I definitely highly recommend this little gem to anyone travelling through Vietnam. It is unlike anywhere I have ever stayed in the world. I didn’t want to leave!
Nguyen Shack – Ninh Binh
Did you ever watch the film The Beach with Leonardo dicaprio and think ‘I wonder what it would be like to live in a secluded community in tropical paradise and live like a local?’ This is a wild retreat that offers you this sense of being (minus a beach!)
The setting is far more beautiful than that of any beach I have seen. It is tucked away inside a bustle of jagged cliffs, positioned on top of a lake filled with creaking grasshoppers, bouncing lillypads, adorable slimy frogs and the most giant snail I have ever seen, giving you a complete sense of privacy and isolation, in a good way. The path leading to the property often gets a little flooded which only adds to the adventure and hilarity of trying to get in and out. Once inside the gate you are greeted by a lovely little pig called Bacon. The restaurant / bar area is large and offers tables and chairs as well as relaxing recliner wooden chairs overlooking the plant and bird filled lake. The travellers tend to gather in here in the evenings for food, drink and company. The huts are dotted along a bamboo path lining the edge of the cliff and the furthest one is about a 5 minute walk- be warned! All of the waterfront bungalows have a private bathroom, several hammocks and an open front directly over the lake, the wifi is sketchy outside of the bar area.
It is run by locals who also have a school attached so visitors can help to teach the local children English in the evenings. They are so enthusiastic and sweet! The staff were warm and friendly, very down to earth and would happily have a drink with you in the evening and give you tips on things to do in and around the area.
Onsite you can relax in a hammock on your terrace, chat with the staff, venture into the onsite caves or meet fellow travellers in the bar area.
A 5 minute walk away is the Lying Dragon Mountain which is a 463 step climb to a shrine at the top of a stunning cliff offering indescribable views over the area. Try to head up there around 4pm as the sun starts to set and this adds to the beauty and outlines the top of the mountains.
Within 10km there are several pagodas also worth a visit as they are stunning and two boat tours. Personally I recommend taking a free bike from reception and cycling through to Tam Coc (5km away) for a boat tour. On the way you cycle through rice paddys and local villages where there is a school and the locals smile and wave as you pass through. The boat tour is magnificent, the cliff formations and the lake is out of this world. The round trip is around 1.5 hours and is less touristy than Halong Bay and a far more intimate experience. You can leave your bicycles here free of charge. Afterwards you can cycle a further 1.5km to the bich dong pagoda which is also very beautiful. Cycling the area is easy as the roads are mostly flat. Having this combined with such tall mountains everywhere offers an unusual terrain.
The lodge also offer a private tour of the village including visiting a nearby tofu factory and a clothes making factory. Personally I did not have time to take this tour on my 2 night trip but I have heard nothing but good things about it.
I understand the owners also have a property in Can Tho in the Mekong delta which is now on my list for my next trip to Vietnam.
During our stay we had a minor emergency and the staff were more than helpful in assisting us – I can understand why this place has won awards. I left here feeling that I had achieved so much – climbing steps, cycling through REAL Vietnam, eating home cooked food and sleeping in a bamboo hut during the most crazy lightning and thunderstorm of my life – this place is a real wild adventure. I would definitely return here and recommend others to do the same.
Ninh Binh is technically a suberb of Hanoi (despite being 90km away). Our visit here was towards the end of the trip, whenever a local heard we were visiting here they would glow and smile, I now understand why. The main attraction here is that it is far less touristy than anywhere else I visited in Vietnam, not to mention that I was completely blown away by its surreal beauty. There are plenty of hotels to chose from with cemented walls and double glazed windows for those who are a little more faint hearted. Personally, I think I sit on the fence between luxury and backpacker hotels and I found that the Nguyen Shack hotel really pushed me out of my comfort zone. It was the most exciting part of my trip to Vietnam and I definitely recommend it to those who are a little more adventurous.
Nguyen Shack Survival Guide (Things I recommend taking for your stay there)
- Sensible footwear for climbing potentially wet steps
- More footwear for walking through deep puddles
- Plastic / carrier bags for putting said muddy footwear in
- Good flip flops to keep dry for dinner after showering vat of mud off of yourself
- A torch (the caves are fairly well lit but sometimes lose power)
- PLENTY of mosquito spray, it’s a hot country, by a lake…!
- DONT bring unsealed sweets unless you would like furry friends inside your room at night, they will chew through anything!
Be safe and have fun!