Ninh Bình province is approximately two hours outside of Hanoi. Most famous for, Tràng An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the 2005 movie King Kong was filmed. The tour company we used is no longer available, though we noticed many operators offering the exact same service. It was extremely hot the day we went. Check the weather; bring extra water and snacks; hydrate often; and if your tour operator allows for it, take air-conditioning breaks. We were each given a nón lá ("leaf hat"), which seemed hokey at first to give to tourists, ended up being the perfect sun shade. Day trip cost: $58/person, lunch included.
Hoa Lu Temples: Hoa Lu, the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries, was our first stop. Visit the Dinh King temple and Le King temples and learn about two former kings of Dai Viet (name of Vietnam in those centuries).
Bicycle in Scenic Area: Take a leisurely guided ride down Hoa Lau streets to a scenic view. Bicycles were provided, along with a guide that led us on a brief ride.
Tràng An: The highlight of the day is a boat ride through Tràng An. Your boat guide will take you through several caves and through the beautiful limestone peaks. This fairly long excursion is peacefully quiet. All tourists, without a word, seemed to fall silent and enjoy the serene, meditative stillness of the landscape. Sun block and/or sun clothing is essential as there is no cover and the sun can be punishing.
Hike to Vista of Ngo Dong River: Hike 500 steps to the Hang Múa pagoda. At the top catch an incredible view of the Ngo Dong river.