Sapa or Ninh Binh: Comparing Two Vietnam Truly Hidden Gems

By Ngoc Tu Dinh - July 6, 2024
Sapa or Ninh Binh: Comparing Two Vietnam Truly Hidden Gems

Sapa or Ninh Binh is a worthy place to discover in Vietnam, comparing cultural experiences, natural beauty, and activities.

Ninh Binh and Sa Pa offer stunning natural beauty, unique cultural experiences, and great outdoor activities. Sa Pa is known for its breathtaking rice terrace treks and encounters with ethnic minorities. On the other hand, Ninh Binh offers serene riverboat cruises, hidden caves, and ancient temples. Whether you prefer adventurous hikes or peaceful boat rides, our complete guide will help you decide which destination is perfect for your next Vietnamese adventure.

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1. Natural Beauty

Sapa and Ninh Binh offer stunning mountain and rice paddy views, making them top picks for nature lovers and eco-tourists. However, each has its unique charm.

Sapa or Ninh Binh

Sapa, in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range, is known for its breathtaking vistas, terraced rice fields, and challenging trekking trails. You can hike through these terraces, climb Mount Fansipan, or explore hidden waterfalls and valleys. Sapa's misty clouds, stunning sunrises, and vibrant nightlife scene make it perfect for those seeking outdoor adventure by day and lively evenings by night.

Ninh Binh, often called “Ha Long Bay on land”, features dramatic limestone cliffs rising from emerald rice paddies. You can explore hidden caves, boat through grottoes, and visit ancient temples. Ninh Binh's serene, picturesque surroundings are ideal for tranquil foot or bike rides along country roads and peaceful villages, making it perfect for travelers seeking a deep connection with nature.

Read more: What to see in Ninh Binh? Top unmissable places in Ninh Binh

2. Ethnic minority

Sapa boasts diverse groups like the Hmong, Dao, Tay, Giay, and Xa Pho, each with unique customs, clothing, languages, and traditions. Visitors can immerse themselves by visiting traditional villages, attending festivals, and exploring handicrafts.

Ethnic minority

In Ninh Binh, ethnic minorities are fewer, with the main groups being the Thai and Hoa Lu people. Influenced more by the Vietnamese majority and ancient dynasties, the culture here is rich with historical significance.

3. Unique Culture

In Sapa, colorful festivals celebrate ethnic traditions, including the famous "Love Market" and “Flower Hmong Festival”. Ethnic minorities like the Hmong and Dao embrace independence and animistic beliefs, reflected in their vibrant textiles.

Sapa Love Market

Meanwhile, Ninh Binh's culture revolves around wet rice cultivation, with festivals marking the harvest. Influenced by ancient dynasties, Ninh Binh features Buddhist temples and unique cuisine highlighting freshwater fish and mountain vegetables. Explore Hoa Lu's historical significance as the former capital of Vietnam's ancient dynasties through its preserved temples and pagodas.

Ninh Binh Festival

4. Specialty Cuisine

Sapa Cuisine: Thang Co

In Sapa and Ninh Binh, you can savor the unique tastes of Vietnam.

In Sapa, try Thang Co, a hearty horse meat soup, or classic dishes like Pho and Bun Cha. Ninh Binh offers street food delights like Banh Cuon, Nem Ran, and Com Chay. Join guided tours for the best culinary experiences.

Read more: 11 Best Ninh Binh Foods

5. Shopping & Entertainment

Experience vibrant shopping at local markets in Sapa and Ninh Binh, offering reasonably priced traditional clothes, handicrafts, and souvenirs. In Sapa, visitors can enjoy live music performances and cocktails with mountain views, while Ninh Binh offers a laid-back atmosphere perfect for sunset drinks. In Ninh Binh, find traditional markets and souvenir shops offering paintings and carvings. 

Shopping in Sapa

However, be prepared for persistent sales pitches from local women selling bracelets and textiles.

6. Best Outdoor Activities

6.1. Top Outdoor Activities to Do in Sapa

In Sapa, trekking through the rice terraces is a popular activity offering stunning views and cultural immersion. Fansipan Mountain, Vietnam's highest peak, offers a challenging yet rewarding hike. Explore terraced fields, climb Fansipan, discover caves in Muong Hoa Valley, and enjoy mountain biking in the region.

Trekking Fansipan

Read more: A Guide to The Best Trekking in Sapa Vietnam 2024

6.2. Top Outdoor Activities to Do in Ninh Binh

Ninh Binh showcases stunning landscapes with limestone cliffs rising from emerald waters. Trang An Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers boat tours through caves amidst natural beauty. Cycling routes lead past rice paddies and villages.

Boat tour Trang An

The limestone karst mountains are breathtaking year-round. Boat tours at Tam Coc and Trang An, a hike to Hang Mua, a trip to Cuc Phuong National Park, and a visit to Bai Dinh Pagoda offer diverse experiences for several days.

7. Transport Tips

7.1. How to get to Sapa from Hanoi

The distance from Sapa to Hanoi is 313 km. Accessibility to Sapa is more challenging and time-consuming than Ninh Binh. Located further north in the mountains, Sapa is about a 5-hour drive or overnight train journey from Hanoi.

Overnight Train to Sapa

Alternatively, day buses provide direct transportation from Hanoi to Sapa, taking approximately 5-6 hours, with prices starting around $15. For the fastest and most comfortable journey, hiring a private car or taxi is an option, though it's the most expensive, costing around $150-$200.

7.2. How to get to Ninh Binh from Hanoi

It's 94.7 km from Ninh Binh to Hanoi, and it takes around 2 hours and 10 minutes by car. Transportation options include daily trains starting at $5 and frequent buses starting at $3. Private car rides take about 2 hours, and prices vary. Renting a motorbike or bicycle, starting at $5 per day, is a great way to explore Ninh Binh.

Hang Mua Ninh Binh

8. Weather differences

Ninh Binh and Sapa have contrasting weather due to their altitude and location. If you prefer warm weather and sunshine, choose Ninh Binh. But if you want cooler temperatures or a break from the heat, Sapa is the best choice.

8.1. Sapa Weather

Sapa temperatures range from 10-25°C year-round, making it ideal for exploring lush forests and scenic rice terraces. The climate is temperate, with cool summers and mild winters, significantly cooler than Ninh Binh. Rainfall is evenly distributed, often accompanied by mist and fog.

Sapa weather in winter

The best times to visit are April-May and September-October, when temperatures are comfortable and clear skies are available, although misty days can still offer stunning views.

Read more: Best Time to Visit Sapa, Vietnam

8.2. Ninh Binh Weather

Ninh Binh's climate is subtropical, generally warm to hot year-round, with temperatures ranging from 20°C in winter to 34°C in summer. Rainfall is most significant during the wet season (May-October). The best times to visit are March-May and September-November for pleasant temperatures and less rain.

Ninh Binh Fantastic Weather

Read more: Best Time to Visit Ninh Binh, Vietnam

9. Accommodation Options

When planning your trip to Vietnam, deciding where to stay is crucial. Sapa and Ninh Binh offer options for all demands. Luxury resorts offer opulence, while camping offers a connection with nature. Consider your preferences before booking. However, in Sapa, construction noise in the city center can be bothersome if your hotel is near a construction site.

10. Ideal Trip Length

Ideal trip length in sapa and ninh binh

  • 1-day and 2-day trips: Choose between Sapa or Ninh Binh depending on the season and your interests. Ninh Binh is ideal in summer for its cooler climate and water-based activities like boat tours. In winter, opt for Sapa for its stunning mountain views and trekking opportunities.
  • 3-day trip: Decide based on the season and your pace. Consider both destinations in spring or autumn for varied experiences. Or focus on one to delve deeper into its attractions and local culture.
  • 4-day trip and more: Explore both Sapa and Ninh Binh for a comprehensive experience. Spend two days in each to enjoy the diversity of landscapes and cultures Vietnam offers.

Top-rated Ninh Binh tours

11. FAQs

#1 What Are the Iconic Attractions in Sapa and Ninh Binh?

Sapa features stunning rice terraces, ethnic minority villages, and Fansipan, the region's highest peak. In Ninh Binh, visitors enjoy limestone karst landscapes, boat tours through caves and grottoes, and ancient temples like Bai Dinh Pagoda and Hoa Lu Ancient Capital.

#2 Do Locals in Sapa and Ninh Binh Speak English?

While some locals may speak English, it's not guaranteed. However, language barriers shouldn't deter you from exploring these destinations. With patience and willingness to communicate, you can still enjoy interacting with locals and immersing yourself in the culture.

#3 What Are the Must-Try Local Dishes in Sapa and Ninh Binh?

Sapa offers dishes like Thang Co soup and traditional Vietnamese favorites. In Ninh Binh, indulge in Banh Cuon and Nem Ran. Don't miss out on these culinary delights during your visit.

12. Conclusion

In conclusion, Ninh Binh and Sapa offer true experiences in northern Vietnam, showcasing stunning natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and diverse outdoor activities. Our guide provides essential information on travel logistics, attractions, and expenses to help you plan your trip effectively. And remember to stay informed about safety, health precautions, and visa requirements during your trip.

To get a personalized Sapa trip itinerary, contact us via email or visit our tour package to check and book at the best price.

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Ngoc Tu Dinh
Travel Expert
I'm Ngoc Tu Dinh, a local travel expert from Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam. Exploring Vietnam has been my passion for years, and I've spent 10 years as a tour guide throughout Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. I hope that my understanding of Vietnamese culture, allow me to offer a unique perspective in this blog. Currently, I am based at IZITOUR. If you're planning a trip to Vietnam, I'm here to help you make the most of it! Feel free to leave your comments at the end of the article. Your feedback is important, and I look forward to responding to you.

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