Exploring the often overlooked karst landscape of Ninh Binh, A short ride from Hanoi but a world away from the city!

Sitting just 90km south of Hanoi the beautiful Karst region of Ninh Binh Vietnam is often described as Ha Long Bay without the water. Being so close to both the capital and the famous bay itself it often gets over looked by travellers either keen to make more ground up on the first leg of their way south or those pushing through to finish on their journey north. However this small city with its stunning national park is well worth a visit to avoid the crowds and price gouging that blights some of the other sights Vietnam is famous for.

Exploring the often overlooked karst landscape of Ninh Binh, A short ride from Hanoi but a world away from the city, Ninh Binh Vietnam, Tam Coc, Bich Dong, view point, hike, free, cheap, tour, motorbike, scooter, Mua Caves, things to do in Minh Binh, what to do

Making the most of Ninh Binh Vietnam on a budget

Like anywhere in the world and especially Vietnam you can spent as little or as much as you are willing to and get varying degrees of satisfaction out of that. In places such as Phong Nha as a budget traveller you often feel left out of the loop of the main action. However due to Ninh Binh being a somewhat over looked location as well as much more accessible than the jungles of Phong Nha or the bay of Ha Long it means adventure is out there for those on a budget.

Exploring the often overlooked karst landscape of Ninh Binh, A short ride from Hanoi but a world away from the city, Ninh Binh Vietnam, Tam Coc, Bich Dong, view point, hike, free, cheap, tour, motorbike, scooter, Mua Caves, things to do in Minh Binh, what to do

Not only are many of the notable sights much cheaper but there are also many places to explore for free if you have your own transport, which again is available for a nominal fee. Ninh Binh Vietnam and the national park are also nice places to ride around and tours are really quite unnecessary given the compact nature of this region too.

Exploring the often overlooked karst landscape of Ninh Binh, A short ride from Hanoi but a world away from the city, Ninh Binh Vietnam, Tam Coc, Bich Dong, view point, hike, free, cheap, tour, motorbike, scooter, Mua Caves, things to do in Minh Binh, what to do

Top experiences for a short trip to Ninh Binh Vietnam

Tam Coc

Ninh Binh’s most famous attraction you can take one of the traditional boats and take in the stunning route of the river Ngo Dong from the bottom of the rice paddy covered valleys. Weaving in and out of the mountains and seeing just how this river feeds the farming community here is on of the best perspectives from which to take in this region. To make the experience that much more interesting it is highly likely that your guide will row with their feet rather than their hands, keeping them free for holding an umbrella or talking on the phone! Quite a sight to see and an example of some amazing skill!

Exploring the often overlooked karst landscape of Ninh Binh, A short ride from Hanoi but a world away from the city, Ninh Binh Vietnam, Tam Coc, Bich Dong, view point, hike, free, cheap, tour, motorbike, scooter, Mua Caves, things to do in Minh Binh, what to do

Hiking up to the Bich Dong pagoda…and scrambling further!

For the tiny fee of 10,000 dong, around £0.40 you can visit the cave of Bich Dong. But where many do the short hike and turn back around rather underwhelmed the intrepid continue up along the sharp ridge towards the top of the peak.

Exploring the often overlooked karst landscape of Ninh Binh, A short ride from Hanoi but a world away from the city, Ninh Binh Vietnam, Tam Coc, Bich Dong, view point, hike, free, cheap, tour, motorbike, scooter, Mua Caves, things to do in Minh Binh, what to do

Following the shiny and well worn rock rather than a clearly marked path the scrambling is steep and the rock sharp, but for those well versed in climbing an easy and enjoyable task. Up here you will likely find yourself alone, or maybe even a few mountain goats for company, but the views over the valley, mountains, rice paddies and lakes below will reward your adventurous spirit!

Exploring the often overlooked karst landscape of Ninh Binh, A short ride from Hanoi but a world away from the city, Ninh Binh Vietnam, Tam Coc, Bich Dong, view point, hike, free, cheap, tour, motorbike, scooter, Mua Caves, things to do in Minh Binh, what to do

View over the river at Mua Caves

There are hundreds of Karst Mountains that characterise this region, each one offering a different and unique viewpoint on this beautiful landscape. Reputed to be the most beautiful and also providing that picture postcard view of Ninh Binh used to advertise this region the hike up Mua Caves Is not to be missed.

Exploring the often overlooked karst landscape of Ninh Binh, A short ride from Hanoi but a world away from the city, Ninh Binh Vietnam, Tam Coc, Bich Dong, view point, hike, free, cheap, tour, motorbike, scooter, Mua Caves, things to do in Minh Binh, what to do

Its hard going in the heat of early summer up the hundreds of steps to reach the top of Mua but once you do reach the top you will be blown away. Make sure to continue your climb up and on top of the Dragon for unforgettable views down on the Ngo Dong River as it makes its way through the lush rice paddies.

Exploring the often overlooked karst landscape of Ninh Binh, A short ride from Hanoi but a world away from the city, Ninh Binh Vietnam, Tam Coc, Bich Dong, view point, hike, free, cheap, tour, motorbike, scooter, Mua Caves, things to do in Minh Binh, what to do

Explore by bike

Most of the sights of Ninh Binh are within a 12km ride from the city centre which makes them easily accessible on your own. On either a bicycle or motorbike the best way to see the stunning beauty of the Cuc Phuong National Park in on two wheels.

Exploring the often overlooked karst landscape of Ninh Binh, A short ride from Hanoi but a world away from the city, Ninh Binh Vietnam, Tam Coc, Bich Dong, view point, hike, free, cheap, tour, motorbike, scooter, Mua Caves, things to do in Minh Binh, what to do

Quiet and flat roads provide the perfect surface between the towering limestone formations to take a leisurely ride. Finding routes along the backstreets and dirt tracks often also providing the most wonderful and unspoilt scenery.

Exploring the often overlooked karst landscape of Ninh Binh, A short ride from Hanoi but a world away from the city, Ninh Binh Vietnam, Tam Coc, Bich Dong, view point, hike, free, cheap, tour, motorbike, scooter, Mua Caves, things to do in Minh Binh, what to do

Have you ever visited a karst region like Ninh Binh?

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Exploring the often overlooked karst landscape of Ninh Binh, A short ride from Hanoi but a world away from the city!

Nicola Hilditch-Short

Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.
  • Lauren Craving Sunshine

    Great post….but i’m confused how they row the boat with their feet?! Like do they just move their foot in the water or do they hold the oar with their feet?!

    • Ha ha, they seem to be able to grip with their feet, its a bit strange and a real skill!

  • Hi Nic,

    LOVED Ninh Binh!

    We visited in 2012. Stayed about a 10 minute bike ride from the karsts. Rode over, met a Vietnamese lady who spoke a few words of English – tour, 5 dollars, LOL! – and we were off. 5 freaking USD for a 3-4 hour boat tour of the water, stunning views of karsts, tea at her home, a few stops on little islands – one of which had a dog in a tiny cage….and I knew for what….YIKES!!!!! – and back we went. Also biked around town.

    Fun fact: Ninh Binh was a film location for the current blockbuster Kong: Skull Island.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Ryan

    • Yes, it is a really interesting place and quite untouched by tourism for somewhere so beautiful and close to Hanoi. Yes we watched the film recently actually and recognised here, Phong Nha and Halong bay! Great place for a film setting! Thanks!

  • I have been to Vietnam, but not visited this area. It looks fantastic!! Great post!

  • Looks like a stunning area. I’m heading to Vietnam in May but unfortunately, won’t have time to visit this area. I wish my trip was a little longer.

    • Vietnam is such a big country, we found this out after 7 weeks! So much to see so I understand that completely, maybe on your return!

  • Lara Dunning

    The view from the peak is amazing! I would be one of the ones to scramble up the rocks to see that. Vietnam hasn’t really been on my radar, but your travels have got me thinking more and more about it.

    • There really is so much to see over there and so diverse too, there are downsides to the country for sure but the good bits outweigh them.