Vietnam is a huge country, bigger than what it might look on a map!
It definitely hasn’t been easy to choose what to visit considering the short time we had there and the variety of landscapes and experiences this country can offer.
But we’ve decided to head South.
So from Cat Ba Island we have taken a very comfy bus that took us to Ninh Binh in about 5 hours. Limousine bus service run by a company called CAT BA DISCOVERY with USB ports, WiFi on board and free water provided for the trip, for only 15USD. Highly recommended.
Once arrived in Ninh Binh we asked to be dropped off at the train station in order to rent a motorbike for the following couple of days. Definitely the best way to explore the surroundings if you’re travelling on a budget. Only 10USD for two full days hire, unlimited kms. A BARGAIN!
Our accommodation was about 10 min driving from Ninh Binh station, nested in a quiet and relaxing mountain view area.
Despite the weather (bit rainy) we managed to visit quite a few things around, with special mention to the amazing boat trip along the TRANG AN River. Probably the only “tour” we would recommend.
On a very tiny wooden boat, they will take you through caves, grottoes tunnels and floating temples, surrounded by the surreal peace of these huge limestone karst peaks, declared UNESCO World Heritage.
This area is known as the Inland Ha Long Bay for its landscape, similar with the exception that mountains are surrounded by rice fields instead of sea waters. Plus,not as many tourists around will make you appreciate the area even more!
TRANG AN TOUR: is a valid alternative to the Tam Coc boat tour. These little boats docked at the entrance, wait till they have at least 4 people on board. It normally doesn’t take too long but we highly recommend to go there at opening time to avoid all the tourists coming from Hanoi for day-tours. This will allow you to enjoy the peace and tranquillity that this place can offer.
We got there at 9am. Purchased our tickets for 200.000 VND (less than 10 USD) and waited about 10 min for another person to join us on the boat. As it wasn’t too crowded at that time, we managed to leave with only 3 people on board. The rower asks you to choose which itinerary you want to go and we had no doubt about it: ROUTE 1 offers a mix of caves (9 in total) and temples (3 to explore) and it takes 3 hours, which is good value for the price paid.
(SIDE NOTE: our rower didn’t speak any English so she wasn’t able to give us any insight about what we were seeing. So we sat back and relaxed. Every now and then she asked us to help her with the paddling , which was quite understandable considering the distances covered. Towards the end of the tour she gave us a questionnaire to fill out. Apparently these tours are monitored to make sure rowers do not bribe tourists. The funny thing was: as soon as we gave her back the papers, in which we stated she hadn’t asked for any tip during the tour, she immediately started asking for money. I found it quite funny and clever LOL)
This was the only paid tour we have taken. We have managed to visit the surroundings by ourselves, exploring some hidden gems, wandering and getting lost among hundreds of rice fields.
In my opinion this is hands down the best and at the same time cheapest way to fully live the adventure. And honestly, we have been lucky enough to assist to a buffalo giving birth to a BEAUTIFUL GORGEOUS SUPER CUTE calf. How amazing and heartbreaking at the same time, as these animals are abused and exploited on a daily basis by the locals. Same as the thousands of innocent ducks we have met , victims of the very sadly popular duck farming and traditional cuisine.
Two days are definitely not enough to visit this breathtaking location. Few extra days are a must if you’replanning on travelling to Ninh Binh. It would truly allow you to experience the real Vietnam, far from touristic and crowded spots.
WHERE WE HAVE STAYED
Ham Rong Homestay : eco-friendly bamboo rooms. The place also has a restaurant on site, happy to cater for vegans. Staff is very friendly and happy to assist with any request. They also offer free luggage deposit and shower service for travellers waiting to catch the overnight train to Da Nang (which was our case)
WHERE WE HAVE EATEN
Hoa Luan Restaurant : has avegetarian section on their menu, offering spring rolls, noodles,vegetable fried rice, morning glory. Just make sure you let them know you do not want any egg.
Bamboo Bar & Restaurant : being closer to Tam Coc town centre, we found it a bit more expensivethan the average. We really enjoyed their noodles tho.
Ham Rong : part of our homestay, it is also open for visitors. It offers many options that can be fully veganised. Hot Pot highly recommended.
Check out our CINEMATIC VLOG about Ha Long & Ninh Binh HERE