Since there is not much to do in Nghi Son, we decided to take a weekend away in Ninh Binh, about a 2.5 hour drive north of our hotel. When looking for accommodations for two nights, I first looked for major hotel chains where we have tons of loyalty points. There were no major hotels in the area, so I went on to look for Airbnb-type accommodations, or hotel rooms that are big enough for our family. I typically decide on the activities we want to do, and then pick a hotel that is close by or centrally located among the things we want to do. I had read that Ninh Binh, the city, is a pretty typical dusty Vietnamese city. Then there’s the area around Tam Coc river, which is where most of the tourists tend to stay. I wanted to do a Trang An boat tour, Bai Dinh pagoda, Hoa Lu Ancient Capital and Cuc Phuong National Park. These are all north of the Tam Coc area, so I started looking closer to the Trang An area. Enter Ninh Binh Family homestay!
We have stayed at Korean pensions, and Airbnbs in several countries, but never a homestay. The idea is that we stay with a family who has converted part of their home into guest rooms. Scott, the founder and owner of Ninh Binh Family Homestay, picked us up from Ninh Binh and drove us to his cousin’s house way out in the country. He started the original Ninh Binh family homestay and it was so successful he set up more homestays with his relatives in the area. The rooms were modern and clean, but fairly basic. Breakfast is included and dinner can be ordered for $5/person. There was plenty of food for our family and everything was delicious! The best part was the peaceful sound of chirping crickets and croaking frogs as we went to sleep out in the Vietnamese countryside. The small garden was beautiful and the boys had fun peeking back in the kitchen while the family prepped and ate. Landon and Owen played and relaxed in the hammocks and chased the resident cat and dog around. It was the best of both worlds- modern, clean accommodations while being out in nature!
We arranged to hire a car and driver for both Saturday and Sunday through Scott for $40/day. He took us around the sights in Ninh Binh personally on Saturday. His English is very good, and he was able to tell us a little about each place as we drove. He had good recommendations of things to do and places to eat as well! It was so nice having a local guide! On Sunday, he had his brother drive us to Cuc Phuong National Park. He also has scooters for rent, but with two small kids, the car was the better, safer option for us.
We stayed one night in a Family Bungalow, that had two double beds and a bathroom and was a separate building from the main house. The back windows opened out in a view of tropical plants, so it felt like we were sleeping in a tropical forest. The second night, we stayed in the main house in a room with two beds, a balcony, and view of the beautiful mountains that surround the area. Both were great, but I think we preferred the mountain view room just because of the view first thing in the morning. I booked our room on orbitz.com, but they take reservations from many hotel booking websites. Most of the rooms were full during our stay, so there were other westerners there as well, but everyone was very chill and quiet, just enjoying the peace of the area. Our camera battery died on Saturday, and one of our fellow homestayers heard us ask the host if they had a camera charger. He happened to have one and ran up to his room to grab it and lend it to us for the evening. He was so nice, and saved us from having to use Landon’s camera for our whole second day in Ninh Binh!
It was such a cool experience to stay out in the country with a Vietnamese family. Scott’s cousin spoke really good English, and made sure we were comfortable the entire time. Water and other beverages were available for purchase in a refrigerator. They were even gracious and understanding when Landon got a terrible bloody nose in the middle of the night and soiled the sheets blood. I can wholeheartedly recommend Ninh Binh Family Homestay for individuals or families with kids!