A 2 hour coach journey south of Hanoi is a small city which hasn’t yet been hit by tourism called Ninh Binh. Compared to Hanoi it feels more like the real Vietnam, with most of the locals not speaking/understanding english and the restaurant menus being limited to Vietnamese writing.
Whilst walking around the streets of Ninh Binh, we did get a few stares from the locals, young kids wanting to say hello and even a handshake on the train….real celebrities!
Ninh Binh might not be the city to visit if doing a whistle stop tour of Vietnam, but it is blessed with some incredible limestone scenery which is great to explore on bike or scooter.
There are 2 main sites in the area; Tam Coc and Trang An. Both are similar offering boat rides down a river to view the limestone outcrops. We decided to visit the later as we were told that the lake at Tam Coc was beginning to dry out and tourist scams were common.
At this time of year Trang An is relatively free of tourists, but you can tell from the number of boats on the side it could become a “circus” during peak season.
Boat tickets can be brought to take a 3+ hour ride down the Sao Khe River and through some very narrow limestone caves. These boats can fit about 4 people on, but we did see up to 6 people (but this looked like it was about to sink!)