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Ninh Binh - Limestone peaks south of Hanoi


If you travel from south to north Vietnam, Ninh Binh should be your first stop. At 93 km from Hanoi, a cyclist will anyway make a stop here. Some nickname Ninh Binh the dry version of Ha Long Bay. And yes there are certain similarities between the two areas.

A magnificent view over the river in Ninh Binh

The city and the area itself also played its role in the Sino French War in August 1874 when it was considered to be an important outpost of the French who build a citadel to control the river traffic to the Gulf of Tonkin.

The main reason for tourists to visit the area nowadays is the spectacular landscape. If there is one area in Vietnam where you should get a bicycle and explore the countryside, the limestone peaks, caves and pagodas, it is here.

Ninh Binh Scenery

Ninh BinhNinh Binh is famous for the Tam Coc cave, the Dich Long cave and pagoda (Gia Thanh - Gia Vien) and for the Cuc Phuong National Park, west of the city.

There are many pagodas, some nearby the caves.

  • Bich Dong pagoda and cave
  • Can Linh Pagoda
  • Banh Long Pagoda
  • Dinh and Le Temples
  • Hoa Lu ancient capital
  • Hoa Lu Citadel; Nhat Tu Pagoda
  • Phat Diem stone church (Phat Diem - Kim Son)

But even if you think you have seen already all the best caves and pagodas in the world, the rice fields are still a knock out. The Van Long are the conserved wetland area (Gia Vien).

The old city is one of many famous historical sites in Vietnam but often overlooked by tourist as the surrounding scenery is so spectacular.

It's a pleasant city with several good and cheap hotels.

Ninh Binh, North Vietnam

Finding food is not that difficult too.

If you stay in the center of the city, take one of the few roads out on the west side. Within a few 100 meters you are in the countryside and a few km further you're in the spectacular limestone mountains.

Limestone mountains of Ninh Binh
Limestone mountains of Ninh Binh

Getting there and away

With it's 93 km from Hanoi it is easy accessible by bicycle. There has been a long discussion if this area south of Ninh Binh is worth traveling. Probably for backpackers there's not a whole lot to see. Most will take the train directly to Hue.

That said, I cycled it in 2011 and was pleasant surprised. It's mainly flatlands, quiet roads and nice people. Stops on the way can include Dong Ha, Dong Hoi, Vinh, Ha Tinh and Thanh Hoa. 

One of the many temples in Nin Binh

In case you want to skip this lesser interesting part of Vietnam, there are trains and buses to Hanoi and Hue/Danang/Ho Chi Minh City. I took once the train from Hue which was a fine overnight ride.

Limestone karst mountains of Ninh Binh

Hotels and hostels

In town there are many mini Hotels, family hotels with basic rooms but usually a very friendly and helpful staff. Watch out for the signs "mini hotel" or ask around when you arrive. The Ngoc Anh Hotel is recommended by many low budget travelers for their cheap rooms (US $8-10) and hospitality.

When I was in Ninh Binh in November 2011, I stayed in the Queen Hotel, had a big room including buffet breakfast.

You may want to check these sites for more options:

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