The capital of Vietnam – Hanoi, certainly has a variety of attractions and activities that will take a couple of days to fully explore. But when you are tired of the hustle and bustle, try venturing out past the edge of the city to discover what else is waiting for you. Take a day trip or two into the countryside of Hanoi to see another side of Vietnam. Below are our recommendations for Hanoi outskirts – what to see and where to go.
Hanoi Outskirts – What to See and Where to Go
Ninh Binh Province
Tam Coc Valley in Ninh Binh seen from above at Mua Caves
Known for its incredible natural beauty, the scenery of Ninh Binh Province is a complete contrast to that of Hanoi. With hundreds of high peaking limestone monoliths decorated with lush greenery and rivers that run through the mountains to form numerous cave systems; the area is known as the inland Ha Long Bay.
Located south of Hanoi, Ninh Binh can be reached by taking a 2-3 hours trip either by car or motorbike. An interesting option is to take a train route through the Reunification Express from Hanoi to Ninh Binh. This option is a bit slower, but if time permits, it will add another great experience to your journey! Although a one-day trip is adequate to experience the spectacular scenery of this region, we recommend spending more than a day here to fully enjoy what Ninh Binh has to offer.
Listed below are the top attractions to experience in Ninh Binh in our Hanoi outskirts – what to see and where to go guide.
Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex
Sao Khe River runs through all of Trang An and its cave system
Trang An is a complex of mountains and caves that can only be accessed by traveling on Sao Khe River. With that in mind, expect to be on a rowing boat for 2-5 hours as you float in and out of caves while weaving through the towering limestone formations. The surrounding greenery compliments the whole area to give it a sense of serenity.
Bai Dinh Pagoda, which is known as the largest complex of Buddhist temples in Vietnam can be seen by traveling through Trang An. We recommend that you go as early as possible to enjoy the atmosphere before the river becomes busy.
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Tam Coc Grottoes
Tam Coc Valley surrounded by rice fields and mountains
The launch site between Trang An and Tam Coc is roughly 10 minutes away from each other by car or motorbike. Tam Coc offers a similar experience to that of Trang An. However, the boat trip will only be about 2-3 hours long and it will allow you to see rice fields and perhaps catch glimpses of farmers working in the fields or fishing along the river banks. Some pagodas are also visible on this boat ride.
Because of these extra scenes, Tam Coc is more popular than Trang An, so we strongly recommend that you make your visit as early as possible to avoid the large crowds.
Phat Diem Cathedral
The front of Phat Diem Cathedral
Roughly about an hour’s drive from the center of Ninh Binh, Phat Diem Cathedral is a unique church built in 1892 with a strong Vietnamese architectural influence. This visual style makes the church very interesting compared to traditional ones. Even after more than a century later, the church is still functional as a place of worship.
Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
Front entrance to Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
As the name suggested, Hoa Lu was the capital of ancient Vietnam. It was a prosperous city ruled by Dai Co Viet, a kingdom that extended from the northern tip of Vietnam to the center during the 10th and 11th centuries. Surrounded by mountains, the area was naturally fortified and also benefited by the cool weather of the ranges. Very little remains of the original architectures of the surrounding area, but there are newer structures such as temples built in honor of the ruling families of the past.
View from the top of one of Mua Cave’s peaks
Mua Cave is the best location in Ninh Binh to get an elevated view of the region. To reach the highest peak, you will have to trek and climb 400-500 steps of stairs. On the way up you might see wild goats that made the mountain their home. Once you reach the top you are rewarded with a breathtaking panoramic view of Tam Coc Valley along with all the surrounding limestone mountains and the rice fields. Be sure to bring water with you for the climb and avoid the afternoon when the sun is at its strongest.
Ba Vi National Park
One of many waterfalls throughout Ba Vi National Park
Travel about two hours by car or motorbike west of Hanoi towards Ba Vi National Park to truly immerse yourself in nature. Once within the area, the park offers a variety of attractions and activities that you can choose from.
Many waterfalls are considered to be the treasure of the park and even a water park tourist area that accommodates swimming, fishing, and camping. Location to sightsee includes a variety of gardens, temples, and French ruins from the colonization period. Trekking is another popular activity and Ba Vi offers three separate peaks to conquer. The highest being the King Peak, Tan Vien Peak being the second-highest, and Ngoc Hoa Peak is the lowest.
Ha Long Bay
Elevated view of Ha Long Bay
With thousands of beautiful rocky limestone islets spread out all over the bay, the natural formation brings a mystical feeling like nowhere else in the world. Ha Long Bay is about 3-4 hours away by car, east of Hanoi. We recommend that you splurge on a quality tour guide to avoid any hassle given the area’s popularity.
Even though Ha Long Bay is extremely popular, it is still worth the visit to the crown jewel of tourism in Vietnam. For our guide of Hanoi outskirts – what to see and where to go, Ha Long Bay is our top recommendation if you are visiting Hanoi for the first time.
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Final Words on Hanoi Outskirts – What to See and Where to Go
To wrap up our guide to Hanoi outskirts – what to see and where to go, we want to reiterate that it is great to take a single day trip to any of the locations mentioned above. However, we strongly recommend that a two-day trip or more will give you ample time to experience all of what the area has to offer.