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90km (56 miles) S of Hanoi; 110km (68 miles) N of Vinh

The many sights in and around Ninh Binh -- just an hour-and-a-half ride south of Hanoi on Hwy. 1 -- are often visited as a day trip or with an overnight on a planned tour from Hanoi. Independent travelers arriving in Ninh Binh find themselves in a cluster of shops along busy Hwy. 1, with little in the way of good food and just one hotel that even passes muster. And, in fact, you'll probably end up paying more to do the trip independently. I recommend taking a good, private tour to the area; just choose the sights that most interest you (you can't really do them all in a day) and find a tour operator that makes the trip. Any of the tour operators in Hanoi will do. The exception to this, and the only place that really merits an overnight -- but for nature buffs only -- is Cuc Phuong National Park; if you visit Cuc Phuong on a day trip from Hanoi, you get there at the wrong time of day, when any wildlife is hiding out, so it's worth an overnight. Otherwise, go with a tour.