If you ever find yourself traveling through Vietnam, do yourself a favor and make a stop in Ninh Binh (pronounced Neeeng Beeeng). Located in north Vietnam, 60 miles south of the capital, Hanoi, this city is a jump-off point close to many breathtaking sights and known for a delicious local specialty: mountain goat meat. You will see a western tourist every so often, but you’d be hard pressed to find a backpacker enclave.
Van Long Nature Reserve
Take a quiet, peaceful sampan boat ride down this natural reserve of wetlands. The smooth-as-glass, mirrored waters and limestone outcrops give the notorious Halong Bay a run for its money. Arrive in the morning and you’re likely to be the only boat rowing on the water.
Boat rental with rower for 1.5 hours: 100,000 Dong (~$5)
Bai Din Temple
You could spend days wandering through this 1,400-acre complex of Buddhist monuments. If that’s not possible, a few hours will suffice, but be sure to wear comfy walking shoes. The complex consists of the original ancient pagoda built into the mountains and the new area, which includes several structures that have been built in phases since 2003. The complex boasts several records, including the largest pagoda in Southeast Asia, as well as the largest bronze Buddha statue in Vietnam. Admission: free
Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
Roam around 10th century remains of Hoa Lu, Vietnam’s capital during the Dinh and Le dynasties. This ancient capital is surrounded by the stunning backdrop of the Trang An limestone mountains.
Getting around town:
The best way to get around is by motorbike since all of the attractions are spread out. If the shear thought of driving a motorbike around Vietnam gives you the willies, you can always hire a motorbike driver through your hotel. Although, Ninh Binh is much less congested and more manageable to cruise through in comparison to larger Vietnamese cities, it is convenient to have a local driver who’s familiar with the area. They can take you down back roads filled with endless rice paddies and you’ll get a glimpse into the everyday rural life of locals.
Motorbike and driver for the day: 250,000 Dong (~$12)