After our passage through Hanoi and Halong Bay, our next destination in northern Vietnam was Tam Coc, also known as the inland Halong Bay!>You will understand immediately where this nickname comes from, and also why we liked it much more than the actual Halong Bay! Among its rice paddies and its cliffs, this piece of paradise was our favorite place in northern Vietnam. You want to know more? Keep reading!
Where to stay in Tam Coc
The nearest town to Tam Coc is Ninh Binh, but there is nothing to visit there (just the train station) so we decided to stay in the village of Tam Coc. It is a small town that has become a tourist destination (we saw several buses leave and take tourists) but without becoming too crowded.
We stayed at the Duc Tuan Hotel, very well located in the town center and a step away from the quay. The room was large, with private bath and shower, air conditioning, bikes and breakfast included, all for € 14 a night. However, the workers were not at all friendly and our room was on the fourth floor (which is not very nice when it’s 35 degrees of wet heat and there’s no lift!). It is a very basic hotel without charm, but for a couple of nights it is fine. Also its location is ideal, very close to Tam Coc restaurants.
How to get to Tam Coc to Hanoi?
There are several ways to get to Tam Coc, but we decided to take a train from Hanoi station. We bought our tickets directly at the station for 78,000 VND (3.25 € per person), and the journey lasted approximately two hours. After arriving at Ninh Bin station we took a taxi to Tam Coc for the same price. For the way back we did the same journey. We advise you to buy the return ticket the same day you arrive in Ninh Binh, as we did not and it turned out that the train we wanted to take was full! We had to wait for the next train to return to Hanoi (4 hours waiting …).
Getting around Tam Coc
Cycling! It is the best in this region, so flat that we could visit all that we wanted without sweating (it was even cool to feel the air while riding!). There are also rental scooters at various locations in the village. Ask for a map of the area (everyone has the same, although it is rather a rough sketch of the main roads). The maps do not detail all the roads, but more or less indicate how to reach each important place! We advise you to travel by bike, it is much more pleasant and everything is quite close! And you can go for a ride through the unpolluted rice fields and do some exercise at the same time!
Where to eat in Tam Coc?
Linh Trang Café next to the road on the way to the Bich Dong Pagoda.
Minh Toan restaurant in the center of Tam Coc.
Backpacker Hostel. Where we ate almost every night, as the staff is super friendly, the food is very tasty and it is cheaper than the other restaurants!
Visit Tam Coc in 2 days
Here are the places we visited and the things we did in Tam Coc in two days. There are agencies that do day tours to visit Tam Coc from Hanoi, but we find it exaggerated to swallow 3 or 4 hours of road to take a boat ride, eat and get back on the bus back to Hanoi! Most of the people we crossed in restaurants or hotels stayed for a couple of nights in Tam Coc. We find that two or three days may be perfect to discover this area, especially considering we did not spend more than 1 hour at any of the attractions we visited (except the boat ride). Keep reading!
Hang Mua cave and temple
Hang Mua is one of the most spectacular things we saw in Tam Coc! It is located about 4 kilometers by bike from the center. Here people come to contemplate the incredible views from the viewpoint on top of the mountain! After climbing (with difficulty due to the intense heat and humidity) the 500 steps leading up to the highest, we enjoyed the views over the whole region. On one side, the rice paddies and the city of Ninh Binh in the background; On the other, the boulders and the river with the swinging of the boats. And a great silence! We were fortunate to have a clear day, as the area is often covered with mist. At the bottom there are a couple of caves that can be visited, and a new hotel with a few gardens. We paid 100000 VND per person (4 €) and were able to park the bikes for free. We loved it despite the effort and the sweating to get up!
Thai Vi temple
We were recommended to visit Thai Vi Temple because it was very close to the center of Tam Coc. It is true that it is close, but we did not like it too much. It is simply a temple (and not particularly beautiful) with a small wooden pagoda. However, the way to get there is pretty cool! It’s a dirt road (but it’s great for biking) surrounded by rice paddies and goats. Quite different from the Hanoi atmosphere, isn’t it?
Bich Dong pagoda
One of the things we liked most about Tam Coc was Bich Dong and the way to get there! Bich Dong seems to be drawn from an Indiana Jones movie, with its large trees, its hidden caves and temples that appear dug among the rocks. Once again we had to climb some stairs (which with heat and humidity is not easy). There are several buildings that are discovered as you go along the way, a very cool temple, statues, etc. A little tip: take a light or a phone with a flashlight, as you will have to climb some stairs in a cave without any light! The price for parking bicycles is 10000 VND (€ 0.40) and admission is free.
On the other hand, the surroundings of Bich Dong are beautiful. It is surrounded by rice paddies and boulders. That’s why this area is also known as Halong Bay on Earth! If you have seen our pictures of the bay, you will understand why! We decided to lose ourselves for a long time by a dirt road that came from the main road. Great decision! We discovered very nice areas, far from the rest of the people, where the locals live, and we could see a man fishing, animals (chickens, cows, etc.) …
Boat ride: Ben Thuyen
The activity that everyone does in Tam Coc is definitely going on a boat ride! The peculiarity is that the women of this region paddle with their feet! Well, almost all, ours did not 😉 The boat ride in Tam Coc was really lovely. In the midst of nature, without a single noise except that of the metal boat grazing the algae of the river and the oars splashing against the water, surrounded by huge boulders, and crossing several caves!
There are several places where you can find boats for a ride: the center of Tam Coc (the most expensive and most frequented by tourists), the pier of Trang An (far from the town and increasingly touristy) and the pier of Ben Thuyen (where we went!). Ben Thuyen is very close to Bich Dong Pagoda, and the price is a lot more affordable than in Tam Coc! We paid 45,000 VND for each entry ticket (about € 2 each) plus 60000 VND of “mandatory tip” to the lady who rowed. The final price was 150000 VND for the two (6 €)! That is, almost nothing compared to the 400,000 VND that we were asked in the center of Tam Coc. Tip: do not hesitate to ride about 3 kilometers by bike to Ben Thuyen to save many dongs!
Walk among the rice paddies
The landscape is the main attraction of Tam Coc. The rice fields and mountains are beautiful, and as it is a totally flat area, it is very easy to walk and bike around! We loved discovering the beauty of the place and disconnecting from the big cities we had visited the previous weeks (Tokyo, Kyoto, Hanoi …).
There are many other places to visit around Tam Coc: Trang An, Hoa Lu (former capital of Vietnam), etc. We decided to visit the ones closest to Tam Coc and take it easy. It was a good choice! We rest and we take good advantage of the time, because the next day we go already to the center of Vietnam: Hue and Hoi An!