Ninh Binh (pronounced Neeng Beeng) is the capital city of Ninh Binh Province in North Vietnam, famous for the nearby Karst scenery and the village of Tam Coc. There is nothing to do in Ninh Binh itself aside from drinking beer with the locals; the town is more useful as a base for the surrounding countryside. 6 km away, lies the spectacular Tam Coc.
There are regular buses from Hanoi's southern bus terminal (Giap Bat) that leave every 15 min (or whenever full) 70,000 Dong. Note that this may rise to 90,000 per person with luggage.Journey time for the 90km is 3 hours or more traffic depending. Buy a ticket in the ticket hall or you will likely have to pay more than 70,000 or be removed from the bus.the service is slow but relaxed and comfortable using one of the very common Hyundai 20-odd seat buses.
Open tour buses will drop passengers off upon request (Ninh Binh is not a regular stop). Most open tour buses from Hanoi will arrive at 9:30PM. Tour buses from Hue arrive at a rather early 4AM.
From Cat Ba island you can book a bus-boat-bus-bus ticket for 230,000 dong. It leaves at 9am and takes about 5h. The first bus takes you to the western side of the island where you transfer onto a boat to the port area south of Haiphong. A second bus takes you to a bus station in the city from where transport is provided to Bến xe Niệm Nghĩa bus station. From there you wait for the bus to leave at 12pm. The bus ends at Ninh Binh bus station, walking distance from hotels and hostels. All the above uses local transports so expect locals boarding at various places. [Sep 2013]
Alternative buses including tourist ones leave from Haiphong a few times a day.
Ninh Binh is a regular station for the Reunification Express, with trains coming from both North and South. It is usually a quick stop, with few people getting off, especially at night, so get off quick or miss the stop. Frm Hanoi, train leaves at 6:00, 9:00, 12:30, 15:30 and 20:10 (2 and half to 3-hour ride). Ask for 1st class, if not, you are sitting on wooden benches.
If you have very rigid travel dates, are traveling on a public holiday, or can't be bothered to head down to the train station before your train you can book tickets online. Vietnam Impressive  is a reliable agency.
As of June 2015, trains only stop in Ninh Binh's new train station, which is ~1km south of the old one. Take this into account when other sections make reference of hotels or restaurants in the train station area, as they will mean the old station.
A motorbike is the best way to view Ninh Binh and the surrounding areas. Most hotels can arrange for a motorbike driver/guide to take you around the sites for about US$15 a day.
Hire a motorbike (commonly Honda 110cc) for 200,000 Dong. These take 3 litres of fuel costing 70,000 which will last a day of exploring.
Tam Coc. One of Vietnam's most spectacular sights. If possible, take the boat ride in the morning before the excursion groups arrive from Hanoi, or late afternoon after the groups have left. Last boats start out about 5:30PM in the summer and 4:30PM in the winter. Its an easy bicycle ride here from Ninh Binh, with no hills. Beware, the floating drink sellers can be very persistent. Most will ask if you would like to buy a drink for the rower. This is usually sold back immediately for half price. Rowers can usually row with their feet as well as their hands, which makes quite an interest sight. Some boats have boxes loaded upon departure. They are filled with handicrafts (you can check it), and are meant for you to buy. Rowers are paid a minimum wage and have the right to a few tours a week only, so selling the famous Tam Coc hand-made embroideries, which the women rowers make at home, is the locals' main income. You are not obligated to buy any, but then, you should give the rower a tip, rowing is hard, especially when it is hot ! The area around Tam Coc is equally beautiful, and is best viewed from the back of a motorbike or by bicycle. In Tam Coc itself, apart from the boat ride, there are 2 beautiful sites to visit ; Bich Dong Pagoda, 2 km after the Tam Coc Pier, built on one of the cliff and which provides incredible views (go all the way to the top of the cliff via the small passage on the right of the last pagoda, which is inside the cliff) and Tai Vi Temple, accessible via the small road on the right of the pier. edit
Trang An Grottoes, (7 km from Ninh Binh). An easy bicycle ride away, Trang An Grottoes is similar to Tam Coc but with many more caves to pass through. Most caves have been widened in order for the boats to pass through and as result their natural beauty has been compromised. The first two caves are the most natural and beautiful but are also tight in places, so watch your head. Lots of concrete structures are being built all over the place and rice paddies are disappearing fast but hopefully this area will not lose its splendor. The site was mainly built for Vietnamese and Chinese tourists, not the most discreet in the world, and does not have the charm as the Tam Coc one. 150,000 per person. edit
Cuc Phuong National Park, (45km from Ninh Binh), . Cuc Phuong National Park is approximately 1 to 1.5 hours from Ninh Binh. It is a well preserved rainforest with an Endangered Primates Rescue Centre near the entrance. You can visit the primates centre only with a guide, which costs an extra 50,000 dong per person. There are about 150 primates here being prepared for release back in the wild. Most are from other parts of Vietnam and any releases will be where they originally come from. There is also a botanical garden and a turtle center. There are no other major sights. From the entrance you can drive, motorbike or cycle a further 20 km along a densely rainforested road, from which several tracks lead you through the jungle to prehistoric trees and caves. Cycling is probably the most rewarding way to travel this 20 km of often steeply inclined paved road and mountain bikes can be hired at the park entrance. One of the amazing things about this drive is the 1000's upon 1000's of colourful butterflies filling the roadway. Peak time for butterflies apparently is during April and May but in later months there may still many to be seen. The road ends at the Park Centre (Bong) with a restaurant and a place to buy snacks, and where several forest walks start. Many of them require a guide (16$ per day, speaking good English and waiting at the reception), as the trailheads to the guided walks are hidden and in the past, tourists lost orientation in the dense forest, so rescue operations were required. One walk that can be done independ is 6-7 km long and leads through the primary rain forest with lianes etc. to a thousand-year-old tree. Some enjoy to touch the old cho xanh (parashrea stellata) and sau (Dracontomelum Duperranum or Dancorra Edulis) trees, 50-70 m high The best chance to see any animals here is at night. Guided night tours for overnight stayers are available costing $20. The park is also suitable to watch birds, butterflies and orchid flowers. They are more concentrated than in a typical butterfly farm enclosure. A limited amount of overnight accommodation is available in either a detached bungalow ($27) or a stilt house ($5-7).40,000 dong entrance fee. edit
Hoa Lu Ancient Capital. Ancient capital of Vietnam until 1010, this royal city is 15 km from Ninh Binh and Tam Coc. Not too much remains except for some beautiful archways and the temples of Dinh Tien Hoang, Nhat Tru Temple and Le Dai Hanh.edit
Phat Diem Cathedral. 34 km from Ninh Binh, in the middle of the canals and the rice fields of the delta, the small commune of Phat Diem was during the French period the "Vatican of North Vietnam", it's St Peter being a huge cathedral built between 1874 and 1898. Mixing Eastern and Western architectural styles, it is quite spectacular, especially because of its size (75m x 27m x 15m height)and its interior with its huge iron wood columns. On each side have been built 2 small gothic chapels.edit
Bich Dong Pagoda, (Follow the road pass the Tam Coc 'pier' for about 3km to the west.). An interesting 15th century pagoda with three levels in a steep Mountains side, offering nice views. Ha, Trung, and Thuong Pagodas, in ascending order. Some of the temples are build right into caves and you can explore. After the highest temple you may also like to ignore the sign and climb up the rocks (there is a clear path) to the top of the rock, the view is worth the scramble.free. edit
Manh Hung Gym, Ngõ 36 Phạm Văn Nghị, Đông Thành, tp.. 15:30-19:00 daily. Basic gym with machines and free weights, no cardio equipment.Mostly male membership.10,000 dong a visit as of November 2014. (20.261966,105.977848)edit
Mountain goat (de nui) meat is a local speciality, often eaten with fried rice (com chien). Another local specialty is cơm cháy (not to be confused with cơm chay, vegetarian food), which is the burnt rice off the bottom of the pot, served with pork. Duck features in many restaurants, and there are numerous dog-meat restaurants scattered throughout town (look for signs with a picture of a Great Dane or similar breed and the words thit cho).
The area near the train station has become a mini-backpacker area, and there are 4-5 backpacker cafes there with English menus and tourist prices (40,000-70,000d; coffee 15,000-20,000d). The three most popular restaurants are called "Good Food", "Cheap Good Food", and "Fast Food Cheap" (all on Hoang Hoa Tham).
Pho B o 24, Ninh Binh (It's on Le Hong Phong, northeast of the intersection with Luong Van Tuy). For 30,000 dong we visited a great place with fried rice, noodles, pickled vegetables. the workers there speak english.30,000. edit
Chookie's Travel Cafe, 17 Luong Van Tuy. Great choice for those looking for some western food and also serve decent Vietnamese options at a reasonable price. Staff speak excellent English and give you great advice about the area. edit
In Ninh Binh, there are a number of cheap hotels just outside the train station and next to the bus station. Other hotels are located near the center of town. As there is nothing to see in town, either area is suitable. The area near the train station has become a mini-backpacker district, complete with travel agents, touts, overpriced drinks and English-menu restaurants. But, as written above, most people sleep in amazing Tam Coc, with its vast array of new hotels from 4 stars to Backpackers dormitory.
Limestone View Homestay, Xuan Thanh Road, Xuan Ang Noi Village, Ninh Xuan Commun, Hoa Lu district, ☎ +84 918 453 761 emailadress: email@example.com. Beautiful Homestay on the edge of town (built 2014) overlooking the limestone cliffs. Fantastic views from the big immaculately presented rooms with airco, fan and attached bathroom with hot water. Convieniently located for exploring nearby Trang An (UNESCO world heritage site) Wharf and Grottos, Tam Cok. On the way to Cuc Phong National Park. Push bikes and a great breakfast with fruitsalad and juice is included - delicious. Services available include: meals, rentals, transfers, free wifi, tours and travel advice etc. Very hospitable host, highly recommended as true family experience.US$ 47 (double room incl. breakfast and pushbikes). edit
Kim Lien Guesthouse, Ngo 212,Number 54 (On a small and quiet sideroad not far from the center of town), ☎ +84306250800, . Situated on a small and quiet sideroad this place is run by the charismatic Madame Lien, and is a no frills yet very honest place to stay. Rooms are clean ($15 for a double). Lien is very friendly, provides help with local transportation,bike rentals, Open Tour bus tickets, and also sometimes offers to cook dinner for $5 per person (be prepared for loads of food). Doors are sometimes closed at 10.30pm, but the staff can be woken by simply knocking on the doors (or preferably informing them of late arrivals or excursions beforehand).US$12-US$18. edit
An Phu Homestay, Thuong Nam Village, Ninh Nhat Commune, Ninh Binh (~6km from Ninh Binh train station), ☎ +841667223668 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Actually like staying in a 5 star hotel but with homestay hospitality. Brand new homestay located in a tranquil village on the outskirts of Ninh Binh, just off the road to Trang An. Very friendly and hospitable owner can pick up guests from the train or bus stations in Ninh Binh. Also speaks good English and Japanese. Can provide delicious Vietnamese meals and offers tour service, motorbike rental, laundry service, bus tickets and handy local knowledge. Rooms include WiFi, western style toilets and very comfy beds.US$30/Room. (20.266934N,105.943617E)edit
Ngoc Anh Hotel, 30 Luong Van Tuy St, ☎ +84 30 3883-768, . Family hotel, friendly staff, good location, rooms are clean, all rooms have A/C, en-suite, cable TV with good reception, wifi. Deluxe rooms also have a computer, a fridge and balcony. There are 2 modern computers in reception/restaurant area. rooms include free breakfast and the hotel staff can arrange bicycle, motorcycle, or car tours of the areaUS$ 18-55. edit
Nha Viet Hotel, Đường Lê Thái Tổ, phố Đẩu Long (On the way to the stadium of Ninh Binh Vissai FC), ☎ +84 91 553 1317. Owners (family) will help you in every possible way. Cook food that you want, english-speaking staff, motorbike rental, wifi, clean, washing clothes, convenient location, far enough from main road to provide peace and quiet.US$12. edit
New Queen Mini Backpacker's Hotel (Hostel), 6 - 256 road - Ngo Gia Tu st (going out of the train station, follow the street on the left, it's the 3rd street on the right), ☎ 0303.893.118 (email@example.com). Located near the train and bus stations. Dorms are 3$ a night (63000VND), doubles starts at 8$. Friendly staff, but overly persistent at selling motorbikes, bus tickets, etc. Good wifi. Reasonably clean. Provide motorbike rental at 100000VND ( 5$, automatic and gears available ) a day. Tour services provided. (Updated July 2015) US$3-20. (20.250364,105.978804)edit
Queen Mini Hotel, 21 Hoang Hoa Tham (One block in front of the train station). Near the train and bus station, always packed with tourists and often full. Particularly popular with the French. Rooms are clean, friendly staff, good wifi and they offer the cheapest laundry in town (although still 30,000/kilo). They are affiliated with "Good Food" restaurant across the street. Be warned: there are three hotels sharing this name: The Queen Mini (this one), the Queen Hotel (across the street, upscale), the New Queen Mini Hotel (two streets south). (Updated July 2015) US$ 3-15. edit
Thanh Binh hotel, 31 Luong Van Tuy St, ☎ +84 30 872 439. Some members of the staff are somewhat helpful and friendly. Possibility to rent (motor)bikes for US$6/day. Breakfast is not included. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is added to some of their foods.US$ 12-20 (double room). edit
Thanh Thuy's Guest House and New Hotel, 128 Le Hong Phong, ☎ +84 30 387 1811, . The guest house rooms are large and pleasant with a shared bathroom. Hotel rooms are en-suite and quieter as they're set back from the road. There's a reasonably priced restaurant adjacent to reception. Motorbike and bicycles available for hire. Staff are a little brisk but helpful and speak good English.US$ 8-15 (guest house), US$15-35 (hotel). edit
Xua Hoa Hotel, 37 P Minh Khai (On the eastbound road from town center, next to a reservoir), ☎ +84 30 880-970. Owner will help you in every possible way. Great food, bicycle and motorbike rental, convenient location, though far enough from main road to provide peace and quiet.US$15-35. edit
Kinh Do Hotel, 18 Phan Dinh Phung St (100 metres east of main [Hwy1]), ☎ 030 3.899.152, . Newly purchased and managed by two brothers, Luong and Anh, who both speak good English. Clean quiet [despite proximity to main road] rooms, good food in clean restaurant, a/c, ensuite, free wifi in rooms,laundry,massage. Genuinely friendly staff. Very helpful [advice, bicycle/motorbike rental, tours to local attractions, pickup-dropoff at bus or train].US 7-25. edit
Canh Dieu, 74 Nguyen Van Cu (Behind Train Station), . checkin: 12; checkout: 12. Single, double and triple rooms at good prices with Breakfast included. The hotel have motorbikes for rent and can organise tour services. Friendly staff and the restaurant also serves good food for dinner.$13 - $23. edit
In Tam Coc, the best two hotels are :
Tam Coc Garden, ☎ +84 302 49 21 18, . Tam Coc Garden is situated behind the Bich Dong Pagoda, about 4 km from the center of Tam Coc. It is a hotel of deluxe bungalows, with a pool. A beautiful small resort...if you can afford it ! US$105-US$140. edit
Chez Loan, Bich Dong Road, ☎ +84 948 577 322, . is by far the most famous hotel in Tam Coc, thanks to the extraordinary personality of its owner, Mrs Loan, who also happens to be a Cordon Bleu. Located among the rice fields and peaks in a very quiet area on the road between Tam Coc and Bich Dong, it counts 15 rooms at 15-25$ and 2 large river bungalows at 55$ ... and the best restaurant in Tam Coc. Free wifi and bicycles. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Laos - There is a nightly bus from Hanoi that can stop in Ninh Binh on request. From there it is a grim 20 hour ride to Vientiane.
Thanh Hoa - Local minibus takes around 1 hour and cost 50,000. You can hail one from the main road heading south. [Sep 2013]
Vinh - There are plenty of sleeping buses that pass through Ninh Binh, you can hail one from the main road heading south. Local minibuses doesn't seem to operate to Vinh so you will have to stop in Thanh Hoa and find another bus. A local minibus from Thanh Hoa to Vinh costs 100,000 so 150,000 total. There is a sign in the bus station at Ninh Binh stating 90,000 to Vinh. [Sep 2013]
Dong Hoi - To get to Dong Hoi from Ninh Binh either jump on a bus passing through which is heading to Hue or Siagon, jump from town to town on the local buses, or take the train (recommended). The train may cost a little more but is definitely worth it to avoid all the hassle and is a lot faster. [Sep 2013]
Hue - Sleeper bus 300.000 dong, leaves at 9pm. It comes from Hanoi and stops at Ninh Binh on request. You can book at the bus station which is at walking distance from the train station, or at your hotel in most cases. Many accidents reported but budget travellers still choose this option. It does not appear to be much different by many other night buses in Vietnam, if you're used to them. Not recommended even by the locals, unless they want to sell you a ticket. Trains take 12h and leave at 8.32, 11.17 and 21.12, cost spans between 290.000 and 700.000 dong depending on seat/sleeper type.
Train- You can travel on an overnight train with the Reunification express. Tickets can be purchased in advance in Hanoi or online with Vietnam Impressive  a reliable agency.