Where We Be
|Tam Coc turned out to be one of the
favorite places we visited in Vietnam
Tam Coc is located near the city of Ninh Binh,
about two hours south of Hanoi. Do yourself a
favor and visit this place, not as a day trip from
Hanoi but as an overnight stay so you can take
advantage of all the jaw-dropping scenery and
fun things to do here. If you've ever thought
about renting a motorbike, this is the place to
do it. Tam Coc is in the countryside so there
are quiet back roads and gorgeous vistas to
enjoy at every turn. Plus you can rent a motor-
cycle for just $5 per day (plus about $3 for gas).
One of the best things you can do is simply tool
around the countryside on your motorbike or
bicycle. But also be sure to take a boat ride
along the river. A local will row you through
some remarkable scenery. An overnight stay
lets you arrive early before all the tour buses
for a more peaceful journey. There's also one
must-do climb at Mua Caves that rewards you
with stunning views like the one at left. Gaze
down on all those tiny rowboats! Another fine
climb with views starts at Bich Dong Pagoda.
|This is the view from our Anna Tham Hotel, overlooking green
rice paddies to the karst mountains of Tam Coc. What a spot!
|The food is good too: we particularly recommend the
deep-fried Tam Coc spring rolls with zesty dipping sauce
|Buses run from Hanoi to Ninh Binh, but it's another 10 km or so to Tam Coc. We paid for a taxi
(120,000 dong or $6) to take us the final stretch to our lodgings, past delightfully misty scenery.
|We took an evening walk around the lake for views back at Anna Tham Hotel (the yellow building
on left). Even with the mist you can see what a gorgeous place this is to call home for a few days.
|Anna Tham ($17 per night) is tucked into the mountains --
and within easy walking distance of Bich Dong Pagoda
|We saw many locals, men and women, rowing with their feet
|The birdsong was delightful; it was still early enough
in the morning that the river was quiet and untouristed
|Tam Coc means "three caves" and you do indeed pass through three different caves
during your journey. This one, the largest, was the setting for a wedding photo session.
|Emerging from each cave into the bright green world was a pleasure
|We had to duck as we made our way through this low-ceilinged cave
|The journey itself was lovely. We were rowed along the river
past vibrantly green limestone karsts and rice paddies.
|In the morning we traveled a short distance by motorbike to Tam Coc wharf. We paid the attendant 50 cents (10,000 dong) to
watch our bike. The boat ride cost $4 per person plus $5 per boat (max two passengers), or $13 all told (260,000 dong). A
tip is expected. We tipped $5 (100,000 dong) for the 6 km journey and asked that they not try to sell us stuff along the way.
|Delightful views and uncrowded roads make this the
perfect place for a first-time motorcycle adventure
|Back on the main road, we once again passed through this
amazing stretch of mind-blowing karst and rice paddy scenery
|We paused for this local parade
celebrating a king's day of some kind
|We hopped onto our motorbike and headed to Mua Caves (turn left at the small lake as you head towards Ninh Binh).
Entry fee is 100,000 dong or $5. See that snaky white trail up the mountain? That's where you're heading! Mua-ha-ha!
|The interesting thing about Mua Caves is that almost everyone ignores the caves themselves,
which aren’t all that compelling -- but climbs up the 500 steps for the extraordinary views
|The stair climb is steep but steady
and the bird's-eye views are spectacular
|No wonder this is one of the top attractions in Tam Coc. You can see the long
string of tiny rowboats on the river, including one just emerging from the low cave.
|The view in the other direction isn't half-bad either
|A dragon and mini-pagoda greet you at the top of the mountain
|Don't forget to look down at your feet too
at the delicate flowers that grow here
|It's a long way back down. At the bottom, to the right, you can enter a cave
that emerges into a rice field with closer views of the passing rowboats.
|We thought we were done motorcycling for the day, but after a short break it got sunnier out, so we
decided to go for one more ride. This time we turned right out of our guesthouse and followed a local
road popular with bicyclists. We figured there had to be good scenery here -- and indeed there was!
|We detoured onto several smaller country roads,
working our way deeper into the rice paddy fields
|On our last morning we walked to Bich Dong Pagoda. The pagoda itself is nothing special
and the staff not particularly friendly, but the views from the main overlook are excellent.
|It's a steep climb over jagged rocks to get to the main overlook.
But even better views await if you're willing to push higher.
|If you're up for the, um, exhilarating climb (and we do mean climb),
then the 360-degree views from the mountaintop are stunning
|Back at our hotel, we had a tasty dinner of grilled hot plate chicken with lemongrass and steamed rice
while sitting out on the patio. What an outstanding view of the karst mountains and a full moon rising.
|As we made our return journey the
river got busier with fellow tourists
|Our guide let Robin borrow her conical hat for a photo
|The scenery on the 1½ hour journey is beautiful even on a hazy-misty
morning. The “inland Halong Bay” lives up to its reputation!
|This climb is worth every ounce of effort
|We could get used to this -- what fun!