On everyone's must-see list is the stunning Tam Coc, this wonder is a UNESCO world heritage site and it's clear why it's so popular. Best described as an inland version of Ha Long Bay, this series of peaks attracts fewer visitors making a trip here a more relaxing, and often more rewarding, experience.
One of the best ways to reach here from Ninh Binh is by bike. Don't worry if you're not a hugely experienced cyclist, it's a fairly easy ride but very atmospheric so worth the effort. Entrance costs around VND150,000 with boat rides costing extra, if you're on a budget it's worth sharing a boat with other tourists as this will make it cheaper.
Apart from the beautiful natural surroundings, there's also the novel sight of the boats being rowed and steered by foot, rather than hand! You'll almost certainly find yourself surrounded by drink sellers offering drinks to refresh the rowers, however, if you do buy one it will last likely be sold straight back to the seller. If you want to reward the rowers for their hard work, it's best to give them a tip at the end.
Bich Dong Pagoda
After you've had your fill of lakes and stone peaks, head to Bich Dong Pagoda around 3km away. After a bit of a climb you’ll have great views over Tam Coc and the countryside. This 15th century pagoda lies on a mountainside surrounded by temples nestled snugly amongst the rocks. After exploring the pagodas you can then climb further up the mountain to appreciate the views. Entrance to the pagoda is free but there is a VND10,000 charge to park.
Trang An Grottoes
Trang An Grottoes is another popular sight, again the 7km journey from Ninh Binh is best experienced by bike. There's even more caves here than at Tam Coc! You'll relax on a boat whilst you are rowed through seemingly endless caves. It's always best to head here in the early morning or late afternoon to get the very best out of the caves. After all, you don't want crowds spoiling your perfect photo.
Hang Mua Peak
Hang Mua Peak is another unmissable highlight during your trip to Ninh Binh. Although it's a bit of a trek up almost 500 steps, it's well worth the effort once you reach the summit as you're rewarded with a phenomenal view across the whole region to soak in whilst you get your breath back. The view is possibly even better at sunset but the walk down might be a bit daunting in the dark. Parking is included in the VND100,000 entrance fee.
Cuc Phuong National Park
Slightly further afield is Cuc Phuong National Park (VND40,000 entrance fee), a one and a half hour trip by motorbike or guided tour but still highly recommended. You'll find beautiful rainforest to wander around with well-signposted walks of varying distances and difficulties. Inside the national park is the Endangered Primates Rescue Centre (VND30,000) which houses primates from across the country being treated and monitored before being released into the wild. You can also stay in the park overnight (accommodation from USD10), as well as enjoy night tours which offer the best chance to see animals in the wild.
Phan Diem CAthedral
Those exploring the wider area may stumble across Phat Diem Cathedral, 34km from Ninh Binh. This cathedral looks well out of place nestled amongst the rice fields, towering over everything close by. As strange as it may seem, this is at the centre of a small Christian community that was previously dubbed the “Vatican of Vietnam”.