Ninh Binh Province in northern Vietnam is the country’s newest backpacking hotspot thanks to its stunning natural scenery, historical sites, and delicacies.
Ninh Binh is a mountainous province located in the southernmost part of the Red River Delta, roughly 100 kilometers from Hanoi.
It is home to numerous prominent beautiful destinations, including Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex, and the Tam Coc - Bich Dong landscape complex, as well as many important spiritual venues, such as Phat Diem Stone Church and Bai Dinh Pagoda.
The province covers over 1,400 square kilometers of land and has a population of approximately 1.12 million people and features typical northern Vietnamese weather – chilly, wet winters and warm summers - similar to Hanoi.
Most visitors to Ninh Binh stay for 1-2 days, but to truly conquer all the area’s most popular tourist attractions takes at least 3 days.
The ideal time to visit
Ninh Binh can be visited at any time of year, and each of the province’s seasons offers a unique perspective on the stunning landscape.
|Visitors crowd Hoa Lu Ancient Town to release lantern on Buddha's Birthday in Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Bui Truong Chung / Tuoi Tre|
February to April is the beginning of high season for tourism in Ninh Binh, with most visitors during this period being pilgrims and early-year visitors to tourist attractions.
Important celebrations like as the Trang An Festival and Buddha's Birthday take place during this time.
|Tourists pick lotus flowers at a lotus pond in Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Bui Truong Chung / Tuoi Tre|
The high season then rolls into May through August when, even on the hottest days, the province remains a top destinations for travelers thanks to the abundance of green-covered mountains, caves, and rivers.
This is also the time of year when lotus flowers blossom, a phenomenon which pulls in photographers from across the country.
|Two girls pose for a photo in front of the ancient persimmon tree in Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Bui Truong Chung / Tuoi Tre|
Autumn, from September to November in Ninh Binh, features picturesque landscapes formed by the brilliant yellow of ripe rice fields.
Winter, which lasts from December to January, is cold in Ninh Binh, and a popular time for weekend travelers to visit the province and enjoy local foods.
|Tourists ride bicycles around Ninh Binh to take in the scenery. Photo: Bui Truong Chung / Tuoi Tre|
The province is accessible by both National Highway 1A and the north-to-south railway system.
It takes slightly over an hour by car to reach the province from Hanoi. There is essentially no traffic jams in Ninh Binh, so visitors can explore the area by motorbike, cab, or bicycle.
The Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex, the province’s most popular tourist site, is unquestionably one of the most stunning attractions in the ancient capital.
|Boats dock Trang An Boathouse in Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Bui Truong Chung / Tuoi Tre|
The Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex was designated as World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site in June 2014 by UNESCO.
It consistently amazes visitors with its wild views and spectacular natural terrains, which include an idyllic river that meanders through a mysterious natural cave system.
|The magnificent Bai Dinh Pagoda in Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Bui Truong Chung / Tuoi Tre|
Bai Dinh Pagoda is not far from the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex. Bai Dinh is a spiritual complex with the largest and most distinctive religious architecture in Vietnam.
This site is home to Vietnam's largest bronze bell tower, the largest Maitreya Buddha statue, and the largest sacred pagoda well.
Visitors to Bai Dinh Pagoda can also check out the area’s beautiful natural surroundings and delve into its thrilling legends.
|A corner of Phat Diem Stone Church in Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Bui Truong Chung / Tuoi Tre|
The Phat Diem Cathedral, also known as the Phat Diem Stone Church, is another spiritual destination that can’t be missed.
The Phat Diem Stone Church is made up of a major church, five smaller churches, a common house, a pond, and three manmade caves.
It is well-known for its distinctive architecture, which exemplifies the ultimate harmony of Buddhism and Catholicism.
|Boats dock at Tam Coc Wharf in Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Bui Truong Chung / Tuoi Tre|
Tam Coc is another popular tourist site in Ninh Binh, thanks to its attractive seaside scenery.
Tam Coc translates to "three caverns," which include Ca Cave, Hai Cave, and Ba Cave. What makes these caves unique is that they are were formed by the Ngo Dong River, which flows through the mountain.
Visitors to Tam Coc can take a boat trip between the cliffs, drift along the Ngo Dong River into the caverns, and see each cave’s amazing stalactite system.
|A woman poses for a photo at Bich Dong Temple in Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Bui Truong Chung / Tuoi Tre|
Travelers can also visit Hang Mua (Mua Cave) to appreciate the entire poetic beauty of Tam Coc's green rice fields and the surround landscapes from atop the mountain’s 486 stone steps.
Bich Dong, an old temple with classic oriental architecture, is located near Tam Coc.
The system of pagodas and mountains at Bich Dong appears to be linked beneath ancient trees, connecting visitors with the ancient past.
|Tourists visit the palace of Hoa Lu ancient capital in Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Bui Truong Chung / Tuoi Tre|
Hoa Lu's old capital is a popular tourist site for both domestic and international visitors.
It is the capital of Vietnam's first feudal state and still has several historical and culturally significant palaces, temples, pagodas, and tombs.
Every year during the third lunar month, the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital Festival is held there, complete with a variety of appealing cultural activities.
|This photo shows the Am Tien Cave in Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Bui Truong Chung / Tuoi Tre|
Am Tien Cave is located in the complex of Hoa Lu ancient capital relics, and it is loved by many tourists because of the mysterious legends associated with its unique terrain.
Those who love nature and want to admire rare animals should not miss other sites, such as Cuc Phuong National Park, Van Long Lagoon, and the Thung Nham Bird Park Eco-tourism Area.
Cuc Phuong National Park is like a vast nature museum, with thousands of years ancient trees and unusual animal species on display.
|Birds fly at the Thung Nham Bird Park Eco-tourism Area in Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Bui Truong Chung / Tuoi Tre|
Van Long Lagoon is the Red River Delta's largest wetland nature reserve and is home to thousands of animals, plants, and aquatic life.
Thung Nham Bird Park Eco-tourism Area is surrounded by tropical forests situated atop limestone mountains and overlooking with various valleys and caves. It is home to over 40 bird species and 50,000 birds.
|Locals sail along the river in Hoa Lu Ancient Town at night in Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Bui Truong Chung / Tuoi Tre|
Visitors to Ninh Binh can also visit Hoa Lu Ancient Town, Co Vien Lau (Vietnam Ancient Village), Chau Son Monastery, and the Dong Chuong lake golf course.
Visitors to Ninh Binh can enjoy several appealing specialties that are rare to find in other Vietnamese provinces.
De nui (mountain goat) is naturally grazed, and the meat is reasonably soft and not overly tough.
|A dish of 'de nui' (mountain goat meat) is served with pickled figs, herbs and dipping sauces along with two bowls of 'tiet canh' (blood pudding). Photo: Bui Truong Chung / Tuoi Tre|
It has a distinct odor, although it is not heated or unpleasant after processing.
Goat meat is used in a variety of recipes, the most well-known of which is arguably the stir-fried goat or goat meat with lime juice.
You've certainly seen puffed rice before, but in Ninh Binh, puffed rice is meticulously manufactured.
|A bowl of Ninh Binh puffed rice is seen in the photo. Photo: Duc De / Tuoi Tre|
The rice is combined between two types of dry rice and sticky rice, and it goes through numerous processing phases to produce a final product which is crispy and delectable.
Puffed rice from Ninh Binh is typically served with sauce and mountain goat meat.
|This supplied photo shows a dish of 'oc nui' (moutain snails).|
Vietnamese snail is already well-known in the coastal region, but visitors should experience Ninh Binh's oc nui (mountain snail), which will leave diners with a memorable flavor of this delicacy.
Oc nui live in limestone caves and emerge only from April to August.
Its meat is a little rough and has a distinct sweet flavor. Snails are prepared in a variety of ways, including sautéing with lemongrass and chiles, boiling snails to dip in fish sauce, and steaming snails with ginger.
|A dish of 'nem chua Yen Mac' is served with herbs and dipping sauces. Photo: Hue Trinh / Tuoi Tre|
Nem chua Yen Mac (Vietnamese cured fermented pork from Yen Mac Commune) is a delectable speciality that may be purchased as a gift after visiting Ninh Binh.
It is produced from ham that has been defatted and thinly sliced rather than pureed. Boiling pork skin will also be julienned before all ingredients being wrapped in guava and banana leaves.
Nem chua Yen Mac have a distinct aroma, somewhat sour, sweet meat, and are served with herbs and sweet and sour dipping sauce.
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