The location of Nguyen Shack in scenic Ninh Bình, Vietnam, about 90 minutes south of Hanoi, is spectacular. The rustic bamboo bungalows are nestled amongst National Geographic-worthy limestone pitons and expansive rice paddies, yet just a 15-minute taxi ride from the Ninh Bình train station.
Some guests rent motorbikes to get around the countryside; we hoofed it on foot and borrowed free bicycles from the inn. This led to memorable encounters with local villagers (including many smiling, waving children), curious goats, a flock of ducks, and slow-moving water oxen. The landscape was a real highlight, and you can get an overview of it by climbing Hang Mua, a.k.a. Mua Cave, about two minutes from Nguyen Shack. Rowing the Trang An grottos is another must in these parts and a fine alternative to scammy Tam Coc.
The inn itself is run by a French-Canadian and Vietnamese couple. They were never on-site at any point during our stay, although we communicated with them via email in advance of our arrival. (Together they operate four guest houses throughout Vietnam, including one in the Mekong Delta.) A handful of staffers live on-site in Ninh Bình and work very long hours; if we ever needed anything, there was always someone around to help. They were charming, warm, and attentive, and many spoke excellent English. Due to the hotel’s relative isolation, we ate two breakfasts and two dinners on-site (something we almost never do) and the meals were always tasty and fairly priced.
Nguyen Shack’s WiFi works well in its common areas, but not in the rooms; the further away your bungalow is from the restaurant, the poorer the connection. The bungalows themselves are modestly equipped: There is a mini-fridge, kettle, mosquito net, some free snacks, and basic toiletries, including shampoo, shower gel, a comb, and toothbrush kits. Ours had four hammocks total—two inside the bungalow and two on the porch. Towels were threadbare, and yes, you will encounter bugs and other critters in your room because rooms are more or less open to the elements.
The only problem? These “eco-sustainable” rooms (from $46 USD per night) can be brutally hot between April and October. The lazily whirring wall-mounted fans and lone standing fan do little to cool the swelter; and once you drop the mosquito net over the bed—you’ll be eaten alive if you don’t—it becomes suffocating and unbearable. We tossed and turned all night long, several nights in a row, and must’ve taken four cold showers a day in a vain attempt to cool off. Suffice it to say, these were the worst nights of sleep we had in two-plus years of traveling Asia.
Would we go back? Yes, but only in the winter.
Hang Mua Road, Khe Ha Village, Ninh Xuan, Hoa Lu, Ninh Bình, Vietnam; +84-229-3618-678.