In this blog, I will pen down my experiences about no extraordinary place, but beautiful yet simple Vietnam countryside called Ninh Binh. I would recommend anyone going to Vietnam to visit the countryside with no expectations at all. You will like it, in fact, love it all as countrysides are mostly about scenic beauty, natural wonders, small things leaving a significant impact.
I long for the countryside. That’s where I get my calm and tranquillity – from being able to come and find a spot of green.
Hanoi to Ninh Binh Journey
So, We started our journey from Hanoi. We liked Hanoi as a city. Busy, hectic, horns, etc. Then Halong Bay, it is a wonderful addition to our journey for which I would even like to revisit Vietnam. After Halong Bay, I caught a train from Hanoi. It’s merely a 2-3 hours seated train journey to Ninh Binh. Let’s say, if you compared trains in Thailand and Vietnam, Thailand would be an undoubted winner. I don’t mean at all that trains in Vietnam are not good, clean or comfortable But I hate to say that I don’t found them worth the fare we pay. But the journey I must say is full of paddies, sceneries like one below.
First Impression of Ninh Binh
On reaching Ninh Binh your initial thoughts would be like it’s a small city with friendly people and full of scenic wonders, etc. We booked our stay at hostelworld.com. It’s a place called Go Ninh Binh Hostel. It used to be a railway station previously. I won’t say it’s a posh place to stay, but definitely something different old architecture with a high ceiling. We reached there sometime after 1 PM. They issue a locker as soon as you check in. You need to place your shoes in that lockers near the reception, to keep this place clean and tidy.
Some things for which you will remember Ninh Binh for are:
- Tam Coc: It’s also one another UNESCO world heritage site. Rich in natural beauty, it’s like Halong Bay on land. It’s a limestone formation between scenic rice paddies. We loved the Tam Coc on a boat ride, with the serene background music of the river rushing against the boat paddle. You have to pay the boat fees and per person ticket. A mature local lady rode us between the paddies, for around a couple of hours. She is a helpful soul, as when it started raining in between she handed over her umbrella to us.
Always check the weather forecast, before visiting Tam Coc.
SCAM ALERT: At the end of your ride, you will see sort of small floating market. These floating market are also operated by locals, which will insist you to buy something for the woman/man who paddles your boat. But, I would say don’t buy them anything from those sellers as they overprice items. Also whatever you get them, they will return it to the seller. Take some margin from them and gives them the rest of the margin. Pictures below will illustrate what I am trying to say in a better way.
- Rent a bike: Rent a bike and start riding without any destination. Ninh Binh is so scenic that you will love riding aimlessly for hours. You will either have limestone formations around or rice padding. Bike rentals are affordable in this region of Vietnam and Thailand. Try some street food, enjoy the weather, ride and friendly and helpful people around. Just switch off the GPS and explore for some time.
- Eat out at local cafes: Now, I will state why I said in some of the previous posts that people here are courteous and open to tourists. Most of the cafes and restaurants here are on the street in front of this hostel. I would say almost all of them are open in their houses, where dining or drawing room serves the purpose of a restaurant. What they serve is delicious home cooked food, which I must say is very affordable and finger licking good. Though they take slightly longer to prepare the food, every minute is worth it. One of the restaurants we went to, they served FREE local beer, FREE snacks. Not that their food price is so high, that they are adding the hidden value in the same. But it feels perfect to have a beer and snacks for an evening chit-chat. Though I think, almost everybody is going to order something or other after that drink, so they are right. Another evening we rented a bike from one of these restaurants only, as every family here runs a lot of businesses from food to bike rentals to tours.
- Another surprise while bidding Adieu to Ninh Binh: Another evening, we are getting ready for our train to Hue, so don’t have much time to spare for food. But still, we are hungry, we sat at one of the busiest restaurants of them at that time, asked them how much time will they take? They are like a little bit. And on seeing our luggage, asked us that if we need to board any train or what. We told them our train number; they are like don’t worry you will catch it, I was wondering how. But anyways the meal arrived, we had it in a hurry. While we are finishing it, the restaurant owner came to us, saying that I will pack the rest of the meal which we are not able to eat it hurry. Cab for a railway station is waiting for us outside, which is FREE again, a complimentary ride from them. It still does not end here; she handed us a bag with a water bottle, some snacks, biscuits, wafers, etc. for the journey.
I mean this thing may hold a little monetary worth. But when someone does such kind of stuff for you, it feels so good. You will understand it when it happens to you, that on unknown land where most of the people or business owners are after taking as much money as possible out of tourists, there still exist people who offer free cab, free food for your journey. 🙂
- Bich Dong Pagoda, Hoa Lu District: I would say, I don’t visit temples alot. But Pagoda is one thing here, and the ride to this pagoda is another. You will surely love the way green paddies on the way, also you can see a large group of chickens floating and roaming around in the way. Pagoda is dark, moist but I must say a walk to the top of the Pagoda is worth it. It’s a spectacular group of pagodas altogether. There is one Lower Pagoda is located at the ground level, from which 100-120 steps you will see the Middle Pagoda, and then just after a short but little steep ascend, and you will see the Upper Pagoda. Top of them offers excellent countryside views.
NOTE: This is an underrated city of Vietnam, but I liked it for what it is. Though I won’t deny that I visited Ninh Binh to experience this picture in reality, but I didn’t found it hopefully, this is only an aerial view. But when you are there in between in a boat, you cant witness it like this, but whatever part we have seen in this city, we liked it: small, beautiful, friendly and generous people, positive vibes, delicious food, lush green surroundings.
Book your stay in Ninh Binh from the link below; This link will take you directly to the place we stayed at Go Ninh Binh Hostel.