Vietnam’s Newest Hotspot, Ninh Binh, and Why You Need to Know About It

Poolside at the Tam Coc Garden Resort

The one question I get asked most, not only in my business life but also in my personal one, is, “Hey Diane, what’s new?” While I don’t have anything juicy to share on the homefront, I do have a sizzling new destination in Vietnam to share.

Okay, it’s not new. In fact, Ninh Binh is home to Hoa Lua, the ancient capital of Vietnam dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries. I’m afraid a few people discovered it before I did, but let’s just say it hasn’t been on the radar of most travellers heading to Vietnam and I’m here to tell you why it should be.

First off, it’s located just 90km southeast of Hanoi so it’s relatively easy to get to. Secondly, it’s been endearingly referred to as “Halong Bay on Land” because the countryside of Ninh Binh province is dotted with majestic limestone karsts that poke out through the rice paddies creating a pretty “wow” effect.

But what exactly is there to see? Let me tell you:

Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex

This is a highly recommended three-hour sampan tour where clients are rowed through the limestone karsts along a lazy river through grottos and around temples. If the scenery looks like something out of a King Kong movie, it’s because it was. Kong: Skull Island was filmed here in 2016.

Trang An boat ride through grottos and temples

Hang Mua

Next up, clients take a leisurely bike ride through the local village of Tam Coc to the foot of Hang Mua Mountain where they climb about 500 steps up a stone staircase to get some of the most jaw-dropping views of the Ninh Binh landscape. Yes, clients need to be at least moderately fit to navigate the climb, but there is no rush and lots of breaks for photos are encouraged. My insider tip: go either between May and June or September to October when the ripe rice fields are about to be harvested. This is when you’ll get those really dramatic photos to wow your friends.

Bich Dong Pagoda

This three-tiered temple complex built into the side of a mountain in the early 1400s is extra special because, to date, not a ton of people go there. I arrived early in the morning and the fog was lifting over the nearby pools of water creating a mystical effect. I wandered around the temples, which do include more steps but nothing that will leave one too breathless. I don’t think I had to say “excuse me” once. Where in the world can you go that you don’t have to navigate people at every turn? It’s certainly a tranquil gem that should be explored.

Bich Dong Pagoda – a three-tiered temple carved in the side of a mountain

Hoa Lua

After Vietnam’s independence from China, the country was divided into 12 areas, each ruled by its own general, but it was crafty Dinh Bo Linh, of the Ninh Binh area, that defeated the other 11 and named Hoa Lua as the country’s new capital. He was a pretty big deal at the time and it was quite a victory, but legend goes that Dinh Bo Linh eventually met his death at the hands of one of his concubines…aka a woman! I love that story. Sure, it’s another temple but it’s still pretty interesting and worth the visit.

The gate of Hoa Loa – Vietnam’s ancient capital

Beyond those highlights, the local town of Tam Coc is just a really laidback village where clients can twist off a cap of Saigon Red and slurp some Pho to complete the authentic experience.

Can you do Ninh Binh on a day trip? Technically you could, but I wouldn’t suggest it. Better to book the 3-Day extension listed here.

If you like the sounds of this destination and want to learn what else Vietnam has to offer, join me this Thursday, August 29 for a live webinar where I’ll go into more detail and offer some tangible tips on how to sell Vietnam more effectively. Register here. And if you can’t make Thursday’s event, we always archive all of our webinars on

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