, so if you can handle the throngs then this would be a great time to visit the cathedral. For anyone just looking to explore the astonishing architecture, a visit on any day is good. You can take a bus from Ninh Binh city to Phat Diem City for about d25,000 (about $1).

Inside Phat Diem Cathedral

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