Ninh Binh

Ninh Binh (pronounced Neeng Beeng) is the capital of Ninh Binh Province in North Vietnam, famous for the nearby karst scenery and the village of Tam Coc. There is nothing to do in Ninh Binh itself apart from drinking beer with the locals, but it is useful as a base for the surrounding countryside.

Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex is a UNESCO World Heritage site inscribed as a mixed natural and cultural property. It consists of a spectacular limestone karst landscape. The archeological remains found in caves trace human presence since 30,000 years. Part of the heritage is Hoa Lu, the old capital of Vietnam.

Get in

Tour boats in the nearby Tam Coc area

By taxi

Taxis from Hanoi cost USD48.

Taxis from NoI Bai international airport cost USD70, a 2 hour journey.

By bus

There are regular buses from Hanoi's southern bus terminal (Giap Bat) that leave every 15 min (or whenever full) 70,000 dong (August 2014). Journey time is 1.5-2.5 hr depending on traffic. Buy a ticket in the ticket hall or you will likely have to pay more than 70,000 dong.

Open tour buses will drop passengers off upon request but Ninh Binh is not a regular stop. Most open tour buses from Hanoi will arrive at 21:30. Tour buses from Hue arrive at a rather early between 04:00 and 06:00, depending on the company.

By train

Ninh Binh is a station for both northbound and southbound trains.

Get around

By car

Guesthouses may provide organised tours by car for USD20 per day. Taxis are also common and not different from the ones in Hanoi or Saigon, although a little cheaper.

By motorbike

A motorbike is the best way to view Ninh Binh and the surrounding area. A motorbike can be rented for about 100,000 dong per day, a motorcycle driver/guide to take you around the sites for about USD10-20 a day.

The roads in general are quite well maintained and not overly busy, but the junctions, just like everywhere else in Vietnam, can be dangerous. Renting your own motorbike is possible but not without risk.

By bicycle

Cycling is a good option for visiting nearby sights. Guesthouses hire out bicycles for about 40,000 dong/day. There is a country road (mountain bike is recommended) that connects Hoa lu and Tam Coc.

On foot

The town of Ninh Binh is quite small and walkable. However, most of the interesting sights are outside the city.

See

The best time to go is in the morning or late afternoon, when it's quieter and cooler with more shade. Also the drink sellers will be tiring and might be more prepared to sell you a cold drink cheaper if you need one. Last boats start out about 17:30 in the summer and 16:30 in the winter.
The floating drink sellers can be very persistent. They are located after the third cave. Most will ask if you would like to buy a drink for the rower.
When leaving your motorbike at the departure point, beware of thieves (such as removing a mirror while the motorbike is parked, then selling it back to you for 100,000 dong). Look for official parking areas to avoid such scams.
When you catch the boat from the harbour, try not to board a boat that is loaded with boxes at departure. The boxes are filled with handicrafts and are intended for you to buy. During the return trip the rowers might suddenly turn from friendly rowers to pushy sellers. Don't ruin your experience by allowing this. Demand a rower/boat without handicraft/souvenir boxes.
The area around Tam Coc is equally beautiful, and is best viewed from the back of a motorbike or by bicycle. There is also a temple atop one of the hills which provides incredible views. 80,000 dong per boat, maximum 2 foreigners per boat (plus admission of 30,000 dong per person).

Do

There is nothing to do in Ninh Binh itself. Beautiful Tam Coc, Bich Dong, Dich Long, Hoa Son, Tien caves and Van Trinh Grotto can be visited nearby.

Eat

There is a fresh fruit market next to the main market across the bridge.

Mountain goat (de nui) meat is a local speciality, often eaten with fried rice (com chien). Another local speciality is com chay, which is the burnt rice off the bottom of the pot, served with pork. Duck is featured in many restaurants, and there are numerous dog-meat restaurants scattered throughout town (look for signs with a picture of a Great Dane or similar breed and the words thit cho).

The area near the train station has become a mini-backpacker area, and there are 4-5 backpacker cafes there with English menus and tourist prices (40,000-70,000 dong; coffee 15,000-20,000 dong). The three most popular restaurants are called "Good Food", "Cheap Good Food" and "Fast Food Cheap" (all on Hoang Hoa Tham).

Drink

There are plenty of bia hoi sellers along the river in the late afternoon / evenings. One glass usually costs 5,000 dong. Plenty of places sell a sugar cane drink with ice for about 5,000 dong.

Sleep

There are a number of cheap hotels just outside the train station and next to the bus station. Other hotels are located near the city centre. As there is nothing to see in city, either area is suitable. The area near the train station has become a mini-backpacker district, complete with travel agents, touts, overpriced drinks and English-menu restaurants. While it is also possible to stay near the wharf for the Tam Coc ferry, it is not recommended as the quality of the hotels and in particular the restaurants is very low.

Go next

Laos - There is a nightly bus from Hanoi that will stop in Ninh Binh on request. From there it is a grim 20 hr journey to Vientiane.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, March 11, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.