If you’re visiting Ninh Binh, then it’s likely you’ve come to find an epic limestone mountain view.
Whilst there are some great ones from the boats at Trang An or Tam Coc, the best (and easiest to get to on your own) are set in the beautiful countryside at Mua Caves.
Mua Caves (Hang Mua)
Set 5km out of the bustling city of Ninh Binh, are the picturesque Mua Caves. The whole area is famous for its limestone mountains and has been nick-named “Halong Bay on land”.
Despite having the worst weather on our trip it was still a stunningly beautiful area and one of our favourites in Vietnam.
The entry way to Mua Caves is a little disneyfied and the owners there have gone to extreme lengths to try to bring in tourists with swings, lights, shops, manicured paths, strange statues and just about anything you can think of that is cheesy.
Persevere through the cheesy setting and follow the path round the lake to the steps and you leave it all behind. From here it’s a steep, relentless uphill climb leading to some truly epic views. We weren’t counting but we’ve heard it is around 500 steps.
Lying Dragon Mountain - view 1
When the path arrives at a souvenir/drinks shop (see what we mean about touristy?) head left. The path continues up and offers one of the most iconic views in the whole of Ninh Binh.
We weren’t very lucky with the weather, but even with grey gloomy skies, the view was amazing. You can see hundreds of the limestone mountains, the river and the rice paddies. We had experienced quite a bit of rain, so the river had flooded.
There are a couple of places you can stop to take a look, but the best is the one with the stone railings. It happens to be a favourite with instagrammers and you can easily see why.
At the top of this staircase is a dragon and a small pagoda that offers another panoramic view of the area.
The pagoda - view 2
Head back down the path until you get to the souvenir/drinks shop (urgh) and then head straight rather than continuing down.
The climb to the next spot isn’t as steep as the one to Lying Dragon Mountain.
At the top you’ll see a magnificent view of the other side of Mua Caves, over flatter land, with Ninh Binh in the distance. This offers lovely views of the rice paddies which a couple of months earlier would have been emerald, but were looking a bit dull and muddy on our visit.
There’s a pagoda built on top of one of the scraggly cliffs. We’re not sure how someone managed to build it without falling off, but it’s an impressive sight.
Sadly as with many sites in Vietnam there is a bit of trash in this area. It’s sad to see that such natural beauty is treated so carelessly by a minority of people. Unfortunately most of it is in sections of the path where it is quite precarious and hard to actually remove it.
Best time to go to Mua Caves (Hang Mua)
The best time to go to Mua Caves is as early as possible. It opens to the public at 7am. We stayed at the eco lodge on site and whilst we were given the same opening hours there are no gates or anything to stop you going in earlier. We saw a member of staff just as we were entering an hour before the officially opening time and they just waved us on. The early morning provides not just the best light for photos, but also the least crowds.
Whilst it wasn’t ever too busy when we were there, we’ve heard horror stories of the crowds in peak season. It is not the kind of place you’ll want to be with too many others as the paths and lookouts are really small.
Getting to Mua Caves (Hang Mua)
The easiest way to get to Mua Caves is to hire a motorbike or even cycle and incorporate it into a day of seeing the local area. The roads in the area are a bit bumpy, but they are pretty quiet (well, so long as you avoid the DT491 or Highway 1!). Ignore the parking options outside the front, you can park at Mua Caves.
Alternatively, you can hire a taxi to take you there as it’s not that far from Tam Coc or Ninh Binh city.
Entrance Fee for Mua Caves
It costs 100,000 dong per person (just under $5 USD) to enter Mua Caves.
Where to stay in Ninh Binh
Mua Caves Eco Lodge
If you’re visiting Ninh Binh for longer than a day, then Mua Caves Eco Lodge is a good option. Whilst the rooms aren’t the cheapest, you’ll save on the entry price (100,000 dong per person - $5 USD) and be able to get in before everyone else.
The rooms are set in little lodges around the lake and paths. We recommend asking for the one furthest away from the entrance to avoid the construction that is currently happening around the reception building. The slightly strange thing about this place is the paths to the caves go right past your door so it can sometimes feel a bit less private.
The rooms are large and comfortable, but the big appeal for us was the rural setting and guaranteed peace at night. We thought the city was more likely to have the 24/7 motorbike noise and car horns!
The food here isn’t the best, but tolerable for a night or so. Alternatively you can hire a motorbike and head to Tam Coc which has some great food options.
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Are you planning a trip to Ninh Binh? Do you know of any other amazing views in the area? Let us know in the comments below!