Often referred to as “Halong Bay on land”, the northern province of Ninh Binh combines jagged limestone peaks with flat rice paddies and mellow streams into seemingly impossible landscapes. Jam-packed with both natural and cultural attractions and only a short trip south from Hanoi, Ninh Binh is Vietnam at its most photogenic.

Boat trips around the village of Tam Coc and at the UNESCO-listed Trang An Grottoes are a memorable experience, with local oarswomen helming their boats with their feet as they take tourists on river rides across karst sceneries and through tunnels underneath colossal limestone outcrops. It is also well worth climbing the 450 steps at Hang Mua Peak for spectacular bird’s eye views of the area.

While it is easy to visit it on a quick trip from the nation’s capital, Ninh Binh deserves much more of your time than just one day. Cycling around the province is pleasant and relatively safe, so rent a bicycle from your hotel and explore Ninh Binh’s majestic nature and historical sites at a relaxing pace, away from tourist crowds.