When traveling Vietnam one of the first things people will ask is, “Are you going to Ha Long Bay?”. Ha Long Bay is famous for it’s gorgeous limestone mountains contrasted with turquoise water. It’s super popular to book a cruise around the bay.
This seems like something we would definitely be into typically, except we ran into a few things that were turning us off. It seemed super touristic and crowded. Plus on our budget we couldn’t swing a nice boat so it seemed like a sub-par experience. And honestly, we weren’t sure it would live up to the hype. I mean, we had just spend the last month in the Philippines and El Nido has some unparalleled beauty when it comes to limestone cliffs and stunning water.
So after doing some research and talking with some friends, we discovered Ninh Binh. A city on our route from north to south with the same jawdropping cliffs, except they’re on land not water. I found a great spot to stay and we were in!
Where to stay in Ninh Binh
We stayed at Ninh Binh Retreat and it was awesome. We had a little cabin right on the river. The staff was great and we ate at the hotel restaurant one night since there isn’t much else around. I had lemongrass goat (Grant woudln’t try it!) and it was surprisingly good. They also rented us a moped for around $7 a day.
What to do in Ninh Binh
We started our trip in Trang An and visited the Trang An Grottos. The queue was a mess and felt like we were at Disney World. At a phase when we were always cringing at the thought of being tourists, we almost skipped it altogether, but were so glad we didn’t! Things are touristy for a reason right? You ride around on a little boat with a guide. There was another couple on our boat who were really cool. The caves and grottos were beautiful!
Afterwards we scooted over to town for dinner, beers, and a game of Exploding Kittens.
We started day two with a motorbike ride out to Van Long Nature Reserve. We hopped on a small boat where a woman paddled us though caves (It was basically a less touristy version of Trang An.) It was beautiful and we even saw langurs which are like crazy little monkeys!
We then scooted around the Tam Coc rice fields and visited the Bich Dong Pagoda. It was old and secluded in the mountain. We felt like Indiana Jones!
Afterward we hiked the Hang Mua Temple Overlook. The views from the top of the dragon were stunning! Ha Long Bay who? The only downside was the selfie overload of everybody. (We were guilty too!)
We wrapped up our day back in Trang An at Bai Dinh Pagoda which was quite impressive and possibly the coolest temple we went to in SE Asia. And of course you know Grant, we were in some tower that was technically closed as the sun was going down. Creepy but thrilling!
I loved Ninh Binh. I didn’t know what to expect but left in awe of the natural beauty and pagodas of this Vietnamese town.
Never bored in Ninh Binh,
Note: We visited Ninh Binh in April 2019.