If you’re visiting northern Vietnam, you absolutely must take a Hanoi to Ninh Binh day trip. Ninh Binh was one of our favorite spots in all of Vietnam – the laidback vibe, the slightly lower crowds, the ability to bike around the countryside, and of course, those absolutely gorgeous mountain karsts dotting the landscape, peaking up between the waterways and canals.
Ninh Binh is called Halong Bay on land and this name really fits. While there are still streams and waterways around the mountains, there is definitely more land and less sea than in Halong Bay.
Plus, while you could definitely spend a couple of days in Ninh Binh, you can see and experience many of the highlights of Ninh Binh with a full day. It’s not far from Hanoi, so there’s really no reason to not go! 😉
Here’s everything you need to know about doing a day trip to Ninh Binh from Hanoi:
How to Get to Ninh Binh from Hanoi
These are the 5 ways to get from Hanoi to Ninh Binh. It’s approximately 100 kilometers (62 miles) between the cities, which can take anywhere from 1.5-2.5 hours, depending on your mode of transportation.
Whatever way you choose to get to Ninh Binh, I would highly recommend leaving as early as possible so you have the most time to explore Ninh Binh.
➡️Guided Tour with Round Trip Transportation
One good way to take a day trip to Ninh Binh is to join a tour. These small group tours (8 people or less) take care of all the logistics for you, and will include transport to and from Hanoi, as well as transportation around Ninh Binh. Also, entrance fees, lunch, and water and included in the price.
The tour below is the best tour option for a day trip to Ninh Binh from Hanoi – in addition to comfortable, round trip transportation and a tour guide, you get to visit the 4 main attractions in Ninh Binh, plus some biking in the countryside.
Most of the tours to Ninh Binh will take you to some, but not all of these attractions (which we’ll discuss in detail in the following sections), so this tour really offers the best experience.
Plus, it has a very high rating on Viator – 4.95 out of 5 stars!
>>Book this Ninh Binh day tour from Hanoi here
Bus rides can take anywhere from 1.5 hours to 2.5 hours to get from Hanoi to Ninh Binh. These buses can be anything from a “regular” sized bus to a large van with comfortable seating.
Prices are generally around $10-15 per leg and there are many departure times throughout the day. This is a very economical way to get to Ninh Binh.
>>I recommend booking your bus tickets in advance. You can search all timetables and get electronic tickets for the bus on 12Go Asia here
Like the bus, the train is an excellent option especially if you’re a budget traveler taking a day trip to Ninh Binh. Trains generally depart regularly throughout the day, and take 2 hours 15 minutes to arrive in Ninh Binh.
Seats generally cost anywhere from $10-12 per leg, and you can choose from regular seating, or sleeper berths (although it’s during daytime hours, I speak from experience when I say the sleeper berths can be nice for a quick nap).
>>Like the bus, I recommend booking your train tickets in advance on 12Go Asia. You can search all timetables and get electronic tickets for the train on 12Go Asia here
Finally, a private car is a great way to get to and around Ninh Binh if you want to explore on your own terms but don’t want to handle or worry about any of the logistics or transportation.
The driver will pick you up from your hotel in Hanoi, drive you in an air-conditioned car to Ninh Binh, and then take you to whatever sites you want around the city, before returning- you to Hanoi at the end of the day. Your day and itinerary is totally customizable for what you want to do see and do.
Note that this is not a tour and a guide is not provided at the sites – you are renting the driver only.
I would not recommend renting a car to do a Hanoi to Ninh Binh day trip. Drivers and traffic in Vietnam can be kind of crazy – there are scooters zipping around and between cars everywhere, and a lot of intersections operate under a “everyone goes at the same time and maneuver their way around each other” rule.
While the countryside is a lot better than the cities, I would still hesitate to recommend a rental car, especially because there are so many other cheap and/or convenient ways to get to Ninh Binh.
Getting Around Ninh Binh
If you hired a private driver or are doing the guided tour, then your transportation around Ninh Binh is set!
However, if you came in on the train or the bus, then you’ll need a way to get between attractions. Sites in Ninh Binh that you’ll visit on your day trip are fairly spaced out, so you’ll need some way to get around.
I would recommend either renting a bike or a scooter! Biking is a very popular way to get around Ninh Binh, and it’s incredibly scenic and idyllic, as you bike on little country roads past waterways and tall mountain karsts. Scootering around Ninh Binh is also really, really fun. Traffic tends to be very light and it’s easy to get around.
We actually did both – we rode a bike to two attractions that were closer (Hang Mua and the boat rides), and then took the scooter to the farther away spots (Bich Dong and Hoa Lu are farther out). These attractions are many kilometers apart from each other, so if you’re worried about getting tired, I’d just rent the scooter.
Taxis: You can also just take taxis around. As far as we could tell, there are no Grabs in Ninh Binh, but you should still be able to use the Grab app to call a taxi.
Read all about taking taxis and using Grab – Vietnam’s version of Uber here and don’t forget to buy an e-sim card so you have data to use the app!
Things to Do on Your Day Trip from Hanoi to Ninh Binh
1. Trang An/Tam Coc Boat Tour
The boat tours in Ninh Binh are the #1 best thing to do in the region. If you do one thing here, let it be the boat tours! On your boat tour from either Trang An or Tam Coc, you’ll board small, traditional boats that are paddled by locals wearing traditional cone leaf hats through waterways lined by tall, steep, sometimes almost vertical limestone mountains.
These boat tours take you through the vast network of waterways on the Ngo Dong River in Ninh Binh, where you’ll weave your way through the tall, sheer limestone karsts that dot the landscape. It really feels like something out of a fantasy novel!
During your tour, you’ll have the opportunity to briefly stop at several small islands to explore some temples. You’ll also paddle through several of the many caves in the region. At some points, the cave is so short that you’ll have to duck down in the boat.
There are two different locations where boat tours are offered: Tam Coc and Trang An. Rides from each place last about 2.5-3 hours. Here’s a brief breakdown of the differences between the two boat tours:
Trang An Boat Tour
Trang An is a very well-oiled machine, and they move people through the system very efficiently. You are required to wear a life jacket the entire time. There are 3 boat routes you can choose from in Trang An.
Each route will take you to amazing sights, but they vary by the number of caves and temples that they pass by. For example, only route three will take you through a 1 km long cave, the longest in the area.
- Cost: 250,000 dong (about $10)
- Hours: 7am-5pm
Tam Coc Boat Tour
In Tam Coc, your boat tour will take you through 3 caves. There will be salespeople not affiliated with the Tam Coc boat tour soliciting you to buy food/souvenirs at the end (you can just ignore them!) At Tam Coc, instead of using their hands to row, the rowers actually use their feet to row! Life jackets are optional. Here you will wend through some agricultural areas, so you will get to see some rice fields, too.
- Cost: 195,000 dong ($8.30)
- Hours: 8am-6pm
We did the Trang An boat tour and loved it! If you’re doing the guided tour, you will be on the Tam Coc boat tour. Both locations have their own unique advantages, but either boat ride will be spectacular.
2. Hang Mua Caves
The Hang Mua Caves do indeed have some small caves you can step into, but the real draw here are the viewpoints from the tops of the mountains. After climbing almost 500 steps, you’ll reach two different peaks with slightly different viewpoints.
Each peak has has incredible overlooks to the tall limestone mountains and waterways of the Ngo Dong River. In the distance, you’ll see ridge after ridge after ridge of rocky limestone cliffs.
The views are absolutely stunning – and it makes for an excellent photo spot.
At the top of the staircase, where the stairs split, the right side will take you to an overlook with a pagoda at the top. This side offers great views, but we felt like the staircase on the left definitely had a superior vantage point. The left side also has a dragon at the very top – you can climb up to the dragon, but the rocks are really pointy here, so be careful!
If you bike or scooter here, you’ll need to pay for parking. Parking is anywhere from 5-10k dong (20-40 cents USD) depending on how close to the entrance you park, and whether you’re parking a bike or scooter.
When you’re done on the mountain, don’t forget to walk the boardwalk through the lotus flower fields. These flowers are in bloom in June and absolutely breathtaking, but the fields still have a few flowers throughout the year and are pretty anytime.
- Hours: 6am-7pm
- Cost: 100,000 dong (approximately $4)
3. Hoa Lu Imperial Citadel
The Hoa Lu Imperial Citadel is a very important site in Ninh Binh, as it was actually the capital of Vietnam in the 11th and 12th centuries. Today, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a major tourist attraction in Ninh Binh.
Although the citadel itself is gone, many landmarks, monuments, temples, pagodas, and gates remain and are definitely worth seeing.
The most important spots in Hoa Lu are the two temples paying homage to the emperors who ruled from Hoa Lu. The first and biggest temple is the King Dinh Temple. This temple is nestled over 200 steps up in the mountains behind in the citadel complex and offers great views over the citadel and valley. There are also three rooms of shrines inside the temple.
Then, stop by the smaller but also beautiful King Le Temple complex near the King Ding temple in Hoa Lu. Like King Dinh, this temple is divided into 3 shrines, to show reverence for these ancient kings.
In addition, there are also several pagodas, such as the Nhat Tru pagoda, and beautiful scenery, lakes, and mountains in the complex. It’s a significant and beautiful historical site in Ninh Binh.
- Hours: 7am-5pm
- Entrance Fees: 20,000 dong (about $1)
4. Bich Dong Pagoda
This gorgeous site, whose name translates to Emerald Green Grotto, is actually a complex with a set of three pagodas, built right into the side of the cliff wall. It is surrounded by mountains and a little lake, making it incredibly picturesque. You’ll begin your journey by walking across this peaceful path through the gate to the temple courtyard. This lagoon is especially beautiful in June when it is packed with lotus flowers.
Once you’re looking at the temple inside the courtyard, there are two paths to follow. The right one goes up, through a gap in the mountains, and over to the valley behind.
To the left, you will find the pagodas. The first is near the courtyard, at the base of the mountain. This is also the largest. From there, a staircase takes you to the second pagoda, which is built into the mountain itself. It offers a nice view back over the lake.
At this viewpoint, turn around and face the mountain. There’s a very small little space on the left side, where you can actually go behind the building. This space turns into a path that takes you up some stairs and through a tall cave, and out and up another set of stairs to the final, small stone pagoda and another beautiful viewpoint.
- Cost: Free (but you will need to pay ~5000 dong (20 cents USD) for parking.
- Hours: Open all the time
Map of Ninh Binh Attractions to See on a Day Trip
Getting Back to Hanoi
If you took the train or bus, make sure that you have a separate ticket for the return journey booked! When you’re booking tickets, its worth looking at both round trip options and one way options. It might work better for your schedule to take the bus out and the train home, or vice versa.
>>Book your bus or train tickets from Ninh Binh back to Hanoi here.
How I Would Recommend Structuring Your Ninh Binh Day Trip
If you’re going to Ninh Binh from Hanoi on your own (e.g. not part of the guided tour), then here is how I would recommend structuring your day in Ninh Binh:
- Catch the first train or bus out of Hanoi, around 6am, or have your driver meet you around 6am to start the drive out of Hanoi. This will get you to Ninh Binh around 8am.
- Pick up a rental scooters (if taking the train or bus), and then head straight to the Hang Mua caves. The sooner you get here, the better, as the overlooks aren’t huge and visiting with fewer people is ideal.
- Go do the boat tour at Trang An or Tam Coc.
- By this time, it’ll be around lunchtime. Stop at any small cafe or street food shop you pass by.
- In the afternoon, you can visit the Hoa Lu Citadel, and then the Bich Dong Pagoda. Hoa Lu closes first, at 5pm, but Bich Dong is always open.
- If you leave later in the morning, it’s possible you may run out of time to do both Hoa Lu and Bich Dong. In that case, you may end up needing to choose between the two locations.
Is One Day in Ninh Binh Enough?
Ninh Binh is a super fun spot to visit in the Vietnam countryside, and while there are other things you could do with more than one day in Ninh Binh (such as visit the Bai Dinh Complex, the Van Long Nature Preserve, or just spend more time biking around the countryside), it is definitely possible to experience the highlights with one day in Ninh Binh.
The Wrap Up – Is Ninh Binh Worth Visiting?
1000% I think Ninh Binh is worth visiting – we adored the charming country vibes, the interesting attractions, and the absolutely gorgeous mountain and water views. This was probably our favorite spot in all of Vietnam – definitely schedule a day in your Vietnam itinerary to visit!
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