I’m about to share my full travel details to Vietnam’s hidden gem. This is a detailed Ninh Binh itinerary to see this fascinating place in two magical days. Some of the most memorable days of my 2-month backpacking trip in Asia were spent in Ninh Binh, Vietnam.
The whole province is an extremely low-key and amazingly scenic place, yet still not packed with tourists. It’s the perfect place to get to know the real authentic Vietnam.
Being a recently discovered travel destination, information online about Ninh Binh is still scarce and confusing. To make things worse, Google Maps can mislead you and the locals struggle to understand English.
It can be challenging to plan a trip independently to Ninh Binh. Yet anything is WAY better than to explore Ninh Binh on a soulless and rushed organised tour together with dozens of other travelers. As a matter of fact, try to stay away from tours in the whole Vietnam. I’ve shared a complete Ninh Binh guide before.
Now I’m going deeper and sharing my full trip itinerary for you to explore this hidden gem in Vietnam in 2 days and have the same amazing experience that I had.
Ninh Binh Itinerary & Travel Plan
Some things to know about this itinerary:
- The itinerary is based on my own trip in December 2016. I spent a total of 2,5 days exploring Ninh Binh and could’ve easily stayed more!
- It’s for independent travelers making their own way in Ninh Binh. This is the way it should be explored!
- It’s suited if you have your own wheels, whether is a bike or a motorbike. I strongly recommend the latter, at least on the first day.
- It’s NOT a rushed itinerary. You can squeeze in more places if you want. However I think is important to allow some time to really take in the scenery, explore the area calmly and even get wonderfully lost!
Sounds like this can suit you? Great, let’s start the engines!
What to do in Ninh Binh – 2-Day Itinerary
Day 1 in Ninh Binh
This first day only has 3 places, but each one of them will need a couple of hours to explore. I strongly suggest you get around on a motorbike as distances between these sights are significant.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Trang An Landscape Complex is an impressive set of large limestone karst cliffs covered by forest. In the entire area, you can find temples, dozens of valleys and about 50 different caves.
The best way to enjoy this inspiring scenery is to take a boat ride. A lady rower will row the boat for you, the technique they use to manouevre the boat inside the underwater caves is truly amazing. It’s unreal the amount of effort these ladies has to put every day for a living. Since the whole trip lasts for about 2 hours (!), I helped the rower for some time by using the spare oars.
Trang An was definitely a main highlight of Ninh Binh and apparently a much more beautiful and relaxing ride than Tam Coc‘s (see below). Being surrounded by the huge mountains in almost every direction while on a tiny boat is truly a spectacular feeling. Don’t miss this!
- Where: Trang An is 7km away from Ninh Binh and about 11km from Tam Coc. You can get there by bike, just make sure you head to the pin in the above map – simply searching by “Trang An” in Google Maps will lead you to another place.
- How long: The ride has a duration of 2-3 hours.
- How much: The entrance fee is 150,000 dong + a parking fee for your vehicle.
- Tip: Most day tours from Hanoi start arriving around 10, so it’s advisable that you make your way there very early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
Hoa Lu is the ancient capital of the Dinh and Le dynastys, dating back to the 11th century. It’s located roughly 14km from Ninh Binh and close to the Trang An boat ride.
Today, the remains of this ancient city are just that: remains. The buildings still standing include the royal temples of Dinh Tien Huang, housing a statue of Emperor Dinh Bo Linh and his sons as well as the royal temple of the early Le Dynasty.
Still, more than the buildings or temples, I found Hoa Lu to be beautiful because of the scenery. The ruins are just too ruiny to be memorable IMHO. It’s still worth to have a stroll around and imagine how the city was a millenium ago.
Bai Dinh Pagoda
Located 15km away from Ninh Binh city in a mountain area, Bai Dinh Pagoda is a HUGE religious complex. In fact, everything is massive here. Within the 539-hectare premises, there are 5,000 Buddha statues, a 36-ton bronze bell and dozens of Buddhist temples, each more opulent than the other. Usually visitors explore the compound by electric car (!).
It’s the absolute largest pagoda in South East Asia. Climbing to the top gives you an amazing open view over the Ninh Binh province.
Just like Ninh Binh in general, I honestly don’t know how Bai Dinh can fall this much under the radar. But it does and I guess that’s a good thing!
To be continued…