We nearly cut Ninh Binh out of our already tight Vietnamese itinerary and I’m so so glad, after much persuasion, that we kept it in.
This was by far one of the biggest train stations we’d seen. When we jumped off the night train mid-morning there was so much hustle and bustle. Fortunately it was the first station we’d been to where the train doors were at the same level as the platform so we didn’t have to haul all the suitcases (kids and the odd OAP) precariously down the train steps.
Landscape wise it was like being in Lan Ha Bay but with land and streams instead of water. I can’t get across at how beautiful it is here but it was hot hot hot, there was no breeze moving through at all in August. Even jumping into the pool was like jumping into a hot spring, not quite the cooling off we had been hoping for. But that aside it was a stunning and magical area.
We stayed at… Aravinda Resort which was the perfect location to cycle to local points of interest and only 20-mins away from the boat ride and train station by car. It was also only 2-hours from here back to Hanoi Airport.
We had two nights here and two days, so we were limited on what we could explore and see so we choose these three things to do in Ninh Binh.
- Sunshine Valley Boat Ride around the rice fields and caves, Ninh Binh
Our first night here was also our last night here with our buddies The Goodys. So we headed straight over to the boat ride through the hills. It seems we hadn’t had enough of being on a boat this trip (well all of us apart from maybe my friend Vics, but she put on a smile).
We actually couldn’t have timed it better, as we arrived there were no queues whatsoever. We paid and walked straight onto our awaiting boats. Judging by the amount of bollards and queue management in place it can get extremely busy. We went late afternoon a few hours before closing and opted for the 2-hour tour, which was plenty long enough.
The boats seat four guests and you each get kitted out with a life vest and an oar… Whilst we’d have very much liked to have kicked back and enjoy the scenery our lady-boat driver kept heckling us and getting us to get paddle too. So we got a work out and still managed to sneak in some photos.
We did however take advantage of the stops along the way where you can take a walk (cough: rest from paddling) around the temples. One of the last things I was expecting to see was the Kong movie set in the middle of Ninh Ninh, but it was fun to wander around with the kids.
The caves were an adventure, and really deep a couple took 10-15mins to paddle through. This is what I’d expected to see in Lan Ha Bay, the Ninh Binh caves were 100% better.
Tip: Have some cash with you as the rowers expect a tip.
2. Bich Dong Pagoda, Ninh Binh
Our hotel was only a short cycle away from the local shops and restaurants so on our last morning we decided to check out this cave pagoda which is carved into the rock face on three levels.
We had fun climbing the steps around the temple. But my little lady tripped as she was walking up the steps luckily a lovely Chinese lady caught her and put her back on her feet. We thanked her and didn’t think anymore of it. Later the same lovely lady insisted on buying both the kids a gift, when we crossed paths with her again in the market stall, to remember their holiday by. Truly touched that there are so many nice people in this world.
If you make it up to the top be ready to leave a life lesson in the note book on the counter in the temple… ours was ‘Have fun, be kind and stop using plastic which is ruining the oceans’.
There were lots of stalls selling a bit of everything in town and it was also a good opportunity to stock up on some last minute holiday nik naks, which were actually the cheapest we’d seen all trip.
We avoided being out in the middle of the day so headed back for lunch and a rest before the bird park.
3. Cycle around the Bird Park Nature Reserve, Ninh Binh (Bird Valley)
We were lucky this was just on our doorstep, so we borrowed bikes from the hotel and set off. The kids loved sitting on the back of the bikes, which was fine on the flats but meant walking up the hills, haha. Whilst it was only a five min cycle to the main entrance, it was then a cycle up a few hills to get to the actual bird reserve. It’s all worth it as it’s a stunning setting and actually not many tourists at all, we only saw a handful of people.
If you need refreshment there was a hotel offering drinks and also a couple cafes.
We cycled around the reserve and walked up to the looking point. Unfortunately I hadn’t packed my zoom lens on this occasion so only a few scenery shots to share.
I saw a few people arriving for sunset as we were leaving, I bet they got some awesome photos! Although one of my favourite moments was lounging in the pool after our bike ride and watching 100s of birds flying overhead going to the reserve for the night.
Tip: wear trainers and long trousers/pants we got so bitten.
If you love this post check out the others in the Vietnam series…