This post is all about how to day trip from Hanoi to Ninh Binh.
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About Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh, often referred to as the “Ha Long Bay on land,” is a province in North Vietnam that boasts breathtaking natural beauty.
Its stunning landscape is characterized by towering limestone karsts, lush rice paddies, and meandering waterways, making it the perfect day trip from Hanoi for nature enthusiasts and photographers hoping to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
The centerpiece of Ninh Binh is the picturesque Tam Coc, a serene area where traditional wooden boats glide through narrow caves and tranquil waters. Ninh Binh is also home to many ancient temples and historical sites worth seeing.
Whether you’re exploring caves, hiking to hilltop pagodas, or simply soaking in the serene countryside, Ninh Binh promises a serene escape into the heart of Vietnam’s natural and cultural treasures.
Is the Ancient Vietnamese Capital Worth Visiting?
Every year, millions of tourists visit the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital to get a taste of history and of course, see the mystical Mua Cave and and scenic rice fields.
While I feel this UNESCO World Heritage site is absolutely worth visiting, I was satisfied with just booking a Ninh Binh day trip.
How Many Days to Spend in Ninh Binh
There is quite a lot to do in the Ninh Binh province, but the highlights can be explored in a full one-day trip.
If you want to fully immerse yourself in the countryside of Ninh Binh & Tam Coc, I would plan 2-3 days.
As I stated previously, if you are short on time and just want a taste of what Ninh Binh has to offer, I recommend taking a day trip from Hanoi to Ninh Binh.
How to Day Trip From Hanoi to Ninh Binh
There are a few ways you can strategically make the most of your day trip from Hanoi to Ninh Binh.
Planning your trip to Hanoi?
Print this FREE Hanoi Checklist for your trip to Vietnam so you don’t miss a thing!
Ninh Binh Guided Tours
I found the best option for me was booking a small group tour with an English-speaking tour guide and a shuttle bus that departed from my hostel in Hanoi.
This guided tour still includes all the Ninh Binh must-dos such as a boat ride along the Ngo Dong River, stunning views of the limestone mountains, the iconic Mua cave hike, and a complete tour of the ancient capital of Vietnam. There are many great Ninh Binh tours on Viator and Get Your Guide.
The most popular day trips from Hanoi to Ninh Binh include classic tourist areas like the Hoa Lu Capital, Tam Coc boat trip, and Mua Cave.
Alternative Ninh Binh day trips may include the gorgeous Trang An scenic landscape complex.
How to Get From Hanoi to Ninh Binh on your own
I totally get not wanting to book a guided tour! While guided tours can be very convenient, they are often rushed and leave very little room for freedom.
I found myself opting for more guided tours while traveling Southeast Asia than I typically do while traveling. Especially in Vietnam, landmarks and cities can be very spread out, and renting a motorbike is often the main form of transportation between points (which I was not comfortable doing alone).
Here’s how you can visit Ninh Binh from Hanoi at your own pace:
Snag a bus ticket for just $6. Total travel time is anywhere from 1-3 hours.
Book a train ride with Vietnam Railways for under $10 which will typically take 2-3 hours.
Hire a private car through DayTrip which includes an English-speaking driver and your choice of an itinerary. This will cost around $80 – $100.
Rent your own car or motorbike. Just make sure you have the correct licensing and know the local road rules!
I rarely booked train tickets in Vietnam because I found the busses to be cheaper, sometimes even faster, and often picked me up at my hostel in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
Best Time to Day Trip From Hanoi to Ninh Binh
The ideal period for a trip to Ninh Binh falls within the dry season, which spans from November to April.
During this time, you can expect more comfortable and less humid weather.
While the rainy season does span May-November, it often rains heavily for a short period of time and then stops the rest of the day.
It absolutely POURED during my day trip to Ninh Binh in the morning, but was really enjoyable the remainder of the day. Just remember – bring rain ponchos and umbrellas with you everywhere!
Where to Stay in Ninh Binh
Searching for the best place to stay in Ninh Binh can be tricky because it’s spread out and there are many different popular points of the region.
Ninh Binh City is not anything special but works well if you are spending limited time in Ninh Binh or arriving at odd hours as it’s close to all the main bus stations and train stations.
The ideal place to stay in Ninh Binh is in Tam Coc because of its breathtaking natural beauty, proximity to attractions, and charming rural scenery.
While hotels and hostels are available in Ninh Binh, homestays are very popular if you are looking for a more personal experience.
Accommodations to Book
Whether or not you are taking a day trip to Ninh Binh or staying several days, your essentials will be more or less the same:
- Bug Spray
- Modest Clothes and Athletic Wear
- Water Bottle
- Good tennis shoes
What to Pack
My Vietnam Essentials
What to Expect on Your Day Trip from Hanoi to Ninh Binh
While trip itineraries from Hanoi to Ninh Binh will vary, here is a detailed look at the Ninh Binh day trip guided tour I booked.
7:30 am Pickup – Hanoi Old Quarter
Get ready for an early start! Around 7:30 am your tour will begin with pickups in Hanoi’s old quarter. The journey to Ninh Binh takes about two hours and includes a couple of bathroom breaks and complimentary bottles of water.
First Stop – Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
Our first stop was the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital where we were lucky enough to see Kings Day festivities take place in front of the King Dinh Temple.
While it was raining buckets as we began to explore the ancient capital, the sun started to shine just as ceremonies began to take place. It was such a beautiful moment to witness!
Trang An Bicycle Ride
Next, we took a relaxing bike ride through Tam Coc and took in all the stunning scenery of the countryside.
While unfortunately we only had time to ride for about 30 minutes, it was the perfect taste of the vibrant landscape. Afterward, a fairly decent lunch buffet was included in the price of the tour.
Tam Coc Boat Ride
After lunch followed one of the most exciting and scenic parts of the day: a classic tam coc boat ride. Riding in a sampan boat along the Ngo Dong River was one of the highlights of my Ninh Binh day trip. The scenery is out of this world.
You’ll likely pair up in a boat with other travelers on your tour which makes it even more of an enjoyable experience.
Mua Cave Hike
Finally, the Mua Cave Hike was our final stop on our full-day trip from Hanoi to Ninh Binh. The view of the Ninh Binh region was gorgeous from high up and well worth the climb of the exhausting staircase.
Beware that Mua Cave is the top tourist attraction in Ninh Binh, and it gets absolutely PACKED.
Back to Hanoi
The journey back to Hanoi will take about 2 hours. Expect to get back to your accommodation around 8 pm.
Best Things to Do in Ninh Binh, Vietnam
As I’ve mentioned, there is a lot to do in the Ninh Binh region.
You can plan your trip to Ninh Binh in a wide variety of ways from crossing the highlights off your bucket list in just one day, or traveling at a slower pace and getting to know the region by spending several days or even a week exploring every corner of the lush rice paddies.
In this list of the Best Things to do in Ninh Binh, I’ve noted which experiences are and are not included in your day trip to Ninh Binh.
1. Explore the Ancient Capital of Hoa Lu
Hoa Lu Ancient Capital in Ninh Binh is like stepping back in time.
A place where emperors and the royal family once ruled, you can still feel the history echo through the ruins. It’s a magical spot nestled amidst stunning limestone formations and greenery.
You can explore the ancient King Dinh Temple, gaze at the countryside from towering pagodas, and imagine the days when dynasties held court in this historic gem. It’s a must-visit for anyone with an appetite for history and a love for picturesque landscapes.
I was lucky enough to visit the ancient capital on Hung Kings Commemoration Day, which is on the 10th day of the third lunar month. This was an awesome day to visit as there were many ceremonies taking place.
If you’re taking just a day trip to Ninh Binh, this will be one of the first stops on your tour.
2. See the Mystic Bich Dong Pagoda
Bich Dong Pagoda is a picturesque complex that feels like something out of a fairytale.
Unique and historic, this structure has three tiers of pagodas built into the limestone karsts, surrounded by lush green fields and serene waterways. As you climb the stone staircase, you’ll be greeted with ancient statues and intricate carvings.
The pagoda offers breathtaking panoramic views of Ninh Binh, making it a popular tourist attraction. There is no entrance fee to the Bich Dong Pagoda, it is free! People will try to scam you and tell you otherwise.
Bich Dong Pagoda is often not included in Ninh Binh day trips, so this would be a huge advantage if you choose to stay a few days exploring Ninh Binh at your own pace.
3. Climb the Mua Cave Viewpoint
Mua Cave is a famous viewpoint that requires an adventurous climbing journey.
To reach the cave, you’ll have to climb a steep but manageable 500 stone steps. Once you conquer the climb, you’re rewarded with breathtaking panoramas of the Tam Coc countryside and the mesmerizing Ngo Dong River winding its way through the beautiful scenery.
This is one of the top attractions featured on day trips to Ninh Binh.
On tours, all entrance fees are included. However, if you are traveling on your own, you should know the Mua Cave entrance fee is 100,000 VND, which equals a little over 4 USD.
4. Spend a Day at Cuc Phuong National Park
Cuc Phuong National Park is a nature lover’s paradise. What feels like a Jurassic Park adventure, Cuc Phuong is filled with stunning waterfalls, ancient trees, and diverse wildlife.
The park is a haven for birdwatchers, as it’s home to over 300 bird species. You can take a stroll on well-marked trails, visit the botanical garden, and explore the enchanting caves.
Don’t miss the thousand-year-old tree, one of the most popular tourist attractions of Cuc Phuong. This is another gem of Cuc Phuong that you wouldn’t get to experience on a day trip.
5. Take a Tam Coc Boat Ride
Gliding through the Ngo Dong River and witnessing the beautiful landscapes of Tam Coc was one of my favorite things I did in Ninh Binh.
This gorgeous experience truly feels like you are in a movie!
Guided by a local, you will be welcomed into a classic sampan boat with a few other travelers. Since I was solo, I joined other solo travelers from my day trip tour. Don’t worry, your tour tour guide will help arrange boat groups.
6. Marvel at the Bai Dinh Pagoda
Bai Dinh is one of the largest Buddhist pagodas in Southeast Asia. The sheer size of the place is mind-boggling, with thousands of intricately carved Buddha statues and an enormous bronze bell that you just have to ring for good luck!
When exploring this complex, you’ll encounter two primary sections: the ancient Bai Dinh Pagoda and the modern Bai Dinh Pagoda. Due to its considerable size, transportation is available on the grounds for a convenient way to explore.
Get a taste of the rich culture at the Bai Dinh local restaurant where the monks dish out exceptional vegetarian cuisine.
7. Bike Through the Trang An Countryside
Another unforgettable experience to be had is cycling around the Trang An Countryside.
Escape from the tourist centers of Ninh Binh and experience the quiet countryside of the Ninh Binh region. This is another featured activity on a Ninh Binh day tour and was one of my favorites!
I really enjoyed getting a glimpse of the rural lifestyle of the Vietnamese people.
Where to Explore Next After Ninh Binh
If you’re looking for your next stop on your Vietnam itinerary, here’s where you can head to next after Ninh Binh.
Hanoi – 1.5 hours drive
Head to the bustling capital of Vietnam to get a taste of tasty street food, a rush of the thrilling Train Street, and take in all the history from the local museums.
Halong Bay – 3.5 hours drive
Now that you’ve seen “Halong Bay on land” why not experience the true emerald waters and unique rock formations?
Hue – 13 hours
Hue is often the next stop for any backpackers on their way to Southern Vietnam. For this long journey, you can choose between a sleeper bus or a train. Hue is known for the Hai Van Pass, the Imperial City, and the Thuy Tien Abandoned Water Park.
Da Nang / Hoi An
Getting to Da Nang and Hoi An from Ninh Bing can be tricky.
Your options are to take a sleeper bus or train to Hue, and then transportation for the 1.5-hour ride to Da Nang.
Alternatively, you can take a car from Ninh Binh to Hanoi and take the 1.5-hour flight directly into Da Nang. Then, make your way to Hoi An which is just 45 minutes.
There is no airport in Hoi An, so if you are flying, you will have to fly into Da Nang.
Day Trip From Hanoi to Ninh Binh – Conclusion
Overall, I felt a day trip from Hanoi to Ninh Binh was certainly worth it.
However, I would not prioritize Ninh Binh over other northern Vietnam destinations such as Hanoi, Sapa, and Halong Bay.
While I was happy I spent a day exploring this beautiful province, it was not a highlight of my 1-month trip in Vietnam.
In conclusion, go to Ninh Binh if you have time – but don’t cross out other “must-do” Vietnam destinations to get to it.
I hope this blog post about a day trip from Hanoi to Ninh Binh was helpful!
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