Click here if you would like to read an overview of my 3 months experience in Vietnam.
Ninh Binh was my first destination after i completed my volunteering journey and started traveling from north to south of Vietnam. I took a bus from Giap Bat Station in Hanoi to Ninh Binh. It cost about $4.50 and takes about 2 hours. I didn't spend much time in Ninh Binh, it's just another city to me, instead, i immediately took a motorbike taxi to Tam Coc, which cost me about $2.50.
I stayed at Tam Coc Homestay which has an amazing view of rice fields right outside the hostel. I wouldn't recommend it unless having nice scenery is all that you are looking for because i think the staffs working there are not honest (i paid a lot to get to phong nha from tam coc), and they are very pushy in trying to get you to eat dinner or book buses from them. It cost about $10 per night and i stayed 2 nights.
There are plenty of things to do at Ninh Binh Area. Plenty of boat tours, which is what that area is famous for. There are Tam Coc Boat Tour, Trang An Boat Tour, and Van Long Boat Tour. I did the Trang An boat tour because it has plenty of caves there and it's cheaper than Tam Coc Boat Tour. But i heard from my local friend that Van Long is amazing. I did ride to Van Long in the end but i arrived too late to do a boat tour. The place is so beautiful and i heard that the boat tour will bring you around rice fields. You definitely should consider taking the boat tours at Van Long.
On my first day, i simply rented a bicycle for $2.50 and rode around Tam Coc. It's a pretty nice place for cycling because the ground is flat. I rode pass Tam Coc boat tour area, which was pretty but touristy. I parked by bicycle and walked around that area. Saw some kids swimming, and some boatman sleeping. Felt extremely relax and peaceful.
I visited the Bich Dong pagoda and adventurously tried climbing up the cliff. I must be out of my mind because it was freaking dangerous and challenging. Thank goodness i met two guys from France on the way up and they helped me a lot. I felt a sense of satisfaction when i was finally done with all the climbing. The view on top is worth the climb.
There's also a massive bird valley at Tam Coc called Natural Thung Nham Bird Park. I heard that the best time to go there is around 4pm when all the birds are coming back home, it's beautiful. I didn't go for it because i didn't want to pay the entrance fee. Instead, i continued to cycle around exploring the area. I ended up spending my evening talking to a goatherd while walking his goats. He could speak mandarin and we had such an interesting conversation.
I had a fantastic dinner at Duc Linh Restaurant. Tam Coc is famous for their goat meat and you got try it at that restaurant, it's delicious and the pricing is reasonable - $4.
On my second day, i met a group of friends from the hostel. We rented two bikes and explored Trang An together. Motorbike rental was about $8 per bike and petrol was about $3 for full tank. We had such a fulfilling day together. We started our trip at Trang An Boat Tour ($10 entrance fee), which was nice. We were there during lunch time, so there weren't many people, which was fantastic!
We then headed to Hoa Lu Ancient capital and spent some time walking around that area. Pretty nice.
We ended our day at Mua Caves which has a stairs of about 400-500 steps up where you can see an amazing view of the rice terraces and Tam Coc landscape. Entrance fee $6. The view could have been better if the weather was nicer. It was drizzling when we were there.
We spent our last day at the Cuc Phuong National Park, which in my opinion, wasn't worth the long hours of riding (~3hrs). You should only go if you have plenty of time, there's nothing spectacular to see. I would have gone to Van Long and do a boat tour there instead.
Overall, Ninh Binh area is definitely worth going to! It's a place filled with nature and many wonders. Don't miss it!