2 Days in Ninh Binh Itinerary: What to do and eat in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc

Wondering what are the best things to do in Ninh Binh (and Tam Coc)? Keep reading for the ultimate 2 day Ninh Binh itinerary. This guide shows you what to do in Ninh Binh in 2 days as well as how to get around, where to stay, where to eat and the best photo spots!

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Ninh Binh? What’s That?” was my initial reaction when our hotel in Hanoi first recommended us to visit. Little did I know that recommendation was one of the best day trips we did from Hanoi. Ninh Binh (and Tam Coc) left such an impression on me that I decided I had to go back and see more.

Come my next trip to Vietnam and I added Ninh Binh to my 10 day Vietnam itinerary once again. This time I was able to spend two days in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc and it was one of the best experiences I had in Vietnam.

So…have you heard of Ninh Binh? Ninh Binh is probably one of the most underrated places in Northern Vietnam. While most tourists have Halong Bay on their Vietnam bucket list, Ninh Binh is actually the real gem here.

In this two day Ninh Binh (and Tam Coc) itinerary, I will show you the most beautiful places to see in Ninh Binh, how to get around Ninh Binh, where to eat and stay to help you plan the perfect Vietnam trip.

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I LOVE Vietnam and have visited multiple times, mostly in Northern Vietnam and Central Vietnam.

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If you are still trying to figure out what to do in Vietnam, be sure to check out my Vietnam blogs for some ideas.

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Hue Imperial Citadel in Vietnam

Where is Ninh Binh?

Ninh Binh is a province and a city (same name) located in Northern Vietnam. It is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. It takes about 2 hours driving to Ninh Binh (and Tam Coc) from Hanoi, making it suitable as both a day trip or multi-day trip.

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Tam Coc vs. Ninh Binh, What is the Difference?

By now you may have noticed that I am mentioning both Tam Coc and Ninh Binh. So you may be wondering if Tam Coc and Ninh Binh are the same place? If not, what is the difference?

Ninh Binh is the name of the province where both Tam Coc and the city of Ninh Binh are located. However to make things more confusing, Ninh Binh is also a city within the Province of Ninh Binh.

Tam Coc, on the other hand, is a small town near the city of Ninh Binh in the Province of Ninh Binh. This is where most tourists hang out and stay.

Another major difference between Ninh Binh and Tam Coc is that if you are taking a train from Hanoi, you would be going to Ninh Binh. There is no train station within Tam Coc since it is such a small town.

How to Get To Tam Coc and Ninh Binh

Given its proximity to Hanoi, there are multiple easy ways to go to Ninh Binh and Tam Coc from Hanoi, such as taking a tour, a shared van, a local bus, and a train.

Hanoi to Ninh Binh/ Tam Coc by Shared Van

As the name implies, a shared van is when you share a ride with other tourists in a luxury van that usually seats 10 to 15 people.

These vans can be booked online or through your hotel and they cost between $ 5 – 10 USD a person. I highly recommend booking a shared van since they pick you up directly from your hotel (if you are staying in the Old Quarter).

how to get to Ninh Binh from Hanoi: shared van in Vietnam

The van will also drop you off at your hotel in Ninh Binh or Tam Coc. In addition, the van is really nice, with leather seats, AC, water and USB charger. I have no complaints about the shared vans and think they are a great way to get to Tam Coc from Hanoi.

Hanoi to Tam Coc/ Ninh Binh by Bus

There are buses you can take to get to Ninh Binh/ Tam Coc from Hanoi. Unlike the shared van, you will need to take the bus from the bus station in Hanoi.

Buses are slightly cheaper than a shared van, generally costing between $4-6 USD a person. The bus generally drops you off in Ninh Binh instead of Tam Coc, so you will need to arrange a ride with your hotel (or rent a scooter) from Ninh Binh to Tam Coc.

You can book the bus from Hanoi Ninh Binh here as well. Keep in mind that buses generally take longer than shared vans. If you are not on a super strict budget, I still recommend the shared van since it is faster and drops you off at your hotel.

Getting to Ninh Binh by Train

If you want, you can take a train ride to Ninh Binh. Although most people take a bus from Hanoi to Ninh Binh/ Tam Coc, taking the train can help you avoid traffic (traffic can be horrendous in Hanoi). The train ride between Hanoi and Ninh Binh takes slightly over 2 hours.

Vietnam sleeper train luxury cabin

I think taking a train to Ninh Binh is more for someone traveling from other cities in Vietnam, such as from Hue and Danang in Central Vietnam.

If you are traveling from these cities, you are looking at a sleeper bus that arrives in Ninh Binh in the morning. Costs vary depending on distance and class (between $25 to $75 USD a person) and it takes 15 hours from Da Nang to Ninh Binh by train.

Again, the best website to book train tickets in Vietnam is here.

Private taxi to Tam Coc from Hanoi

If you are traveling with 3 or more others, then it may make sense to book a private taxi for convenience and it might cost even less than paying for a shared van.

In general your hotel can help you book a private taxi to Tam Coc.

Best Tours to Ninh Binh and Tam Coc from Hanoi

Lastly, if you are short on time, or you really don’t want to bother with the logistics of traveling to and around Ninh Binh, tours are a good option for you.

There are different types of day tours from Hanoi to Tam Coc, covering different attractions and destinations. Since these tours are generally only for one day, you will need to pick and choose what you want to see in Ninh Binh.

The first time I visited Tam Coc I took a tour like this one and saw Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, took a boat ride and rode bikes around the rice fields. It was a great introduction and left me wanting to explore more.

Now after spending some time in Tam Coc and Ninh Binh, I realized there are more things to do than what I saw on the tour. So knowing what I know now, I would recommend this tour or this tour to see some of the best sights in Ninh Binh but they cover different things, so you will need to make a decision.

Tam coc pier photo at sunset

Getting Around Ninh Binh and Tam Coc

Most blogs will tell you to rent a scooter or motorbike yourself from your hotel for about $5-10 USD a day and explore on your own. While I agree this is the cheapest and most flexible way to explore Ninh Binh at your own pace, this option is not suitable for everyone.

By everyone I mean me and my friend (Haha!). We had never ridden a scooter before (actually my friend doesn’t know how to ride a bike well). We read that inexperienced riders often get into accidents so we decided not to risk it.

But if you are comfortable riding a motorbike, you should remember to get travel insurance.

So with scooter and motorbikes crossed off, the other way to get around Ninh Binh is to hire a driver. This is what we did and it worked out well.

Our hotel helped to get us a taxi to drive us around for two days. The driver would wait for us when we went sightseeing so it was pretty nice but more expensive. Having a private driver cost about $25 – 30 USD a day for the car but it was very flexible and suited our needs.

So if you are like us, don’t want to ride a moped but want the flexibility, then getting a private driver to take you around both days would work well.

Detailed Ninh Binh 2 Day Itinerary

Now that you know how to get around Ninh Binh for 2 days, I’ll show you how to best spend 2 days in Ninh Binh/ Tam Coc to see the most beautiful places. This itinerary assumes you have at least 1.5 days to 2 full days, so there is a lot of flexibility.

If you include travel time into this 2 day itinerary, you may need to spend less time at some places in order to fit everything in. After reading this you will have a better idea of what you want to/ don’t want to do in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc and decide the best itinerary for yourself.

Keep in mind that most attractions in Ninh Binh close at 5pm, so you will need to plan your time accordingly.

Day 1 of Ninh Binh Itinerary

Whether you are just arriving from Hanoi early in the morning or if you already spent the night in Ninh Binh and ready to start your full day here, you should grab a hearty breakfast at your hotel. Our hotel was super nice and gave us a large breakfast even though we had just arrived that morning.

Stop 1. Bai Dinh Pagoda

Your first stop on your Ninh Binh itinerary will actually be the furthest away from Tam Coc.

Located about 25 kilometers (15 miles) from Tam Coc, Bai Dinh Pagoda is a large Buddhist complex in the Ninh Binh Province. In fact Bai Dinh Pagoda is the largest buddhist complex in Vietnam, attracting a lot of domestic tourists every year.

The original Bai Dinh Pagoda dates back to the 11th century, but significant expansion and reconstruction took place in recent years. The new Bai Dinh Pagoda, known as Bai Dinh Pagoda Spiritual and Cultural Complex, was inaugurated in 2010.

Spanning over 700 hectares, there is a lot to see and explore in Bai Dinh Pagoda. There are “layers” of temple halls at Bai Dinh Pagoda complex, together with the famous Bai Dinh Stupa (houses a collection of 10,000 Buddha statues), Giant Buddha, and other intricately carved statues and decorations.

Buddha inside Bai Dinh Pagoda

Bai Dinh Pagoda is free to enter but you can pay for electric cars to take you around the complex, as well as the entrance to Bao Thap Tower (and elevator up).

You will need a minimum of 90 minutes to 3 hours to explore this large complex. I spent about 2 hours there which was enough to see the most famous structures but 3 hours would give you more opportunities to explore.

Stop 2: Grab Lunch Nearby

You can skip this if you had a large breakfast and brought your own snack. But if you are hungry, there are a couple of restaurants nearby that you can grab something from.

Your driver can drive you to a nearby restaurant and want for you. A couple of restaurants that you can consider include Tiến Thắm Restaurant and Ninh Binh Family Homestay & Organic Restaurant. Make sure you have cash with you to pay for the food.

Stop 3. Hoa Lu Ancient Capital

Your second stop of the day is Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, located about 10 kilometers (6 miles) away from Bai Dinh Pagoda.

Hoa Lu Ancient Capital was one of Vietnam’s former capital cities in the 10th and 11th centuries during the Dinh and early Le dynasties. It was the political, economic, and cultural center of the nation at that time.

what to do and see in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc: Hoa Lu Ancient Capital

Your driver will drop you off near the entrance and you will need to walk in yourself. As you walk in, you will notice large empty fields on both sides of the path. When we visited there was a local elementary school that held a sports type of event, so you may see other cool local events happening there.

The complex at Hoa Lu includes temples dedicated to the two dynasties that ruled from here. The Dinh Temple (Den Dinh) honors King Dinh Tien Hoang, the founder of the Dinh Dynasty. The Le Temple (Den Le) is dedicated to King Le Dai Hanh, the first ruler of the early Le Dynasty.

In addition, there are other palaces, pagodas and tombs that are within the complex. In addition, there are many traditional festivals that take place at Hoa Lu Ancient Capital.

Stop 4. Tam Coc Boat Ride

Come back to the town of Tam Coc in the afternoon and enjoy a relaxing boat ride among the towering limestone cliffs.

There are actually two types of boat rides in Ninh Binh, Tam Coc and Trang An. There are some differences and this Ninh Binh itinerary covers both so you can see the difference. However, on your first day in Ninh Binh, let’s do the Tam Coc boat ride.

The Tam Coc boat ride can be taken from the piers directly in town (or you can google “Tam Cốc-Bích Động” to get the location on the map).

This scenic boat ride is on many Ninh Binh day tours since it is one of the most popular activities in Tam Coc.

The boat ride takes about 1.5 to 2 hours and your rower takes you through a predetermined route that goes through the limestone cliffs, caves and along the way you can see beautiful rice paddies and small hotels and houses that are along the shore.

The Tam Coc boat tour costs 150,000 VND ($6 USD) per boat, plus 120,000 VND ($5 USD) per person with max 2 people per boat. Although I have seen the rower carrying 3 adults on the boat when I was there, but 2 is usually the max (so you will need two boats if you have 4 people). So for 2 adults, it costs a total of 390,000 VND ($16 USD).

Tam-Coc-Boat

One interesting thing about the Tam Coc boat ride is that rowers will be using their feet to row the boat. Keep in mind that the Tam Coc boat ride is notorious for asking tips from tourists and you are almost obligated to tip at the end. You will also see people trying to sell you things from other boats. We kept saying no and they were not happy with us not buying anything but whatever.

Stop 5. Dinner in Tam Coc

After you get off the boat ride, it’s probably around 5 or 6 pm. You can walk around Tam Coc a little bit and explore this small town.

The town is really small so there really isn’t that much to explore, but there are a number of restaurants, bars and even massage places if you want more relaxation.

Day 2 of 2 Days in Ninh Binh Itinerary

After an action packed first day in Ninh Binh, you will have another amazing day on your second and last day. On your second day in Ninh Binh, you will get to explore the best viewpoints of the area, visit religious sites and take another (and in my opinion, even better) boat ride.

Stop 1. Mua Cave

Mua Cave is one of the most popular viewpoints and attractions in Ninh Binh. Located about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Tam Coc, Mua Cave is not only a viewpoint, but also a series of photo spots and caves (hence the name Mua Cave)!

I highly recommend that you visit Mua Cave super early in the morning and you can come back to the hotel for breakfast after your visit.

Since it is the best viewpoint of the area, many tours come from Hanoi early in the morning and throughout the day.

Unless you don’t mind the crowd (and don’t care about having yourself in the photos), you really should come super early in the morning (and forget sunset, it is SO crowded during sunset).

Mua Cave is actually located within the hotel Mua Caves Ecolodge, but you can actually visit any time you like. There is a “gate” at the entrance and it costs 100,000 VND ($4 USD) per person to visit.

Once you are inside, you are free to explore everything on the premises, including the actual caves and walk to the boardwalks along the lily pads for photos. But before you do all that, go up to the viewpoint.

The Mua Cave viewpoint requires a 15-20 minute hike up about 500 steps. If you have mobility problems then Mua Cave would not be suitable for you. But assuming you are of average physical condition, you should have no issues going up these steps.

There are actually two areas to explore at the Mua Cave viewpoint, the first is the actual viewpoint and a dragon statue and the view of Ngo Dong river and the peaks on both sides of the river.

The second area to explore is where the pagoda is (more stairs required to go there). Both viewpoints make fantastic photo opportunities that you don’t want to miss.

We visited around 7:30am and pretty much had the entire place to ourselves. Besides the viewpoints, we loved taking photos around the hotel property.

Unfortunately we visited at the end of February so there were no lilies, but if you visit in the summer the ponds will be full of lilies, making it extra beautiful (and hot and humid).

Stop 2. Breakfast at the hotel

After your early morning adventure at Mua Cave, come back to your hotel for some breakfast and relaxation. Unless you are in a rush to go back to Hanoi early afternoon, you have plenty of time to relax before going to your next stop: Bich Dong Pagoda.

Hotel breakfast at Tam Coc horizon Bungalow hotel

Stop 3. Bich Dong Pagoda

Nestled in the Ngu Nhac Son Mountains is an old but beautiful multi-tiered Pagoda known as Bich Dong Pagoda. It is only about 2-3 kilometers (~1.5 miles) from Tam Coc, this pagoda is often missed by first time visitors.

Bich Dong Pagoda was built in the early 18th century, during the reign of the Le Dynasty. The complex was constructed in three tiers: Lower Pagoda (Ha Pagoda), Middle Pagoda (Trung Pagoda), and Upper Pagoda (Thuong Pagoda).

There is a small path on top of a beautiful lily pond leading to the entrance of the pagoda complex. During the summer time the entire pond would be full of lilies.

Since the Pagoda has “3 layers”, for every level you will climb up some stairs to see each level. The pagoda is built into the limestone mountains, making it extra unique and worth a visit.

Entrance to the pagoda is free but if you ride your own bike there you will need to pay for parking across the pond. Be prepared to have some cash with you to pay for parking.

Stop 4. Trang An Boat Ride

Your last stop in Ninh Binh is Trang An, to take another beautiful scenic boat ride. But why take another boat ride you may ask.

In fact the Trang An boat ride is very different from the one from Tam Coc you did on your first day in Ninh Binh. The Trang An Boat ride is much longer (takes 3 hours), and you can pick from 3 different routes based on what you like.

Some of the routes of the boat ride goes through A LOT of caves, so if you are into caves, you would love it. The other two boat ride routes take you through different pagodas and religious sites.

The best part of the Trang An Boat ride is that you can get off the boat at each stop and take photos. We simply LOVED this idea and I got to visit this pagoda in the water that I’ve seen numerous times on social media, so it was almost a dream come true moment for me.

Since the boat ride takes about 3 hours and the pier closes around 5pm, you will need to get to the Trang An boat pier by 2pm for the ride. Each boat can fit 4 passengers, so if you want a private boat like we did, you will need to pay for 4 passengers. It costs 250,000 VND ($10 USD) per person.

Stop 5. Back to Tam Coc for Dinner

After you are done with your scenic and relaxing Trang An boat ride, it is time to go back to Tam Coc (or Ninh Binh) for dinner before you say goodbye to the beautiful Ninh Binh.

Is 2 days in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc Enough?

2 days is the perfect amount of time to see the highlights of Ninh Binh, from hiking up to Mua Cave viewpoint to exploring the beautiful Bai Dinh Pagoda to taking a scenic boat ride or two.

Personally I think only having 1 day in Ninh Binh is way too rushed and you just simply cannot see it all.

If you have more time, 3 to 4 days in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc allows you to explore some more off-the-beaten-path places.

Best (and Worst) Time to Visit Ninh Binh and Tam Coc

The best and most comfortable months to visit Ninh Binh and Tam Coc are February, March, late October to late November during the dry season. During these months, you have very little rainfall, sunnier skies, and an average temperature between 18 degree Celsius (65F) and 24 C (75F) throughout the day.

Ninh Binh Trang An boat ride in Vietnam

The worst time to visit Tam Coc and Ninh Binh is during the summer months during the rainy season. Temperatures can reach up to 35°C (95°F), and frequent rain showers are common. While the countryside remains green and beautiful, the heat and humidity may make exploring Ninh Binh very uncomfortable.

The only benefit of visiting Ninh Binh during the summer months is that everywhere will be lush and green and you will have beautiful lilies in the water. If you have a lot of time to spend in Ninh Binh and mostly explore the area during the early morning hours, then summer can be an option for you.

Where to Stay in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc

You may be wondering what is the best place to stay when spending 2 days in Ninh Binh. Many visitors stay in either the city of Ninh Binh, the town of Tam Coc or Trang An.

For the purpose of this Ninh Binh itinerary, I would highly recommend you stay in Tam Coc, as the city of Ninh Binh is just a city with not much else going on and I find Trang An a little far (but it certainly is worth a consideration especially if you are spending more than 2 days in Ninh Binh).

I recommend staying in Tam Coc because there are a lot of restaurants and accommodation options in Tam Coc. Many tours and buses from Hanoi will also drop you off (or pick you up from) Tam Coc. The Tam Coc boat tour is right in the middle of town, and it is really easy to walk around the town even at night.

There are many types of accommodations in Tam Coc, from budget hostels to home stays to luxury accommodations. I did a ton of research on Tam Coc hotels and ultimately we decided to stay at Tam Coc Horizon Bungalow.

There are only a limited number of bungalows on the property and each bungalow is super spacious. The property is literally sitting on top of a rice paddy (with a pool) so you don’t even need to go anywhere to enjoy the beautiful view.

What we loved the most was how nice the staff were. They gave us a large breakfast the day we arrived and they gave us choco pie and other snacks to take with us when we were leaving. They are highly rated and sell out fast so I was glad we grabbed the last room when we booked.

Other hotels we considered staying at include the Tam Coc Windy Fields and Tam Coc Tropical Homestay.

Where to Eat in Tam Coc

We mostly ate in Tam Coc and at the hotel while we were there.

Our favorite meal was from Tam Coc Lantern, and we loved the traditional fried pork and the local fish in clay pot. They also have pho and other traditional Vietnamese food at the restaurant.

If you are vegetarian, you should check out Ngo Dong Vegan restaurant or NGON Vegan Restaurant. There are a number of Indian restaurants that were popular as well, such as Aroma Indian Restaurant and Saffron Indian Restaurant.

If you are craving burgers and other western food, be sure to check out Chookie’s Beer Garden.

Tips to Visiting Ninh Binh and Tam Coc

Based on our personal experience, here are a few things to keep in mind when visiting Ninh Binh to ensure you have an enjoyable trip.

  • Bring cash with you: almost all the tourist attractions (and parking fees) require cash. I listed above the ticket cost for all the attractions and boat rides, so you can have a good sense of how much cash you need to bring.
  • Have an external phone battery: most likely you will be out and about all day and I assume you will take photos and videos on your phone. I always have an external phone battery with me (like this one) so I don’t have to worry about my iPhone running out of battery when I’m out.
  • Bring sunscreen and a hat: if you are visiting on a sunny day, you should definitely bring some sun protection and a hat to prevent burns.
  • Wear colorful clothes for photos: I LOVE taking photos so getting nice photos is really big for me. If you want nice photos, be sure to wear brighter colors like yellow, red and white to stand out among the lush green background of the area.
  • Start your day early: Ninh Binh is a popular day trip from Hanoi so you bet there will be bus tours visiting places you will be visiting. The only way to beat the crowd is to start your day early (especially at Mua Cave).
  • Have a plan on where you want to go: bookmark all the places you want to go so you have a rough idea on where to go each day, which leaves me with my next point…
  • Download Google Maps offline map: ALWAYS download the offline maps! In case you don’t know how to do it: search for “Ninh Binh” on your Google Maps app, scroll right to “download offline map” and click on it, use two fingers to expand the area of what you want to download (see screenshots below).

  • Bring some water and snacks: always bring water with you! If you are the type that will eat a large breakfast to avoid lunch, be sure to bring some snacks to hold you over.
  • Get an eSim Card: eSim cards are cheap and reliable in Vietnam and having the internet makes your life so much easier. I had an eSim when I went to Vietnam and it worked really well even in the mountains!
  • Download Whatsapp: this may be a no-brainer for anyone outside of the US. But if you don’t have Whatsapp, you definitely should get it. Hotels and tours in Vietnam use whatsapp to communicate everything with you.
  • Bring an umbrella or raincoat with you: there is always a chance of showers even if you visit Ninh Binh during the dry season. We were rained on our Tam Coc boat ride and good thing we had an umbrella and raincoat.

Is Ninh Binh Worth Visiting?

I LOVED Ninh Binh. Known as the Halong Bay on Land, Ninh Binh truly is beautiful and unique.

You will find amazing landscape, unique experiences, friendly people and delicious food in Ninh Binh. Even if you can only go to Ninh Binh for a day, you should definitely do it.

Ninh Binh is literally the most beautiful place in Vietnam that I’ve been to and I’m already dreaming of going back one day. Go to Ninh Binh, you won’t regret it.

Other Vietnam Travel Planning Articles

If you are still planning your perfect Vietnam trip, be sure to check out all my other Vietnam travel resources.

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