Tam Coc- A relaxing escape
Located in Ninh Binh district, this serene village which was until the recent past fairly undiscovered by tourists, is slowly gain popularity. Termed as the landlocked version of Ha Long Bay, or ‘Ha Long Bay on land, this beautiful village should definitely be on your list of places to visit in Vietnam. Tam Coc is beautiful with lush rice fields and towering rock formations similar to those in Ha Long Bay.
In this article, I’ll detail how you can visit Tam Coc as part of a day trip from Hanoi, or on your own, whereby you can stay in the lush surroundings for a couple of days, or for as long as you would like!
How to get there
It is easy to access, being only 107km from Hanoi.
For an Independent Traveller
Take a bus from Giao Bat in Hanoi to Ninh Binh, and take a cab to Tam Coc. The journey is 3 hours.
Train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh takes 3 hours.
There are plenty of tour operators that take tourists regularly to Tam Coc. Go to the Old Quarter in Hanoi to find all the offices of tour operators, check with your hotel, or even check and book online!
There is a range of accommodation available from homestays to resorts, that will fit every budget.
Due to the fairly recent increase in tourism to the region, there are plenty of restaurants and cafes here.
About Tam Coc
Though farming is the traditional means of living, many locals have started to cater to the recent influx of tourists to Tam Coc. They take tourists on a traditional sampan (flat bottomed chinese/malay boat) around Tam Coc, to see the beauty of the lush fields, calm waters and towering karst hills of Tam Coc. The almost 2 hour round trip journey is through a few low caves (Hang Ca, Hang Giua, Hang Cuoi). The passage through the caves fills with water during the rains, so it is likely that you will not be able to take the sampan ride at that time of the year.
Apparently every villager interested in doing this has to wait their turn to take tourists out, which is a system that was formed to ensure equal work for everyone.
Why row with your feet?
The most interesting part of the sampan ride is the way that the villagers row the boat- with their feet! Apparently rowing with their feet is more comfortable, and better for the back!
How to handle potentially persistent vendors
During the journey you will see many vendors rowing up to your boat to try and sell you their wares- it could be anything from candy, flowers, or bottled drinks. It is advisable not to engage with them at all if you don’t intend to buy anything, but if you do and you don’t buy anything, they get angry!
When I went I didn’t see any of the boats with wares taking tourists through the river, but I hear that they do offer to take you around. If you do get in, it is likely that they will be persistent about selling their wares to you which can be annoying, and will disturb you during the otherwise extremely peaceful journey.
Fix the rate for your sampan ride before you start the journey to avoid altercations later.
Hire a cycle
Ride around town, and through the village roads to see local life unfold around you. People tending to livestock, children playing, and breathe in clean, fresh air! It is the best experience!
Visit the Thai Vi Temple
Datung back to the 13th century, it was built in honour of the Tran dynasty.
Visit Bich Dong Pagoda
Located 3km from Tam Coc pier, the pagoda that was built in 1428 overlooks lush rice fields, and is surrounded by tall karst hills.
Travelling to Tam Coc with a tour company
If you are in Hanoi, it is easy to get on a tour to Tam Coc-there are multiple operators conducting this tour. The day trip will start early in the morning with pickup from your hotel if it is around the Old Quarter of Hanoi, else, you will have to report to the tour operator’s office in the Old Quarter. The Tam Coc trip is combined with a stop at Hoa Lu to visit the ancient temples of the area, and you are dropped back to your hotel or somewhere in the Old Quarter by late evening.
Lunch will be inclusive in most tour plans, but do check the policies of the operator you are booking with.
Sampan ride, Bicycle ride
It is a comfortable bus ride with a friendly English speaking guide who is knowledgeable about the history of Hanoi, Tam Coc, & Hoa Lu.
Stop at Hoa Lu
The first stop is at Hoa Lu, to visit the ancient temples here. To know more about Hoa Lu, click here!
Post lunch at a restaurant in Tam Coc, get in to a sampan (2-3 people per sampan) and head out for a long ride, almost 2 hours, seeing the sights of Tam Coc.
It is a pity that all the water lilies were plucked by the locals in an attempt to sell them to tourists. I wonder how beautiful this sight would have been if they were untouched!
Tipping your rower
Upon return, tip the rower of your sampan (they expect it). I saw a sampan rower get angry at a group who tipped too low! I’m not sure how much they gave, but the rower gave back the money that they gave, shouting all the while (i didn’t understand anything that she said, obviously, but the lady with whom I was in the sampan was a local Vietnamese, and was my translator).
The tour operators would have already paid the sampan rowers for your ride.
After the relaxing boat ride, we get on bicycles and ride around the villages for almost an hour! This was such a great experience as well, riding through villages with almost no cars, and just a few bikes, and other tourists on cycles and scooters. The weather was cool & comfortable, perfect to ride a cycle, thanks to the rain earlier in the day.
Why choose a tour
If you have just a day and you want everything to be done hassle free, and get dropped back in Hanoi, choose the tour.
Why go independently
If you want a relaxing trip, enjoying all that Tam Coc has to offer, go on your own, and stay for as long as your heart desires!
There may not be too much to do to pack an itinerary worthy of a 3-5 day stay, but if slow travel is something you enjoy, Tam Coc and nearby Hoa Lu, are ideal destinations for the same. It isn't overly crowded with tourists, and it is quiet! The air is clean and fresh, and that's such a difference and a relief from the noisy and crowded Hanoi (which I LOVE as well!)
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