Travelling Ninh Binh: The Most Beautiful Place in Vietnam

When I used to think of myself living in Vietnam, I though I would be living here, in the midst of a rice field in Ninh Binh petting my buffalo as I walked to work. Wrong. So wrong. Instead I have to travel (only a few hundred miles...) to find these breathtaking views from my apartment in the metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City.
Ninh Binh gives you all those quintessential Vietnam vibes you've dreamt about. This is where you get to see the true beauty of Vietnam for miles upon miles. Ninh Binh just can't be beat, simple as that. So whenever someone asks me what my favourite place in Vietnam is, this is my answer.
That being said, I am about to convince you Ninh Binh is your favourite as well...

How to Get There...

It's pretty easy and straight forward if you're already in Hanoi. Hop on one of the many buses that leaves daily. One word of advice is to book your transportation to Ninh Binh City while you're in Hanoi. Booking online only seems to be more expensive and with so many buses going to and from, your bound to find a better deal just by asking the concierge at your hotel, guesthouse or hostel to help you out. 

Remember: this is Vietnam, there is always a way to get somewhere no matter what. Trust me, we sat on plastic stools (the ones they expect you to sit on while eating pho) in the middle of a packed coach bus for an hour. Fun times, fun times. Needless to say, our squat game was not that strong, so we got off and took the public bus to Ninh Binh from Hải Phòng. And Vietnamese people don't even take the public bus.

Where to Stay...

Stay in Tam Coc Village. When people say "go to Ninh Binh" they really mean you're going to be dropped off in Ninh Binh City, but you want to stay in Tam Coc Village. Tam Coc Village has beautiful and affordable homestays, guesthouses and dorms right in the middle of the rice fields. Isn't that what you came for anyways?

We stayed at the Tam Coc Friendly Homestay and couldn't have asked for anything better. The staff were absolutely lovely and extremely helpful. They had bicycle and motorbike rentals, as well as a tiny restaurant and that's all we needed.

 What to Do...

Rent a Bike

Tam Coc itself is a sight to see. Whether you rent a bicycle or motorbike the land is for the most part flat, making it easy to get around without getting too sweaty or too exhausted. Getting lost among the small paths of the Tam Coc rice patties is the whole point of exploring this place! 

Visit Bich Dong Pagoda

Simply gorgeous, this 15th century pagoda is a set of three temples enclosed in the mountain side. Surrounded by lily pads you must cross the narrow path to explore further. How mysterious. 

Climb Hang Mua Peak

One of the most amazing sites you'll take in, is from 500 steps above Tam Coc. Once you make it to the top and take a breather from that gnarly climb, these are some of the most stunning views you'll see in Vietnam. And congrats for making it to the top!

Try Some Goat Meat

Ninh Binh’s cuisine offers up some delicious dishes made from, that's right, goat. Goat meat here is a specialty because the goats are fed naturally on the limestone mountains making it more delectable than other areas of Vietnam.

Boat Around Trang An

Known for its scenic water ways, floating along the Sao Khe River through indescribable caves and past beautiful towering limestone pillars is an unforgettable experience. 

Boat trips from Trang An usually last about 2 hours, which makes it an easy visit for the day.

Grab a Drink at Chookie's Beer Garden

An absolute fave. This is the spot to grab a beer, a burger or smoothy, all while overlooking the gorgeousness of Tam Coc. They also have some delicious vegetarian and vegan options!
The nightlife scene in Ninh Binh is nearly non-existent, but this is a good spot to chill if you're looking for something to do in the evenings.

Photo From TripAdvisor
Photo From TripAdvisor

Visit Southeast Asia's Largest Buddhist Complex

Consisting of several temples and over 500 intricately carved statues of Buddha, the Bai Dinh Pagoda is definitely a place to see for temple lovers. Quite far from Tam Coc and Ninh Binh this Buddhist complex offers more breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.

So, have I convinced you, you need to visit Ninh Binh's Tam Coc?

Everything You Need to Know About Cat Ba Island Vietnam

After soaking up everything Halong Bay had to offer by boat, it was time for us to live among the hundreds of islands! Cat Ba Island is the perfect extension to your Halong Bay experience. I'm a sucker for island life (aren't we all) and was looking for a beach, a Tiger beer and Pringles. And also Oreos. 
Cat Ba being the largest island in Halong Bay is completely underrated, but to be expected when its show stopper of a brother is Halong Bay. However, it is the perfect place to escape the busyness of Hanoi and get that laid back, chilled out, "bro-that-was-gnarly-bro" atmosphere we all crave at times.

 How to Get There...

After we finished off our Halong Bay cruise, part of our package was to be dropped off back in Hanoi however, about 20 minutes outside of Halong City lies a feryy port that will take you straight to Cat Ba Island. Your tour operator will most likely drop you off on the side of the road close to a very large bridge where you'll have to hail a taxi that will take you straight to Bến phà Tuần Châu Port. From there it is about a 1-1.5 hour ferry ride through the islands to Bến tàu Du lịch Đảo Cát Bà Port. Pretty cool and inexpensive. Bonus!
Cat Ba is located off the coast of Hai Phong City, so if you are for some reason already in Hai Phong City, you can board a ferry there to Phu Long Pier which takes about 30 minutes.
Regardless of which port you arrive in to, you will need to take some sort of hour long, bumpy af bus ride into Cat Ba Town. Literally just try to get on any bus by paying the driver. We paid đ 200 000 for 2 tickets ($8 USD) and jumped on a Chinese tourist bus. Nǐ hǎo ya'll.
Side note: if you are coming from Hanoi there are plenty of tour agencies that offer one-way trips to the island. For around $20 USD and these include a hotel pickup in Hanoi and then a speedboat trip to Cat Ba Town. 

Where to Stay...

Have your pick, Cat Ba has resorts, hotels, hostels, you name it. We opted for a more budget friendly stay and chose the Central Backpackers Hostel. It was extremely clean, super cheap, breakfast is included and there's a pool with a view of the lake. This might even be the best hostel I've stayed at.
The staff is super friendly and helpful, which is always a bonus and they have tons of motorbikes and regular bicycles to rent! I definitely give this place a huge thumbs up. 

Photo by: Nomad Pad

Where to Eat...

This is pivotal. 

Mona Rooftop Restaurant

If you want the best views in town and the greatest damn coconut coffee that will ever graze your lips, then here you go. The food is also on par with the view and really this rooftop is the place to be for an epic Cat Ba sunset over the bay. 
Location: Số 180 đường 1/4, Thị trấn Cát Bà
Told you...
Photo from Tripadvisor

Casa Bonita

A cute and cozy place where you can get so many options from vegetarian-vegan to traditional Vietnamese dishes to your typical Western pasta dishes.
Location: 82 Núi Ngọc, TT. Cát Bà
Photo from Tripadvisor

Kayak Cafe

One of the prettiest and insta worthy places to grab your cà phê sữa đá in the morning before heading out to explore the island!
Location: 175A Một Tháng Tư, TT. Cát Bà
Photo from Tripadvisor

What to Do...

 Head to the Beach

Have your pick of beaches close to town. Cat Co 1 and Cat Co 2 are great for sunbathing and swimming during the summer, but if you’re not a fan of crowds on the beach, you can charter a speedboat or rent a kayak to Monkey Island and Lan Ha Bay, where the beaches are cleaner and quieter.

 Venture Out to Monkey Island

We decided we'd spend a day on Monkey Island because a. it was raining and b. why not venture out. We drove our motorbikes to the Bến Bèo Port where we got a long-tail boat to drive us round trip to Monkey Island for about đ 200 000 per person. 

Once there we kicked off with the short trek up to the peak of the island where you get one of the best views of the bay! We both wore flip-flops, instant mistake, but in the end we managed to get to the top with some sketchy manoeuvring.

We finished out our Monkey Island adventure with some tanning, monkeys and Oreos.

Hike Cat Ba National Park

Woah. This is a must.

Another day another hike. We geared up and rode our motorbikes from Cat Ba town to the National Park Headquarters and Entrance, which took a total of about 30 minutes. The entrance fee was a mere đ 40 000 for the Peak Walk and parking was another đ 10 000.

It'll take you about 15 to 20 minutes to walk from Cat Ba National Park Entrance to Kim Giao forest. The first 500 meters from the garden to the foot of the mountain is flat and easy to navigate. From the bottom of the mountain, you can start to climb the 500 meters along sections of rugged limestone stairs to get that epic view.

On the way down we grabbed some lunch at the Hoi Lake Farmstay which was right inside the National Park. What a lunch, surrounded by the mountains and overlooking a lake this was just the spot we needed after that hike! 

 Check Out Hospital Cave

This is a great pit stop to take on your way back from the National Park. The Hospital Cave served both as a secret bomb-proof hospital during the American War and as a safe house for Viet Cong leaders. Pretty cool. It was built between 1963 and 1965 with three stories of rooms to explore.

Photo from Cat Ba Express

The Verdict

Placed among thousands of beautiful limestone rocks, Cat Ba Island has a beautiful landscape and enviable location. It’s the perfect way to live among the limestones, adventure through lush forests and relax by the beach, Tiger in hand. These are true island vibes and I'm here for it!

If you have any questions please reach out, there's nothing more I'd love to do than help you plan your Cat Ba experience!

Bonsai River Cruise: Wine & Dine Down Ho Chi Minh City's Saigon River

 Give me a stunning 2-story boat, a glass of vino, an endless 5-star buffet, a sparkling nighttime view of Ho Chi Minh City's skyline, beautifully crafted traditional Vietnamese entertainment and tell me not fall in love with Bonsai Cruise.
Ho Chi Minh City, my tropical home-away-from-home, is such a charming little huge place. The culture is fascinating and the way the classic French architecture compliments the sleek skyscrapers while still merging together the many ornate temples throughout the city, make me love every second of life here. When the sun sets the city is crawling with rooftop bars that overlook Saigon and beyond. But, if you want a unique perspective of Saigon by night, the place to be is on the water! 
I've lived here for nearly a year and I can honestly say that wining and dining my way down the Saigon River with the re-opening of Bonsai Cruise was truly a night for the books. I mean, I love a good cruise, but they really blew me out of the water with such a fantastic evening (see what I did there)!
Arriving in style, we were excited to have a classy little night out in Saigon, a change from our usual plastic-table-and-chair-meal where we wear shorts and flip flops and boy were we in for a treat! Greeting us at the pier was the two story, open air, beautifully crafted Bonsai cruise ship. We were excited! Obviously.
As we were escorted to our seats, the welcome drinks arrived within seconds. We ordered some Cabernet to accompany a little walk around the boat, admiring the view, before setting sail to soak in more of Ho Chi Minh City's riverside attractions. 

The Food

Our two hour river cruise combined authentic and very delicious Vietnamese food with genuine hospitality and sparkling Saigon River views. Do you need more? There was certainly no shortage of high-end, traditional Vietnamese dishes and slow-cooked, hand-selected, fresh from the grill drool worthy options to choose from. All of which were arranged and prepared live before our eyes on interactive buffet stations.
I do love a buffet, but a tasteful, classy buffet where ingredients are locally sourced and organic makes all the difference. From the build your own pho bar to the lamb curry beautifully concocted specifically for you, this was my paradise. I'm talking, sushi, fresh spring rolls, a gorgeous cheese platter, crab claw herb salad, steamed dumplings, stuffed tofu bites, char grilled chicken skewers, clams in cream sauce and this is just the start... 

Photo by: @bonsaicruise
One more thing, the desert bar included mini pancakes. I repeat, mini pancakes.

The Entertainment

While taking an evening cruise down the Saigon River might be the main draw, there’s nothing about the radiant Ho Chi Minh City or its shimmering river water that is exclusive to any one dining experience. However, the stunning onboard entertainment really made the night spectacular and set it apart from any other dining experience I've had in this city!
From the moment we stepped onboard our ears were lit with live music, watching traditional Vietnamese dances, laughing at the frantic magician pulling coins from people's ears, to applauding the incredible man playing Despacito on the Vietnamese Bamboo Flute (best day of my life? yes). There was no shortage of entertainment. We were having a ball watching the range of talent, we almost forgot to get desert.... almost.

Photo by: @bonsaicruise
Photo by: @bonsaicruise

The Verdict

After living in Ho Chi Minh City for nearly a year, I can honestly say that wining and dining my way down the Saigon River with Bonsai Cruise has easily become one my favourite experiences in the city that I love. The views you get drifting down the river are unbeatable and definitely something a sky bar will never get you. The food? Heavenly. The entertainment? Exceptional. The experience? It undeniably sets Bonsai Cruise apart. I just can't wait for someone to come visit me here so I can have an excuse to do it all over again! 

Lastly, one thing I really appreciate about Bonsai Cruise is that since their re-launch they've upheld an environmentally friendly cruise operation where they use ethical and local sourcing to deliver their exceptional product. A+, this is so important for the future of Saigon and I'm so happy to see companies getting on board (see what I did there) with a greener future!

Essential Information

Company Bonsai Legacy Cruise at and @BonsaiCruise 
Pick-Up Point: Nha Rong Port (Saigon Port), 5 Nguyen Tat Thanh Street, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Drop-off Point: Nha Rong Port (Saigon Port), 5 Nguyen Tat Thanh Street, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Cost: Dinner cruises start at $47 USD  and all-inclusive dinner cruises start at $67 USD
What to Bring: Come hungry and don't forget your camera!

If you have any questions please reach out, there's nothing more I'd love to do than help you plan your river cruise experience!