Ninh Bình City is at the confluence of three important tributaries of the Red River: the Van River, the Hoang Long River, and the Day River. These three rivers have provided important trade routes since time immemorial and the reason the city grew to an important regional trade and transport hub.
A modern and dynamic metropolis with a population of 200,000, Ninh Binh City is located 93 kilometers south of Hanoi. The capital of the Province of the same name, it is the current administrative center and retail hub of a this famous region. Cherished as “a sacred place with extraordinary people”, Ninh Binh has always been at the forefront of Vietnam’s long and industrious past.
With its adjacent ancient buildings and stunning scenery, Ninh Binh City now services the booming tourist industry that has sprung up around the Tam Coc-Trang An-Van Long historical and environmental protection areas. As the main administration area for the province, Ninh Binh City provides a diverse range of health, government, transport and accommodation services. It is also the place where most visitors will first arrive.
For many visitors, it is the “jumping off” point for the many splendors of the surrounding areas. The excellent, modern railway station was relocated and upgraded from 4 tracks to 11 in 2015. As it is on the main Hanoi-Saigon line, there are daily connections to most coastal areas in Vietnam. Located on Ngo Gia Tu Street in Nam Binh ward, it is a little way out of the town center but is well serviced with taxis and Grab rides, especially at train arrival times.
The old station was built near the Ninh Bình bridge across the Đáy River and had a significant role during the first Indochina War. Facilitating the transfer of soldiers, foods and weapons became an important contribution to the struggle against the French armed forces. Unfortunately this also drew the attention of the French and it was bombed and targeted on a regular basis. In typical Vietnames sang froid, It has since been renovated as a restaurant and can be visited at 1 Hoang Hoa Tham Road in Than ward.
A Modern Town
Ninh Binh City has been prominent in the various rebellions and wars that have swept over Vietnam for millennium. Unfortunately, the fighting was often so fierce that many of the historical buildings in the town center were destroyed. Tomodenr visitors, it often represents a fairly bland urban center in stark contrast to the many ancient temples, buildings, farms and forests that surround it.
On the plus side, Ninh Binh province lacks a lot of the heavy industries and traffic of its neighboring cities. This gives the town a relatively modern and progressive atmosphere, with a laid back attitude that is in tune with the stunning landscape of the province.
Ninh Binh City, like the province itself, is spread out, covering some 48.37 km², with little of the high density housing that typifies large Vietnamese cities. However, this can make exploring without some form of private transport problematic and/or expensive. The good news is that the city is part of the north-east plains area of Ninh Binh province and is so relatively flat and bicycles are a popular mode of transport. A word of warning though for anyone not familiar with the free for all that is Vietnamese traffic, some caution is advised.
The city center itself is clustered around Luong Van Tuy Street, Luong Van Thang Street and Truong Dinh Street and hosts a variety of restaurants, retail outlets, clothing shops and hotels. Not a lot of western style eateries though and while general English fluency is risings, you will be well served by the Google map and Translator apps.
A River Town
Both the Van and Day Rivers flow through the city and are important for flood mitigation and transport. ?also provide an attractive counterpoint to the urban landscape. Bridges connecting the two sides of the city are common, with the largest being the two steel bridges of Non Nuoc Bo and Ninh Binh Bridge. On the river, there are two major shipping centers at Ninh Phuc port and Ninh Binh port which form a significant part of the cities livelihood
As a major regional trading center, there are several market, with the most notable being the Cho Rong (Dragon Market) at 71 Van Giang Street, around 2km from the Ninh Binh city center. A sprawling Asian bazaar, you can source anything from a plate of fresh cooked Mountain Goat to a set of steel capped boots. But be warned, caveat emptor is the rule of law here. Check quality and bargain hard.
Having said that and for those short of time, many of the famed local handicrafts such as Kim Son sedge goods, Phuc Loc wood carvings and Ninh Phuc flowers are conveniently located under one roof. There is also a food court that along with traditional Vietnamese foods serves such local delicacies such as Muong’s pig, eel, Van Long small shrimp, Kim Son rice wine and Ninh Binh rice crust
Heavily influenced by Red River Delta popular culture and its near neighbor of Hanoi, Ninh Binh City borders with Nam Dinh Province to the west, Hoa Lu district to the west and Yen Khanh district to the south. Besides the river and rail transport, it is well connected by major highways and roads heading in all directions.
As such, there are a multitude of options for road travel to just about anywhere in Vietnam. “Limousine” coaches which host between 6-8 guests in air-conditioned comfort to nearby destinations such as Hanoi and Halong Bay abound and will often include a door to door service from your current hotel to your intended destination. Private taxi or charter hires are common if you are in a group and Uber-like carriers such as Grab and GoViet are available for shorter journeys.
For those on a budget or for longer trips, the main Bus Terminal is at 207 Lê Đại Hành street in the Thanh Bình area of town. There are a variety of bus lines and locals can advise which are the best but it is always good to book in advance. If you go to the terminal the day before, you could do worse than a side visit to Non Nuớc Pagoda or the nearby Ninh Binh Museum (Bao Tang) on the opposite side of Thuy Son Park.
Non Nuớc Pagoda
Non Nước Pagoda in Ninh Binh is an ancient Buddhist temple located at the foot of the Non Nuoc “mountain” alongside the Day River. Originally constructed during the Ly Dynasty (1009-1225), it was destroyed by war and neglect then rebuilt during the Tran Dynasty (1226-1400). It has since been destroyed and rebuilt many times but the pagoda is now recognized as a national historical and cultural relic, for its stunning location, history and architecture.
Relatively unknown by European tourists, it is a huge draw card for thousands of domestic tourists who visit the region annually. Also known as Duc Thuy Son Pagoda, the temple is constructed entirely with local stone and features a spectacular garden area of some 2km², full of exotic statues and well tended gardens. A truely remarkable serene and tranquil refuge from the surrounding city.
Non Nuoc is part of Thuy Son Park, an 8 hectare area that has been put aside as part of the “green lungs” project in Ninh Binh City. Situated on the banks of the Day River, Thuy Son Park is a popular exercise and recreational spot for locals, containing including a swimming pool and a small zoo. Crisscrossed with paths and walkways, the park provides a peaceful venue for office workers, students and families to keep fit and a great place to meet people, especially in the early morning and late afternoons.
Bảo Tang Ninh Binh
To the south of Thuy Son Park is Ninh Binh Museum (Bảo Tang Ninh Binh), a must-see for any visitors with an interest in the history and culture of the Province. Spread out over an area of some 1.2km² with an exhibition space of around 500m², the Museum building was designed to emulate a lotus emerging from green mountains and blue water. Inaugurated in 1995 during the 50th anniversary of Ho Chi Minh’s Declaration of Independence of 1945, all four sides of the 3 storey building are decorated with bronze drum motifs as the symbols of Vietnamese civilization.
The Museum documents the province’s history before, during, and after the August Revolution (1945) with weaponary, busts and maps from that turbulent period.. There are also displays numerous historical items and artefacts from the ancient Ninh Binh inhabitants and many present day local traditional items and handicrafts. There are also displays of ceramics, precious artifacts, pottery, art and myriad exhibitions showcasing all of Vietnam past dynasties to the present Republic. A great introduction to the diversity, industriousness and traditions of Ninh Binh Province though, unfortunately, currently a little run down as they are preparing for the move to a new museum across town.
Ngoc My Nhan
Like Non Nuoc mountain, Ngoc My Nhan mountain is located on the banks Day river and is one of the “Four great mountains” of Ninh Binh city. In the eastern part of the city, Ngoc My Nhan is said to have three “peaks” that resemble a bird. The tallest outcrop is the head while the two smaller ones point outward “like a bird’s wings”. To one side is the Tien Son Cave which is set aside for the worship of the spirits of the mountain “petrified” into stalactites,
Elsewhere on the mountain is the Thanh Ca temple also known as Hung Thien Tran Vu Temple and is for the worship of the god Thien Ton, considered a saint of the eastern region of Hoa Lu capital. Overlooking Canh Dieu lake and under the shade of perennial green trees the original temple was built over a thousand years ago. Destroyed during the French and America wars, it was rebuilt again in 1996-2001.
Thanh Ca Pagoda
Thanh Ca Pagoda has no caves or stalactites but 2 temples at the foot of the mountain. It is famous in Vietnamese culture and often known as Kite mountain. As legend has it, there was once a Chinese Lord called Cao Bien (Gao Pian) who was steeped in magical powers. This Lord wished to rain down a curse to destroy the legend of the “Land of Talented People”. To do so he built a massive kite and flew to great height so as to properly spread the intended curse. However the Kite was fatally shot by local people and then fell to the ground, breaking the wings that now form the shape of the mountain.
Each of the “Four Mountains of Ninh Binh City” have tales of history, mystery and mythology that tourists can explore, such as Núi Kì Lân (Unicorn mountain- a creature symbol of Vietnamese mythical culture), Núi Non-Nước (Non-Nuoc Mountain), Núi Cánh Diều ( Kite Mountain), and Núi Chàng Lớ aka Núi Cá Voi (Whale Mountain).
A Plethora of Pagodas
A Nau Pagoda is linked to one of Vietnam’s most enlightened periods of the Tran Dynasty (1226-1400). A national historical monument, Dau Long Pagoda is one of Vietnam’s oldest pagodas. Golden Pagoda, adjacent to Chàng Lớ (Whale) Mountain, has a lyrical and dreamlike beauty that presents in the eyes of every visitor the picture of “the faraway illusions that cannot be touched”. Hung Long Pagoda’s venerable beauty with its immaculate gate has been poetically described as “dandelion blossoms flowing in the breeze and gently dropping on the quiet lake surface”.
We have only listed a few of Ninh Binh City’s many attractions. We plan to develop this section as we go along but hopefully we been able to make your visit to Ninh Binh City a little more interesting.
For the various health, government, police and travel issues that may crop up, Ninh Binh City is the center for many hospitals, clinics, Government offices and so on. We have put together a directory listing some of the services but for more serious concerns, Hanoi is only an hour or two away by luxury van. In the meantime, as always, travel well.