• My Ninh Binh:
    Pham Minh Tam

    All photos by Christian Berg

Pham Minh Tam, or Tommy as he’s known to his guests, was born in Ninh Binh in 1991. Tommy spent his childhood playing amid Ninh Binh’s rice fields and limestone karsts. As a teenager, he moved to Hanoi to study and began working in tourism for hotels and cruise companies. But the memory of Ninh Binh’s peaceful rhythms called to him, and he soon left the capital for his hometown. Back in Ninh Binh he founded his Tommy’s Tours, which takes travellers on back-of-the-bike tours to see an authentic side of Ninh Binh.

Below Tommy shares what it’s like to grow up in rural Vietnam, as well as his best tips for travellers who want to get up close with the surreal beauty of Ninh Binh. 

Ninh Binh local guide

What was it like to grow up in a place like Ninh Binh?

I studied primary school and grew up here, in Hoa Lu. My friends and I would play in the rice fields and in small canals, where we’d catch fish and crabs. I really liked fishing when I was younger. We’d also play with kites in the summer and play football in our ‘stadium’ -- which was really just some grass -- or we’d play in the rice fields when they were dry and we had finished the harvest.

I moved to Hanoi to study in university in 2009, and after that, I worked in Hanoi for another three years before I returned to Ninh Binh.

What do you like most about your hometown?

The people here are the friendliest people in Vietnam. When we go to other provinces, they always say Ninh Binh people are very friendly, very sociable. I also like that it’s peaceful. That’s the reason I returned here to live. Here I can live close to my family and see them every day. 

Ninh Binh travel tips

How has Ninh Binh changed over time?

About 15 years ago Ninh Binh was not this developed. There were more smaller houses and roads. We used to have just one small main road going through the city. Now, we have more buildings, more hotels, and also some homestays in the area. 

Most people in Ninh Binh still live on agriculture, especially the middle-aged locals. They plant rice in Hoa Lu District, and raise ducks, goose, pigs, buffalos, and brown cows. In other districts nearby people plant tea leaves, sweet potatoes, pineapple, and passionfruit.

Ninh Binh travel tips

What activities do you recommend to travellers in Ninh Binh? 

Along the mountains near Trang An we have a big road that is very good for cycling, especially in the afternoon. In my free time, I cycle along the mountains and I enjoy the peace. There you can see the rice fields, the mountains, and local people raising buffalo, cows or mountain goats.

You also shouldn’t miss a boat tour. There are several places to take boat tours, including Tam Coc, Trang An and Vu Long. Trang An became a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2014, and before that no one knew before it. In my opinion, it’s the best place for a boat tour. ninh binh travel tips

My recommendation is to stay here at least one night, visit Mua Cave, do at least one boat ride, and don’t miss the backroads of Ninh Binh.

What sort of experience do you want people to have with Tommy’s Tours?

When I returned here to work, I realized that many tourists want to discover the city, but they are not confident driving their own scooters. The traffic in Vietnam is complicated, the roads are very bumpy and it’s hard to control the bike. So we arrange for them to go with local riders. We used our bikes to take our guests to the sites via the backroads.

Our guests get to totally enjoy the landscapes from the back of the bike. They can stop anywhere on the way for pictures. We go along mountains, rivers, rice fields and through the villages. It’s a very safe and trendy way to explore Ninh Binh. 

ninh binh local guide

What do you want for Ninh Binh?

I wish the hotels and homestays can provide better service and better hospitality and better accommodation for tourists. I hope we can do more to showcase Ninh Binh’s beauty to the world. 

Continue your journey through #MyVietnam with insightful local interviews, videos and travel tips here.