The guide books talk a lot about Ninh Binh and its hotels. Ninh Binh is far from being the most pleasant city on Earth, and the hotels are…city hotels. Stay in the adorable Tam Coc, 6 km away !
Hang Mua Pagoda
Rarely visited, though it is just 5 km from Tam Coc (one can see it on the left, on top of a lime peak, during the boat ride: a small pavilion and a dragon snaking alongside the crest; very odd!). Take the road to Ninh Binh and then the small road on your left at the first small village (no sign, but you will see on big banyan tree and a small pond). Beautiful ride through the rice fields; the pagoda is on your left. Entrance fee: 20 000 VND per person. From the top of the cliff, you enjoy a stunning panoramic view of the entire region…at a price: climbing 450 steps, totally worthwhile (you will be alone, no tours include that amazing visit). On the left of the steps, a short tunnel leads to the bank of the Tam Coc river.
The ancient capital of Hoa Lu and its 2 temples
If you feel in shape after Hang Mua (or another day jour), return on the mall road and continue on 13 km until Hoa Lu. That road goes through a sumptuous scenery of lime peaks and rice fields. You are going to arrive on an ugly superhighway (economic development is a plague respecting nothing !), just cross it and continue on the small road, its ends on the same superhighway, turn right and then right at the brige. The temples are 800 m away. On your right before the parking, stop for lunch at the Nha hang dac san ve (Thang Guong), a very good restaurant. In Hoa Lu, visit of the 2 temples: Dinn Thien Hoang, built to nonor the firstking of the Dinh Dynasty (968-980) and his 3 sons, and Le Dai Han, dedicated to the kings of the First Le Dynasty (980-1009). Return to Tam Coc through the same small road
PHAT DIEM: A MUST SEE in Ninh Binh
32 km from Ninh Binh (public bus in Ninh Binh or taxi -$40- from Tam Coc). You can also rent a motorbike at the Duc Tuan, but I don’t advise you to do so: the road is very narrow and with a heavy anarchist traffic. You cross the center of North Vietnam Catholicism. The stupendous Phat Diem Cathedral is a Sino-European architecture masterpiece of enormous proportions (80m x 24m x 16m) designed and built by a Vietnamese priest, Father Six, completed in 1891. Excellent small restaurant at the end of the street left of the cathedral.