The region of Ninh Binh is beautifully situated between the many karst mountains. It looks very much like Halong Bay, but on the mainland, surrounded by rice fields. There are two important places: Ninh Binh, a large lively city with about 160,000 inhabitants. Tam Coc is a tiny little town and a bit sleepy. But we found this more pleasant than the big city. Tam Coc’s location is also an asset with a better view of the mountains.
If you want to get a nice view of the surroundings, you can take a boat trip across the river in Tam Coc as well as in the caves of Trang An. The rower operates the paddles with his feet, which is a special sight. We did them both and we found Trang An’s more appealing. Here, you go through even more caves and moor at three places to visit the temples at the edge of the river.
That doesn’t happen in Tam Coc. At the weekends, it is very busy with the Vietnamese and Chinese having booked a day trip. During the week it is much quieter. Especially the boat trip in Tam Coc is a very commercial activity. They take a picture of you on the water and try to sell it to you after the trip. The women who sell snacks on the water are also very insistent and their stuff is far too expensive. Just before the end, the rower mentions what he would like to get as a tip. So, he didn’t get anything from us!
However, not just a boat trip is a fun thing to do, the region also offers other attractions. Not far from Tam Coc is the Mua Cave. We didn’t find this one as fascinating. It is worthwhile to climb the steps at the cave to the viewpoint above. A climb of 500 steps takes you in an hour to the top but you are rewarded with a beautiful view over the surroundings.
It is also worthwhile to visit Chua Bai Dinh. This is a huge Buddhist complex and especially popular with the Vietnamese. There is a very nice viewpoint on the 13-storey high Pagoda. The view here is magnificent. You can walk around for hours and visit the various temples. You can see the largest and heaviest clock in Vietnam here as well as a 100-tonne bronze Buddha statue.
Finally, a visit to Hoa Lu is of interest. This was the capital of Vietnam in the period between 1009 and 968 BC. Two temples are worth a visit. A short walk takes you to a tomb, from where you have a beautiful view of the ruins of the old city.
Moving around in the area
We visited everything in the region by bike. That’s a good thing to do on flat and generally good roads. Only the road from Tam Coc to Mua Cave is a bit bumpy. It does lead through very nice little villages though. On the way, you pass several stalls with the local culinary specialty: roasted goat.
There are numerous accommodation options in the area of Ninh Binh to pick from. Most of the options available are hotels or staying with locals.