Halong Bay of the mainland
Vietnam’s most underrated destination can be found close to the town of Ninh Binh, just three hours south of Hanoi. Tam Coc features idyllic waterways between vast limestone cliffs that rise out of the rice paddies. The area is often called Halong Bay of the mainland and is still much less touristy.
To get the most out of your stay, use Ninh Binh as a home base. Rent a motorbike and head out to Tam Coc village as early as possible. From here you’ll be able to catch a small row boat for a two hour round trip. The experienced rowers are known for their laid-back rowing techniques. With a maximum capacity of two people per boat, the trip is a quite intimate experience, unlike most Halong Bay tours. You’ll pass local fishermen, small bamboo huts, large rice fields, ancient temples and narrow caves.
Vietnam’s best viewpoint
After the two hour boat ride, enjoy a delicious lunch in Tam Coc village before heading on to Mua Cave and it’s stunning viewpoint.
Tucked away at the end of a road running between rice paddies, Mua Cave is not terribly impressive, but the main attraction is the panoramic view from the peak above. A stone staircase beside the cave entrance zigzags up the side of the karst and it’s almost 500 steps to the top where there’s a simple altar to Quan Am (Goddess of Mercy). Look west and you’ll see the Ngo Dong River winding through Tam Coc. – Lonely Planet
Phat Diem – Vietnam meets Europe
The cathedral of Phat Diem, south of Ninh Binh, is a unique piece of architecture: a catholic church with strong Vietnamese influences. If you have the time, plan a visit and explore the vast premises and impressive wooden interiors. The cathedral (1891) featured prominently in Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American, and it was from the bell tower that the author watched battles between the North Vietnamese Army and the French.