Travel Guide

Halong Bay vs. Ninh Binh: Which one is better?

Last updated on
May 5, 2020

It is unclear when the comparison between Halong Bay and Ninh Binh begun. Recently, however, there have been more and more foreign visitors asking which destination they should pick between the two.

Halong is already very well-known internationally thanks to its status as a World Heritage Site while Ninh Binh is much more underrated despite its fascinating beauty. If you are also wondering whether to take a cruising trip or visit the paddy fields, read on and decide which to choose

I. Overview of Halong Bay and Ninh Binh

Ha Long Bay

This famous UNESCO World Heritage Site is located in Quang Ninh Province, around 170km from Hanoi.
There are various reasons why Halong is the top travel destination in Vietnam:

  • Magnificent beauty: Halong has a huge natural cave system with 1600 limestone islands and islets of various sizes and shapes rising from its vast emerald water. Each cave comes with its own story of the origin and has its own charm. The scenery is especially stunning if you view it from the seaplane. The place is worth visiting all year around. During cold winter months, Halong is surrounded in a veil of mystical mist and tourists feel like they are lost in heaven when cruising through the bay, watching islands disappear and reappear magically in front of their eyes. The atmosphere is very romantic during the autumn months.
  • High geographical value and deep history: Halong is not only highly evaluated for its aesthetic importance but also for geographical and geomorphologic values. The bay is a beautiful and unique artwork with a long-lasting history of geological formation. It is also home to ancient Vietnamese people whose traits can still be found in traditional floating villages. In addition, this destination also boats great biological diversity.
  • Great beaches: Halong has many beautiful beaches with calm water and white sand, making it the most worthy place for swimming in Vietnam. It is safe and refreshing to relax in the blue sea with a stunning natural backdrop.
  • Many exciting activities to do: It is recommended to spend at least a night on a Halong cruise to experience the leisure of cruising and witness Halong’s beauty during the golden hours. Practicing Taichi on board in the early morning may also turn out to be a memorable experience.
  • Besides standard activities like discovering grottoes, swimming, visit floating villages, tourists can also engage in various water-based activities like kayaking and scuba diving. Cycling through the island, hiking, mountain climbing, and night squid fishing are also recommended activities.

Ninh Binh

Trang An, Ninh Binh

Ninh Binh is located in the north of Vietnam. The province is about 100km from Hanoi; tourists can go there by train or bus.

Known as the Inland Halong Bay, Ninh Binh has a similar system of limestone mountains and caves.

However, tourists will see many rivers, lakes, and canals instead of the vast emerald sea. Ninh Binh charms visitors not only because of beautiful scenery but also thanks to the sense of authenticity because it offers: a look into authentic rural Vietnam which is very peaceful and laid-back.

Like with Halong, visitors can come to Ninh Binh anytime. During the rainy season, paddy fields present the best vivid green color for sightseeing.

@steve combes

The best way to explore Ninh Binh is by renting a motorbike or bike and drive through the place’s paddy fields to witness Vietnam’s farming life. Do not worry a lot about the road condition: it is quite decent.

Note that there is nothing special about Ninh Binh City, tourists should look focus on attractions outside the city, which are mainly located in Trang An, Tam Coc, Van Long, and Cuc Phuong.

There are many temples and pagodas to visit. Once you go the Ninh Binh, do not miss the chance to visit Cuc Phuong National Park and observe wildlife there through a biking or hiking trip.

There are two highly recommended activities in Ninh Binh: taking a relaxing boat ride to take in the local beauty and visiting the Thung Nham Bird Garden.

II. Points to consider in choosing between Halong and Ninh Binh

1. Number of tourists

Halong is already an established international travel destination so it obviously attracts a very large number of tourists every year.

There are concerns about overcrowded tourists in Halong but that also depends on the time you choose to visit this place. You still can plan ahead and enjoy the quiet and most beautiful Halong Bay.

On the other hand, Ninh Binh’s potential remain untapped and its status has only been rising in recent years.

If you want to stay away from massive crowds and still enjoy the beautiful landscapes. The place is a great alternative for Halong Bay.

2. Scenery

It is very hard to compare the scenery between the two places because each has its own charm.

If you prefer the sea over tiny canals in Ninh Binh, Halong is no doubt your choice. It also features bigger and more beautiful caves than in Ninh Binh.

Those who dined in the caves would no doubt remember the amazing candle-lit experience they had. Aquaculture is also a big part of Halong’s
history and it is a humbling experience to visit floating villages and witness local fishermen’ simple daily life.

Cua Van Fishermen Village

On the other hand, Ninh Binh is all about farming. If you would love to witness vast rice fields and feel the rural life in Vietnam, Ninh Binh is the perfect location for you, especially if you go there in September.

The grandeur of paddy fields will make you feel overwhelmed no less than the bay’s majesty.

3. Activities and cost

Halong is clearly the chosen destination for water-based activities, giving its geographical conditions.

The service quality varies depending on whether you choose a within-budget boat or luxury cruise. During peak months, prices can increase considerably so it is not bad to taken advantages of discounts during low seasons.

There seems more to do in Ninh Binh as you have access to both land, roads, mountains, and rivers.

The local food is also amazing. Overall, the price there is more affordable.

As you can see, both Halong and Ninh Binh are worthy travel destinations but each has its own distinctive charms. It is difficult to say which place is better because it totally depends on personal preference.

From Halong, you can take a taxi or motorbike to the bus station and then easily catch a bus to Ninh Binh.

So how about spending at least a 2 day-1 night trip in Halong first and then departing to the rural life in Ninh Binh later? You will get to experience the best of both without having to pick sides.