7 Awesome Things to Do in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc, Vietnam
For as small as they may seem, there are some truly unique and amazing things to do in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc. Whether you’re interested in hiking to the tallest viewpoint, paddling through caves, or soaking up the culture at the ancient capital, there’s a little something for everyone.
The province is home to breathtaking limestone formations that shoot up out of rice paddies and broad rivers. The town of Tam Coc is surrounded by the mountains on three sides, with some homestays nestled right up against the stark cliffs. You can explore the region by car, bike, and boat.
Our original plan for traveling through Vietnam had us skipping right over them, but some mishaps landed us there anyway. We’re glad they did because Ninh Binh turned out to be one of the most beautiful places we visited.
Here are seven awesome things to do in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc that you definitely should not pass on.
Top Things to Do in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc
1. Take a Boat Ride in Trang An
Open: 7am-4pm | 225,000 VND
Of all the things to do in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc, this is probably the most popular. If you’ve seen stunning pictures of the province, it’s most likely of tourists taking a boat ride through the limestone mountains on a maze of rivers.
The boat tour passes through water caves under the cliffs and stops at temples hidden in the steep jungle terrain. The trip is fun and adventurous yet leisurely and breathtaking.
There are three different tour routes to choose from. Each varies in length and number of caves, but they all cost the same. The route longest takes about three hours.
Four people can fit in a boat (plus the rowing guide). They like to fill the boats up, so you may have to wait for others to join if you have a smaller group. We had no problem with this, meeting a couple just outside the ticket booth to team up with.
Expect to paddle! You aren’t required to, but there is a paddle in the boat for each person if you want to help out. There are some snack stations along the way, and you can bring your own food to munch on at the stops.
Trang An is about a 15-minute drive from both Ninh Binh and Tam Coc. It’s just south of the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, so you can easily visit both in the same afternoon.
2. Rent a Bike in Tam Coc
You can cycle to a surprising number of places in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc. Many homestays and hostels provide cheap bike rentals. The mountains can be deceiving because the area in between is flat and easy to cycle around. Even busier roads provide plenty of room for cycling.
Ninh Binh itself is much larger than Tam Coc, so we’d suggest cycling around the latter. You can ride down Tam Coc’s quaint main street and around the lake. Try some small side alleys too, as many open up to expanses of lush rice paddies and views of the mountains.
Consider biking to Hang Mua Viewpoint, just 5 km from the center of town. The small, paved road is quiet and makes for some great photo opportunities. Once you hit the dirt road leading to Hang Mua, you’ll find plenty of bike parking at around 10,000 VND (USD 0.50).
On your way back through town, you can stop for lunch and then continue 2.5 km west on the main road to Bich Dong Pagoda. Further details on this below.
Bring plenty of water for your ride and wear a hat and sunscreen. The hot, humid weather left us soaking in our shirts, but biking was an awesome way to see the countryside and get a bit of exercise.
3. Climb the Steps to Hang Mua Viewpoint
Open: 6am-7pm | 100,000 VND
For some spectacular views, climb the 500 steps to Hang Mua Viewpoint. Located just 15 minutes from Ninh Binh and 10 minutes from Tam Coc by car, the viewpoint sits above a beautiful resort.
You can wander around the grounds, walk out on the beautiful boardwalk over a field of lily pads, buy souvenirs and snacks at one of the small shops, and peek into Tiger Cave. Then take the long, steep staircase to the top. Don’t worry—there are plenty of places to stop and take a break.
A fork splits the staircase in two about halfway up. The right leads to a tower on the lower point. The left continues upward to the highest point where pagodas and an elaborate white dragon statue await.
The pagodas are easy to access, but the dragon statue is on a bed of sharp rock that requires a bit of scrambling. A crowd can build up as people try to take a picture with it, so wait for it to thin out before going for your photo op.
At the top, you will see all of Ninh Binh to the east and get an amazing view of the green fields and rivers of Tam Coc to the west. You can stay on the summit for as long as you feel like it.
We also recommend getting some ice cream from one of the shops when you return to the base of the mountain. It’s a well-earned reward!
4. Explore Bich Dong Pagoda
Open: All Day | Free Entry (10,000 VND for bike parking)
There is far more to this little pagoda then there may seem. The picturesque entry lies half-hidden in the trees at the base of a limestone cliff. Passing through it, you will discover more temples protruding from the mountainside.
Continue up the stairs to a temple built within a large cave and even more pagodas above that offer small views of the water below.
Bich Dong is only a short bike ride from downtown Tam Coc. You can catch a Grab or taxi from Ninh Binh to take you there (a 15-minute ride). This is one of the simple, tranquil things to do in Ninh Binh during late-afternoons or evenings.
Tip: you must cover your shoulders and knees in all the temples. You can wear shorts and a tank-top outside but bring extra clothing to put on before entering. Also, the temple in the cave is very dark, so bring a flashlight or use the one on your phone.
5. Watch the Birds Thung Nham Bird Park
Open: Varies | 100,000 VND
The Thung Nham Bird Park is expansive, with plenty of walkways and paths to explore, rivers and lakes, and even a hotel and restaurant.
We arrived near dusk to see the Asian Openbill Storks and Egrets flying in to roost in the trees. They do this every evening, and you can watch hundreds of them noisily soar from the skies and jockey for a position in the branches.
However, if you really want to experience the park, go earlier in the day to tour it. Then, simply stay until dusk to see the birds arrive. Boat rides are available for birdwatching as well.
The Thung Nham Bird Park is about a 30-minute bike ride from Tam Coc. Otherwise, it is 20 minutes from Tam Coc and 30 minutes from Ninh Binh by Grab or Taxi.
Important note: The Thung Nham Bird Park’s hours vary, but it may close around dusk when you’re there to watch the birds. If that happens, it can be very difficult to find a ride back into town. Therefore, arrange your return trip ahead of time so you don’t end up walking a mile or two on the road.
6. Visit the Ancient Capital of Hoa Lu
Open: 7am-4pm | 20,000 VND
The Hoa Lu Ancient Capital dates back to the 900s. It served as Vietnam’s capital city for only 50 years, but it still contains many temples to view.
You can explore the ancient grounds yourself or take a guided tour to learn more about the history of the kings and dynasties that lived there.
The capital comes alive during springtime with an annual festival to commemorate the kings who established it. The festival takes place over the third month of the lunar calendar and reenacts traditional ceremonies and games. You can either watch or participate in the boisterous activities.
7. Try Tofu in Tomato Sauce
We know what you’re thinking. Tofu in tomato sauce? That sounds kind of disgusting.
But it is actually pretty great.
A woman at our homestay told us we needed to try it, so we ordered it at our first dinner in Tam Coc. We’re not sure if it’s supposed to be an appetizer or an entire meal, but expect a giant plate of yummy goodness if you get it. Tofu in tomato sauce is available on most menus in the area and makes for a unique Vietnamese meal.
How Long to Stay in Ninh Binh
Stay at least three days in Ninh Binh to fully immerse yourself. This will give you plenty of time to explore the local area and visit the many outdoor restaurants.
Even our homestay had a wonderful courtyard where you can hang out and enjoy the view of the mountains which are so iconic of Ninh Binh. If you want this enjoyable experience then consider booking Tam Coc Green Garden Homestay.
How to Get to Ninh Binh
Vietnam is a sliver of a country in some areas—only 31 miles wide at its narrowest point. This makes it easy to decide on a travel route. Most tourists travel from south to north or vice versa, and Ninh Binh is an easy stop either way.
There are three main ways to get to Ninh Binh: motorbike, train, and bus. Which you choose simply depends on personal preference. Planes are also an option if you are short on time, but you will miss plenty of amazing culture in between.
Transport can usually be booked through your hotel or guesthouse. They often have direct connections and can make a reservation for you. Alternatively, there are some booking links below which you can use to make your own advance bookings.
Motorbike – Ninh Binh is a 2 hour motorbike ride from Hanoi and about 8 hours from Phong Nha.
Having your own motorbike can be one of the best ways to explore Vietnam. This allows you complete freedom to stop when and where you want along the way. You often get to see many places that other tourists skip.
If this sounds ideal to you, then look no further than this Vietnam motorbike route which has a super-comprehensive itinerary—so you don’t have to fret over the little details.
Want to get a motorbike? Check out this complete guide on how to buy a motorbike in Vietnam. Many places also offer rentals if you don’t want to commit to ownership.
Train – Taking the train in Vietnam can be a surprisingly rewarding experience. You’ll get a totally different view from the train window than you would via road. Trains also offer a great opportunity to chat with locals. Some rides are relatively short while others span an entire day.
The train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh takes 2.5 hours and runs three times each day. It costs approximately 12-15 USD and makes for a smooth ride through the countryside.
The train from Dong Hoi to Ninh Binh takes 8.5 hours and runs two times per day. It costs 25-30 USD. Dong Hoi is the closest train station to Phong Nha and takes about 90 minutes to reach by bus or taxi.
Bus – Buses are a popular option for traveling around Vietnam because they are cheap and generally reliable, though sometimes arrive late. Sleeper buses are almost available for long-distance routes.
The bus from Hanoi to Ninh Binh costs about 10 USD and takes 2-3 hours. It leaves six times a day from Hanoi, so you can be flexible with your departure time.
A sleeper from Phong Nha to Ninh Binh bus is available for 12-15 USD. It departs at 9pm and arrives at 4am with a duration of 9 hours. Let your next hotel know you will be arriving in the wee hours of the morning to ensure a smooth check-in.
Below is our complete spending breakdown (per person) for 3 days in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc. This allows for all activities listed in this article, eating out every meal, a Vietnamese coffee addition, and a private bungalow at a nice place.
In Ninh Binh, we stayed in a private bungalow which was definitely worth the extra few dollars a night. The room was exquisite and the local family running it was extremely friendly and helpful.
|520k VND||520k VND||340k VND||485k VND||215k VND||2mil VND|
|22 USD||22 USD||15 USD||21 USD||10 USD||$90 USD|
Everyone has a different travel budget so there is no single answer for this. However, as recent college graduates, we travel on a tighter budget than many others. If this applies to you then check out our detailed budget for backpacking through Vietnam on only $30 a day!
Where to Stay in Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh is a great city, but Tam Coc makes for a lovelier stay. It’s smaller, closer to the mountains, and filled with an equally vibrant local and tourist atmosphere.
We stayed in Tam Coc during our time in the region, and it didn’t disappoint. Here are some options for accommodation in Tam Coc for a range of budgets:
Budget Hostels: You can often find a nice, clean room for 5-10 USD/night, some including breakfast. The Banana Tree Hostel is a hotspot for young travelers. It’s got a pool, a ping pong table, awesome beds, and great ambiance. Plus it’s located right in the center of town.
Mid-Range Bungalows and Homestays: Tam Coc is packed full of incredible homestays for amazing prices (usually 8-25 USD/night). Tam Coc Green Garden Homestay is off the main street and a more secluded. The bungalows back up to the rice paddies with views of the mountains. The bungalows face a beautiful inner courtyard pond with a restaurant and bike rentals, and the host is incredibly accommodating.
Hotels and High-End Homestays: Nicer hotels will cost around 25 USD/night or more, but they provide the nicest amenities and best locations. Little Tam Coc has beautiful rooms, superb mountain views, and awesome staff who will help you with anything you need.
Where to Next?
If your time in Vietnam is not over yet and you are still looking for some epic adventures, we have you covered.
Heading back to Hanoi? Check out this complete Hanoi travel guide with some not so touristy attractions around the expat area, hidden cafes where you’d least expect, and some beautiful temples to wander through.
If you’re traveling south across Vietnam, your next stop should be Phong Nha. Find everything you need to know in this Phong Nha travel guide with details on caves, farm stays, and a rooftop bar with an epic sunset view over the rice fields.
Even after a long weekend packed full of adventurous activities, there are still more things to do in Ninh Binh. If you have the time, try visiting the towering Bai Dinh Pagoda, hiking through the quiet Van Long Nature Reserve, or touring the Kenh Ga Floating Village.
We didn’t get around to these things, but that’s the nature of travel—there’s always something to return for. Exploring outside the tourist box can sometimes lead to the best of trips.
From the rural mountains of the north to the busy cities of the coast, discover more incredible sights you can’t miss in the ultimate Vietnam travel guide.
Guest Author Bio: Mel and Sierra are best friends who love to explore the world through attainable adventures. Between the two of them, they’ve visited 28 countries and five continents. They believe travel is one of the best ways to establish a unified global community, so they share their experiences and mishaps on the blog Mainly Misfits in hopes of opening the door for other daydreaming vagabonds. On their site, you can find itineraries, travel tips, stories, and more from their journeys across Southeast Asia, Europe, Oceania, North America, and Africa.
Cover Photo by Ruslan Bardash on Unsplash
Tam Coc Boat Photo by Sushant Vohra on Unsplash