Escaping the hustle and bustle of big city life every once in a while is necessary and the sleepy town of Ninh Binh is the perfect destination. Only a two hour train ride away from Hanoi, the surrounding landscape is dotted with towering karsts, sprawling greenery and ancient pagodas.
As we stepped off the train and out the station gates, we were bombarded with motorbike and taxi offers. After a couple of “no thank you”‘s, a young lady approached us inviting us to her restaurant where her mom does all the cooking. After a Banh Mi, she organised her dad to be our taxi driver for the day. Although this was great, I would suggest hiring motorbikes, which cost 100 000 VND for the whole day.
The train between Ninh Binh and Hanoi has different classes from which you can choose. As naive travelers, we just took what we were given, which was the pricier and more comfortable seats costing us 206 000 VND round trip. However, you can travel in a very minimal carriage for 116 000 VND round trip. Next time, I’ll opt for the cheaper option.
Our first stop was Tam Coc. We boarded our steel boat and headed down the river with our guide (for navigation purposes) and rower. As I was taking in my surroundings, I turned around to see our guide rowing with his FEET whilst holding an umbrella in his hand to shade himself from the sun. I was rather shocked (and amused) to say the least.
As we rowed further away from the starting point, we found ourselves feeling more and more at peace with the towering karst formations and the constant greenery. The entire ride lasts between 1.5 -2 hours, whilst you pass expansive rice paddies, wildlife and progress through beautiful cave systems where you have to watch your head.
Entrance fee: 195 000 VND per person
Bich Dong Pagoda
The entrance to the Bich Dong Pagoda has become somewhat synonymous with Ninh Binh through social media and it’s easy to see why. This beautiful structure leads you to three different pagoda’s, one being built into the side of the cliff face that enshrines a beautiful display where people pay their respects. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of the third and most hidden pagoda, which requires people to go through a cave and about 40 stone steps to find it. No doubt I’ll be back to find it.
Entrance Fee: Free
Hang Múa Caves
Sweeping views of Tam Coc, expanding rice paddy fields, limestone karsts and Ninh Binh in the distance? Yes please! Beware, the 500 steep stone steps to the top aren’t for the weak but 100% worth every drop of sweat. As you near the top, you’ll reach a fork in the stairs. We tackled the more difficult route first, on the left. As we reached the top, we were met by an elongated dragon sculpture that stretched across some pretty ragged rocks. On the other side of the fork in the stairs is a pagoda-like structure from which you can see Ninh Binh in the distance. The hike may test you physically but you’ll reach the top wondering how this much beauty exists in this world.
Entrance: 100 000 VND per person
Note: This blog post is a work in progress as I plan on going back to explore this gem of a place again.