Ninh Binh is a beautiful province only about two hours from the city of Hanoi. The limestone scenery is similar to Halong Bay, only inland.
Hotels and hostels can arrange shared tours to the province, costing around $38 per person. There were only four people in the tour group (including me). The other group members were an older English couple and a young Korean woman.
The first stop on the tour was Hoa Lu, a 10th century ancient captial of Vietnam. Hoa Lu was a small kingdom surrounded by a citadel and protected by the surrounding limestone mountains from the Chinese. The citadel did not survive, however, but a temple dedicated to Dinh Tien Hoang, the emperor of Hoa Lu, was built in it’s place.
Hoa Lu is a beautiful spot but it was cold the day I went, and I completely wasn’t expecting it since the temperature in Hanoi was kind of hot the day before. I was wearing shorts, a thin sweater, and a thin denim jacket which really wasn’t enough for the temperature, in fact all the others in my group didn’t quite prepare well for the cold either.
After the tour of Hoa Lu the group went back to the van and headed to Tam Coc, which means “three caves” in Vietnamese. There is a buffet restaurant nearby where we ate lunch. The food was pretty average but it’s included in the tour price.
At Tam Coc, two people get inside a canoe and a rower rides along a river that goes under three caves.
The ride takes about an hour and a half to go around. Some of the caves are quite dark and have bats, which made me slightly nervous.
The scenery was beautiful, and probably would be even more so during the warmer months when more of the rice crops are grown.
The Ninh Binh tour also included bike riding after the boat ride, but after being out in the cold for two hours no one in the group felt like riding bikes, so we got some warm coffee and headed back to Hanoi.