On the Red River Delta of northern Vietnam, there is a hidden treasure. Far from the crowded tourist traps of Southeast Asia, you will find Ninh Bình. With a raw natural beauty and a rare opportunity to interact with traditional Vietnamese culture, the capital city of the Ninh Bình Province is an essential stop for any traveler looking to dig a bit deeper. When it comes to trips in Vietnam spanning from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, Ninh Bình is an essential first stop. It’s two to three hours from Hanoi and an oasis from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Ready to plan your adventure? Here are the top ten things to do in Ninh Bình!
Hop on the Reunification Express
Started by the French at the end of the nineteenth century, this 1700 km (1056 mi) track took decades to complete. After falling into disuse for years during the war, this popular train is now a symbol of a unified Vietnam. You can go from Hanoi to Ninh Bình and beyond!
You’ll find locals and travelers alike on the train. It’s easy to hop on and off so it’s perfect for exploring. And the journey itself is a once in a lifetime experience! As you watch the breathtaking scenery of Vietnam passing by, you will be so glad you didn’t fly.
Explore Van Long Wetland Nature Reserve
Just as beautiful as the popular Tam Coc and Trang An but less crowded, Van Long Wetland Nature Reserve is one of the best things to do in Ninh Bình. While tours in Vietnam often stop through the more popular nature spots, you’re not likely to meet another soul at this reserve. Spend an afternoon hiking here or just soaking in the tranquility.
Established in 1998, Van Long Wetland Nature Reserve has a couple of claims to fame. First of all, it’s home to the largest group of Delacour’s langur, a critically endangered primate species. It’s also where you’ll see the largest natural scenery painting.
Hike Cuc Phung National Park
Vietnam’s first national park, Hike Cuc Phung National Park is the largest nature reserve in the country and one of the key sites for biodiversity in Vietnam. You will want at least one full day to explore this stunning space beside the Red River Delta. Spend it cycling through the countryside, snapping photos from your kayak, and admiring the thousand-year-old tree.
Take a Food Tour
One of the best things about tours in Vietnam is the food! Come hungry and try it all. From street food stalls to five-star restaurants, each mouthful is better than the last. The most famous dishes from Ninh Bình are rice crust (com chay) and Ninh Binh nhech raw fish salad ( gỏi nhệch Ninh Bình).
De Tai Chanh, a raw goat meat dish, is also a one of a kind item from the unique goats found in the mountains of Ninh Bình. Inspired by French cooking, snails from the mountains are cooked with lemongrass and chili (oc luoc xa) and are popular throughout the region. When you are feeling truly adventurous, order xoi trung kien! This dish of sticky rice with ants eggs is a lot tastier than you might expect. You’ll also find duck and dog served throughout the area.
On special occasions, locals drink Ruou Can Nho Quan. This fermented rice wine is sipped from massive straws. If you get the change to try some, don’t miss out!
Admire the Pagodas
Tours in Vietnam are never complete until you visit at least a pagoda or two! Around Ninh Bình in the mountains of Tam Coc and Trang An, the most popular pagodas are Bai Dinh and Bich Dong. Part of a cave, Bich Dong has an impressive three stories. Meanwhile, Bai Dinh pagoda is the biggest pagoda in South East Asia.
Boat Trip through Tam Coc
Located just outside of Ninh Bình, Tam Coc is famous for its karst landscape. Float through the lush jade rice fields and paddle beside the dramatic limestone pillars in the extensive waterways. One of the best things to do in Ninh Bình and maybe even all of Vietnam, you don’t have to set one foot on the ground to explore some of the most beautiful scenery you’ve ever seen in your life.
Visit Phat Diem Cathedral
Set amongst picture-perfect canals and emerald rice paddies, the Phat Diem Cathedral is one of the most iconic Catholic Churches in the country. Located 34 km (21 mi) outside of Ninh Bình, it is well worth the trip. During the French colonial era, this cathedral was referred to as the Vatican of Vietnam and remains a key cultural spot. A unique piece of architecture with a blend of Vietnamese and Western influence, this is one of the essential stops for tours in Vietnam.
Sample Local Food at Cho Bop Market
Before you set off on these day trips from Ninh Bình, visit the Cho Bop Market. Get up early, grab one of those famous Vietnamese coffees, and be amongst the first to arrive so you’ve got a prime selection of local fruits and veg. Fill up on noodle soups and other fried treats, then pack up your bags so you are ready for a picnic.
Find a Souvenir at Van Lan
Near Tam Coc, you’ll find an impressive selection of handicrafts. This region is renowned for its embroidery. In fact, almost everyone in this village supports their family with full-time craftwork. Something handmade like a tablecloth, pillowcase, kimono, or cloth napkin makes a gorgeous and easy-to-pack memento of your trip. Tours in Vietnam that go to Tam Coc wharf can be handy for this because you will find that the locals don’t speak English so you can miss out on a bit going solo.
Scale the Hang Mua Peak
Bring your hiking boots! It’s a long climb up the 500 stairs that bring you to Hang Mua Peak but it is well worth it. The panoramic view of Ninh Bình, Red River Delta, and surrounding mountainscapes are truly unforgettable.
Where will your tours in Vietnam take you? If you are looking to take in the magnificent sights and sounds of the countryside, you’ve got to get to Ninh Bình. To experience the real Vietnam, get off the beaten path to meet the locals, hike the mountains, and soak in the otherworldly beauty from the waterways.