Ninh Binh’s landscape of jagged peaks could be taken straight from the pages of Vietnamese legend, but it’s real enough — and whether you explore by boat, bike or foot, it always delivers.
You’ll often hear Ninh Binh referred to as “Halong Bay on land” - which is hardly surprising given that these are two of the most impressive karst landscapes in Asia. But Ninh Binh isn’t just somewhere to go if you don’t have time for Halong Bay, or if you don’t want to spend the night on a boat. Ninh Binh is stunning.
Ninh Binh’s steep-sided mountain scenery of jagged, tooth-like pinnacles was formed by the same erosive forces of wind and rain that shaped the pinnacles of Halong Bay. Between the peaks, however, is where the magic happens. Instead of a vast expanse of water, picture pancake-flat rice paddies threaded with meandering rivers, farmland dotted with goats and water buffalo, gardens alive with exotic birds, grottoes that tunnel beneath mountains, and pagodas hidden in lush green forest.
Though few Westerners have heard of it, Ninh Binh is popular with Vietnamese tourists and towns such as Tam Coc are well set up for visitors. We’ve still found plenty of opportunities to get away from the crowds, either scrambling up the 500 steps at Hang Mua for stunning vistas, cycling to temples carved into limestone cliffs, or taking a sampan ride down some of the region’s lesser-visited waterways.