This what I called the Halong on Land
A day trip from Hanoi which was about 2 hour journey. Leave from Hanoi early morning and coming back late in afternoon. There are different day tours from Hanoi, and Tamcoc is in our list already. There are plenty of agency offer day tour to various place from Hanoi, you only need time for it. Prices are competing, so look around before made any booking. We have been looking around the price for this tour, and though we found this very small agency in Old Quarter area.
Most day tour, lunch is included. We visit first Hua Lu temple, and afterwards we drove to Tamcoc. By then, it was noon when arrived, our guide took us to a restaurant where we have our lunch. After lunch we can go on board to this rowing boat
Halong on land some people's expression about this place. Setting in a rowing boat wondering the peaceful scenery around of Tam Coc that's all you need. It’s a pleasant two-hour journey, you passed to three cave underway it's a MUST to see if you are in the area
The peaceful trip in the wooden rowboat in the shadow of limestone karst, through dark grottoes and fields of pond lilies, is quite pleasant. At the end, serenity shatter as you have to fight off hawkers trying to convince you to buy just one more embroidered table cloth. You’ll probably end up tipping your driver to whisk you off to safety. Besides all that, it was enjoyable trip. Setting down in a rowing boat on an afternoon if the weather is sunny can be very hot. Bring an umbrella to have some shade
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
Your Ninh Binh Home
Great rooms for 15 to 20USD with breakfast included. Kind of on the main north-south thoroughfare with a healthy distance from it separated by a pond and thus very convenient for bus pick up to Hanoi or to the south. Just never use the tour services on offer - they seem to be a bit too pricey.
- National/State Park
- Budget Travel
Tam Coc is the main tourist outlet in a region full of karst beauty. There is no coincidence in this state of affairs. It has a body of water flowing between majestically towering hills that suddenly opens up a cave underneath these mountains of sorts in order to deliver you to the next “gallery” of rice fields. Accordingly, this spot has been identified as the main dollar earner even though other spots have been known to generate income as well. Tam Coc’s main facility is well guarded and administratively streamlined. One has to pay for the park entrance and separately for the row boat. Only two foreigners are allowed per boat, maybe to avoid abuse or to save the rower from fat arse overload. Once in the boat there is the usual getting to know each other with the captain(ette) which does not take very long because around the corner a filming crew is waiting for your majesty the tourist to be taken pictures of as if nowadays everybody does not have cameras of their own. Anyway some price discussion takes place and “no” seems to be not accepted as an answer. After many exhilarating moments alongside this true wonder of nature, one ends up into a specifically designed trap close to the midway point. A bunch of aggressive sales ladies attack the rowing boat and thanks to your collaborative captain(ette)who would not budge a centimetre, they have you locked in till something is bought in exchange for freedom. At this point it is not very clear who the victim is though. Somehow the thought that your captain(ette) might be stripped off her tip if somebody sees her receiving it at the end of the trip settles in. How naive! When given an equivalent of 10% of the ticket price she demonstratively says “no” in her super basic French, because she is old guard and English in her prime was not fancied by the authorities. To help out the discussion she pulls out a banknote that she likes which amazingly happens to cost as much as 25% of the ticket. This little old lady is determined to be on par with America in no time. Well, in this tip casino of sorts one might lose everything due to greed.
- National/State Park
- Adventure Travel
- Budget Travel
Hoa Lu Ancient Temple
Just outside Ninh Binh lying this Ancient Temples, Our guide explain everything about the history of the temple, was so hot that day listening is confusing we didn't understand what he is talking about. I try to do some research about the temple ;
Hoa Lu One-Pillar Pagoda has a Pillar full of phrase by Buddha in front of it, which stands there more than 1000 years. Along with these temples and pagodas, plenty of monuments, tombs, shrines worship many other famous people and Gods are attractive places as well.
Secondly, Hoa Lu still keeps the remaining of ancients fortress built by Dinh dynasty more than 1000 years ago. The Imperial place lays under the ground for 3m and now become a very interesting place to visit
Boating at Tam Coc
Yes, a tourist trap it may be, but the boat ride is rather enjoyable. Even with many other tourists boating along the river, the ride is tranquil enough along some parts. My favourite part is to boat through the dark grottoes with the limestone cliffs inches above your head and as you emerge from the dark into the light, craggy cliffs welcome you.
- Road Trip
- Sailing and Boating
Temple hopping in Hoa Lu
Not a great fan of temple tours but possibly interesting for some who would like to know about the local culture. The temples are built and houses the famous emperors of Vietnam for local worshipping. It isn't particularly touristy and the scenary around the temples is pretty.
- Road Trip
Cam Toc Caves
Located in Ninh Binh province, the Tam Coc caves are known as the inland Ha Long bay. It is 3 hours drive out of Hanoi. At the river docks, you board an open-air sampan which you hire with a rower. The boat ride takes you through a winding waterway which passes through 3 caves (Tam Coc). You must actually duck a bit as the boat does through the caves to avoid scraping the roof. Look out also that you do not hit any of those stalactites or stalagmites!
On the last of these caves, a group of traders on sampans will try to sell you drinks and tit-bits. Some actually ask you to buy a drink or two for the rower only that the rower will not actually drink it, she'll most likely trade it back later on.
The rower will also likely try to sell you embroideries and paintings. Bargain abit, buy some if you fancy. But if they pester you too much, you can actually note down the boat number and lodge a complaint at the tourist police office at the dock. My experience was the rowers are quite nice and they don't create any trouble.
The village at the dock has many stalls selling T-shirts and other kind of hand-made linen. Prices are quite cheap. There are also restaurants and cafes. The specialty here is baked mutton wrapped in rice paper!
Cuc Phuong NP - home of rare species
Cuc Phuong NP is a rarity in Vietnam: an untouched rainforest. Due to the Vietnam War and its devastating environmental desasters, Vietnam has hardly any vast areas of rainforest left. Ho Chi Minh himself inaugurated the national park in 1962. Nowadays, it covers an area of more than 220km² with numerous wildlife species living there. In the park, there's also a Centre for Rescueing Endangered Primates which tourists can visit. Other activities in the park usually include hiking or a visit to one of the minority villages.
I went to Cuc Phuong in 2004 and unfortunately only stayed there for a day. As the trip to Cuc Phuong takes 3 hours from Hanoi, you should at least stay overnight, perhaps even longer. Cuc Phuong is a rather untouristy location, so you might have to ask at several hotels or tour agencies in Hanoi for a good, tailormade tour.
- National/State Park
- Jungle and Rain Forest
Tam Coc - Halong Bay in the Rice Paddies
A cute nickname, isn't it? Tam Coc, also known as "Dry Halong Bay", "Halong Bay without Water" or "Halong Bay in the Rice Paddies" is one of the natural wonders of Vietnam. Located approximately 10km away from Ninh Binh, it is tourism destination par excellence for both Vietnamese and international tourists.
Tam Coc means "Three Caves" - but in order to clarify why they are so popular, I should mention that a river flows through these caves. Tourists rent a boat and are rowed along the river through a spectacular landscape which is quite similar to Halong Bay only without the sea. To one's left and right side, rough limestone rocks reach an altitude of up to 100m. Sometimes, daring mountain goats climb up the steep rocks, jumping from one little un-overgrown square meter to the next. Amidst all this beauty, Ngo Dong river flows tranquilly, water lilies and other plants growing at its sides.
While these views alone would be worth the trip, the caves are even more spectacular. The first one you reach is called Hang Ca. It's the biggest with a length of 127m and a width of 20m. Nonetheless, mind your head! It may be long, but its ceiling is only some centimeters above you. Shortly after, you'll reach Hang Hai, the second grotto. With a length of 60m, it's a lot smaller, but also very impressive. Finally, Hang Ba, the third and last cave awaits you. After 46m under one of the limestone hills, you reach a little pool where a bad surprise is waiting.
Several women will try to sell you everything from bananas to cola, from cookies to kitschy souvenirs. Of course the prices are very high here, but you have no choice. Your rower won't go back until you've bought something. Moreover, the annoying vendors will also try to force you to buy a drink for your rower. The trick with this one is that he or she won't drink it anyway, but will sell it back to the vendors later on. You lose a lot of money and the vendors make their deal. On your way back, enjoying the landscape again is hindered by the rower trying to sell you more things. Usually they now unpack some ugly embroidery and show it to you until you buy one. As you will never need it again, you should persistently say "No!" and give a tip at the end of your trip instead (something they will ask for anyway).
Nevertheless, Tam Coc is well worth going there - best by an organized tour from Hanoi. The tours usually include Hoa Lu citadel as well and cost around 20$ per person.
- Water Sports
Hoa Lu - Vietnam's ancient capital
Hoa Lu Citadel is the only thing left of Vietnam's former capital Hoa Lu. Founded in 968, Hoa Lu remained capital until the early 11th century when Emperor Ly Thai To moved it to today's Hanoi. Despite the lack of "original" buildings, the trip to Hoa Lu is definitely worth it. Arriving in the beautiful mountainous landscape, you walk 300m to the temples of the Dinh and Le Dynasty. They are situated in very beautifully designed parks, not unlike Van Mieu in Hanoi. Frangipani blossoms are literally everywhere, and the air is full of the smell of sweet incense fumes and damp air.
If you have a good guide, you'll be able to learn a lot about the history of Hoa Lu. Our guide was alright, but his English was a catastrophe so that we couldn't understand too much. The only thing that was understandable was his story about Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang. He was murdered by a mandarin who had dreamt of a star falling into his mouth - which he interpreted as a sign that he would be the only real emperor. The statue of Dinh Tien Hoang is found in the temple.
In order to avoid leaving Hoa Lu without a clue about what happened there, grab a good guidebook and ask your guide everything you want to know.
All of the travel agencies and hotels can arrange guided tours to Hoa Lu, usually combined with Tam Coc. The price for a 1-day-tour should be around 20$ per person.
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
Trang An, Ninh Binh
If you like Tam Coc or Van Phong of Ninh Binh, or if you like Limestone Karst Cliff, go to Trang An. It is right beside Tam Coc but its entrance is some km away. It is really large and amazing though I had gone to Tam Coc once. There historical, natural, cutural and even mythological (if you have a good guide) richness totally satisfied me. However, I am not sure if it is open for tourism yet (may be in the near future ?)
Two myths that I like are the legend of the Si caves (Love caves - especially Three Drop cave), and the existence of the Earth Phoenix (which - according to the film I saw - looks like parrots when they stand but so noble when they fly) with the rumor that those greeted by them are/will be real VIP ^_^
I would strongly recommend to visit on your own. You can occupy one whole boat by yourself with as little as 25,000(entrance) and 30,000(boat ride) to explore the Tam Coc national park.
If you're joining the tour package from Ha Noi, you probably need to share the boat with other travellers.
Hoa Lu - The ancient capital
This was the capital of the country in the 10th century supposedly because of it's central location. I would argue that it is the beauty of it's location that swayed those who were deciding. Right in the middle of the Limestone Cliffs and rice fields, the town has unmistakable beauty and a slight area of mystery.
Dinh Tien Hoang sits opposite what seems to be a kind of village green where people meet and school children play. The temple grounds house shrines and statues from the era when this area reigned. The temples seem dark and gloomy inside but local people are still actively worshipping the religious deities there.
The grounds of the temples are aged but quite well maintained. Very photogenic.
Thai Vi Temple
Only a small temple but worth a look for it's authentic architecture and active use. The grounds are looking a little worse for wear and there arent many tourists who visit. Local people still actively worship there.
Mua Cave Pagoda
Mua Cave Pagoda has a small man made lake with gardens which is rather pleasant, a cave at the foot of the steps and Pagoda at the summit.
The steps seem endless and some are not in very good condition but the views when you reach the top are worth the effort. The Pagoda itself is nothing spectacular but the sight of the endless paddy fields, villages and Ninh Binh town amidst the Limestone cliffs sprouting from all around are a sight to behold.