If there is ONE day trip you take from Hanoi, make sure it is to the serene Vietnamese countryside to an area called Ninh Binh. It was such a nice escape from the insanely hectic city of Hanoi and it ended up being my favorite place in all of Vietnam!
It’s an easy stress-free day trip from Hanoi and is 100% worth doing, especially if you love nature, mountains, and epic panoramic views. Here is a quick guide on how to do an easy day trip to Ninh Binh, Vietnam.
How to Get to Ninh Binh from Hanoi
Hanoi to Ninh Binh:
The earliest train to Ninh Binh leaves at 6 am and takes about 2 hours.
Ninh Binh to Hanoi
The last train leaves Ninh Binh at 5:27pm and takes 2 hours to get back to Hanoi.
The cost of the round-trip train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh is 216,000 dong ($9.50). To get your ticket, go to the tourist info center in the train station. You will see someone behind a desk and you sit on a chair and wait for them to process your ticket. I waited 10-15 minutes and they wrote me a paper ticket. You must bring your passport to purchase a ticket (a photo of your passport works too).
Note: I went the day before to get my ticket because I wasn’t sure what time they opened and I didn’t want to miss the first train. I’m glad I did because they were very slow in processing the ticket! Apparently you can book on the official site of Vietnam Railways but when I checked the online prices were way higher than the in-person prices.
There is also a bus that runs from Hanoi to Ninh Binh and takes about 2.5 hours. The cost is around $7. But honestly, when it comes to public transportation in Southeast (SE) Asia, I would definitely trust the train over the bus as bus safety is a big issue in a lot of SE Asian countries.
What to Do In Ninh Binh Vietnam
Hang Mua (Mua caves)
Hang Mua is the crown jewel of Ninh Binh in my opinion. I went here first because I wanted to beat the crowds and the heat. I went right when they opened and was the first person there so I had it to myself for a bit which was really nice.
You must climb almost 500 steps to reach the top of the Hang Mua Peak and the views from the top will blow your mind! The entrance fee is 100,000 dong ($4), cash only!
At the top of what the locals call, “dragon mountain” is a HUGE carved out dragon that is said to be watching over the valley.
On the other side you will have a sweeping panoramic view over the Tam Coc Valley, and the BEST view I saw in all of Vietnam.
Tam Coc Boat Tour
You can take a quick taxi from Hang Mua to Tam Coc for 50,000 dong ($2). Tam Coc is part of the Tràng An Scenic Landscape Complex which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Tam Coc Boat tour costs 270,000 ($12) dong per boat (2 ppl max). The trip is 1.5 hrs long and goes through the gorgeous valley, passing under some caves and past some rice fields. You also randomly stop to feed some hangry goats, which was fun!
The fun thing about this boat trip is that one of the locals pedals the oars with their feet for the entire ride. They work really hard so make sure to give them a good tip at the end!
Rent a Bike in the Tam Coc Valley
One of my favorite things I did in Ninh Binh was rent a bike and wind through the gorgeous rice fields with the river on one side and the mountains on the other. There were many different paths to take and I had such a blast exploring the peaceful countryside.
You can rent a bike from across the street from the Tam Coc Boat tours at one of the shops for 50,000 dong ($2).
Get a Famous Vietnamese Egg Coffee
Brick coffee shop was only a 5 minute bike ride away from the boats. It had the most amazing egg coffee and was a super cute/trendy coffee shop. This was a great way to end my day trip in Ninh Binh before returning my bike and heading back to the train station.
Taxis in Ninh Binh Vietnam
I took taxis the whole time I was in Ninh Binh and it was super cheap and convenient. The taxi from Ninh Binh train station to Mua caves cost 100,000 dong ($4). The taxi from Mua caves to Tam Coc cost 50,000 dong ($2). The taxi from Tam Coc back to the train station cost 100,000 ($4). So in total it costs 250,000 for the entire day of taxis ($10).
The Grab app is like the local version of Uber. But you can see messages through the app, good for when you have WiFi but not a local phone number to call. You can also add a quick note to the driver when you book (ex: I’m right outside the train station). You pay them in cash. You can set up to pay by card but you have to buy credits in increments of 100,000 dong so if you don’t use them all you waste money.
Tours in Ninh Binh
If you don’t really want to lift a finger and have everything planned out for you, I would recommend the tour company Get Your Guide. I usually like to do thing on my own, but when I do a tour, I usually choose this company. You can check the Ninh Binh tours HERE.
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Wow, each travel year keeps getting better and better and as I reflect on the places that I’ve gone, I still cant believe it! In 2018 I traveled to 7 new countries including Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, UAE, and Vietnam. I also re-visited some of my favorite countries including Greece, Norway, Italy, Croatia, Spain, Denmark, England, Albania, Canada, Iceland, and Northern Ireland.
In 2018, I visited a total of 18 countries on 3 continents. It was extremely hard to pick my favorites but I’ve narrowed it down to the following 6 places (plus a few more). Hopefully it provides some new travel inspiration for 2019!
The Lofoten Islands were a dream destination for me and high up on my bucket list. Norway is one of my favorite countries in the world and the natural landscapes in Lofoten Islands were just unreal. Lofoten Islands exceeded my expectations and literally took my breathe away. It’s also a photographer’s dream!
This trip was also special because it was my first ever GROUP TRIP that I led and it was so much fun to meet new girls and share the experience with others for a change. We stayed in the coziest cabin right on the lake and were dazzled by the Northern Lights on our last night there. The icing on the cake! I plan on doing another group trip there in 2019 since I loved it so much. Lofoten Islands was probably my favorite place I visited in 2018!
Not many people I know go to Bagan…one of the reasons that it really appealed to me! I loved it and it was such a unique place that was different to any other place I had ever been. Riding E-bikes around dirt roads searching for the sunrise or sunset was magical. I was also there during the water festival (“Thingyan”) which was…interesting haha.
It took some work getting all the way over to Bagan, but I’d say it was truly worth it! If you want somewhere different or off the beaten path, Bagan is the place to go in 2019! PS: try to make it during hot air balloon season (I just missed it by like a week or 2).
The Faroe Islands (made up of 18 islands) are a self-governing region of Denmark located in the North Atlantic Ocean halfway between Iceland and Norway. It reminded me a lot of the landscape in Iceland, but with NO crowds. The Faroe Islands are the place to go if you love nature, hiking, photography, and isolation.
I spent a total of 5 days there and couldn’t recommend it more. Just beware of car rental prices because they are absurd! Book in advance. Also, if you’re interested in seeing puffins, the season runs from late May to early September! For all of the details and the 5 day itinerary I put together, check out my post about the Faroe Islands here.
I had been to Canada several times before but nothing prepared me for what I would see in Banff. The most beautiful blue and crystal clear lakes you will ever see in your life are in Banff. This was also a group trip destination and it was such a fun time. Banff had some of the most gorgeous hiking trails and the scenery is hard to beat! Banff should definitely be at the top of your 2019 travel wish list!
Banff is the perfect place to go if you love hiking in nature and breathing in the fresh mountain air. Make sure to carry bear spray and try not to hike alone because some trails actually require a minimum number of hikers (but you can always join other hikers as well).
PS: some of the trails and roads are closed throughout the year due to snow so to be safe, travel there from June to early September if you want to make it to Moraine Lake, etc.
Ninh Binh, Vietnam
Vietnam was one of those destinations that really surprised me in 2018, particularly the countryside. I took a day trip to Ninh Binh and Tam Coc and it blew my mind! You can easily take a 2 hour train ride from the crazy bustling Hanoi center to a whole different world filled with epic mountainside views and tranquility.
Make sure to take a boat ride through the valley with the Vietnamese feet rowers for a very cool experience that will take you through some caves and let you feed some goats on the way. And you cannot leave the area without hiking up to the Hang Mua Caves, pictured below.
Not only did I LOVE Vietnam, but I can now honestly say Vietnam has the best coffee in the world! (along with Italy and Colombia). The egg coffee is life changing (and i’m not even being dramatic haha). Oh, and did I mention endless Pho soup for only a few bucks? I was in complete heaven.
Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
It took my second trip to Iceland (and my last group trip) to finally make it to the lesser visited Snaefellsnes peninsula, and boy was it worth the wait! I had longed to visit Arrowhead Mountain from Game of Thrones and it was absolutely gorgeous.
One of my favorite memories was actually on the way up there stopping at a cute little hot spring in the middle of nowhere. What made it so magical was that we were the only ones there and it felt like a little gnome house or something.
My other favorite destinations from 2018 included Sicily (Italy), Rhodes (Greece), Northern Ireland Game of Thrones trip, Sri Lanka, The Cotswolds (England, and an epic Norway road trip.
The Cotswolds, England
Sicily Road Trip
Mirissa, Sri Lanka
GOT tour, Northern Ireland
What’s On My 2019 Travel List
There are SO many places I can’t decide! But i do know I am going back to Asia for a few weeks and also going to try to visit the few countries left in Europe that I haven’t been. And my ultimate destination will be Patagonia (which I have been trying to go to for the last 3 years). I’m hoping 2019 will finally be that year!
I also have a few destination weddings I am going to in North Carolina and Mexico so it’s going to be a busy year!
More Group Trips
I had a BLAST doing group trips last year and I want to continue them in the new year! I will probably host 3-4 trips in 2019, the first being Lofoten islands, Jordan, and Beirut! Check the details here.
Other group trip options for the second half of the year are Azores islands, Peru, GOT Northern Ireland tour, Scotland road trip, Oman, Lapland, and Patagonia!
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