I don’t have a single picture of Ninh Binh, and we spend three nights here!
After some mis-understood directions and an almost missed train we caught the Reunification Express from Hanoi to Ninh Binh. It took about three hours, and overall was a fairly comfortable journey. I wish I could say the same for our arrival into Ninh Binh.
I had pre-booked our hotel from Hanoi and according to Google Maps it was only a short distance from the train station. Upon arrival it was dark, we were tired, and we just wanted to get to our hotel to sleep. We were bombarded with taxi drivers as soon as we got off the ramp. Since I was tired, I was in no mood to deal with it! We tried going into a small hotel right by the train station to ask them for directions, but they wanted nothing to do with helping us. So, back out into the barrage we went. I finally settled on one person, gave him the directions, and agreed on a price that I knew was too much. Off we went, for about 2 blocks, and then stopped. We were at the hotel!! I REALLY paid too much. It was the first time that I had felt overtly taken advantage of so far on the trip. This left me with a foul taste for the city.
The following night we decided to venture into town for dinner. We caught a taxi in front of our hotel and gave him the directions of the restaurant. We drove up and down the streets and then almost out of town until I forcefully demanded we turn around. He did so, we were dropped off at about where I thought the restaurant should be, and paid him what I thought the actual distance should have been. This was our second bad-taxi adventure in 24 hours! We found the restaurant quickly, ate a reasonable dinner of goat hot pot, and then decided to walk back to our hotel.
The last night we had the hotel arrange a driver to a different restaurant on the outskirts of town. This went much smoother. We had a very enjoyable meal, and the restaurant owners had a little girl that Calais played with for pretty much the duration of dinner. The restaurant owner called our driver when we were finished, and he picked us up and delivered us home without a problem.
The people at our hotel were lovely. We ate dinner there the first night, and breakfast every morning. The food was nothing exceptional but it was good for the convenience. They had a little booklet of tours and it was very easy to arrange with them what we wanted to do. The son of the owner was incredibly helpful.
Where we stayed: Canh Dieu Mountain Hotel
Where we ate: Beyond eating at our hotel, I honestly can’t remember the names of the two restaurants.
What we did: A day trip to Trang An Grottoes & Hoa Lu Temples, and a day trip to Cuc Phuong National Park.
If our kids were older: We would love to return here and rent bikes to tour the countryside. The scenery is gorgeous, and the terrain is flat making it perfect for biking. This is already on the list for things to do in a few years!
Tips for visiting Ninh Binh with Kids:
1. Don’t take a taxi! I suggest pre-arranging pick-up with your hotel. This avoids the stress of fighting the taxi-mongers at the train station.
2. Plan to spend a few days. There are a number of different day trips that can be done from Ninh Binh, it is really just a home base city for the countryside.
3. Arrange rides with your hotel. Everything we arranged through our hotel went incredibly smooth. I can’t say this enough…don’t take a taxi!! Just use the car service of your hotel. It’s cheap, and MUCH more convenient.
4. Set appropriate expectations of the city itself. Ninh Binh is not a city to visit, it is a city to visit from. It is not a very charming city, and there is really not much to do in the city itself. If you go expecting this you should be fine! That being said, this portion of our time in Vietnam was some of our favourite because of the fantastic day trips!