Experience Tour In Rural Vietnam - Ninh Binh Is The Place To Be!

Nga Do
After having a lot of fun, adventures and traveling in the south and central Vietnam, one of my first stops in the north was Tam Coc in Ninh Binh region of Vietnam. Despite being touristy, Tam Coc is unique because of its rural life, the rocky hills, the river and the lush greenery everywhere.
I spent a good few days in Ninh Binh getting in touch with the countryside of Vietnam. I spent the first 2 days just cycling and roaming on my bike where I would stop by wherever I felt and watch the world go by. So for all those who want to get a glimpse of Vietnam that’s relatively untouched, Ninh Binh is the place to be.

Here is all you want to know to plan your trip to Tam Coc, Ninh Binh.

Experience Tour In Rural Vietnam - Ninh Binh Is The Place To Be!
Photo by pxhere
Tam Coc Boat Tours – Trang An or Tam Coc?

If you look up for the main attractions of Tam Coc or Ninh Binh, among the top things to do in Tam Coc would be the boat tours. And hence boat tours are obviously the most touristic of them all. Travelers have mixed opinion on this, and some people don’t like it for this same reason. Plus, the rates are expensive and the persistent boat riders that ask for hefty tips also make people avoid the tours.

There are two boat routes in the Tam Coc region. Trang An and Tam Coc. The nearest one is the Tam Coc boat ride as it starts right at the city centre. The better one among these is the Trang An boat ride though. It is a 3-hour ride that takes you through the lush green fields beside the hills, and the natural beauty is at its best – raw and rugged to be precise.

The Tam Coc boat ride is of lesser duration and for the most part, you’ll be within the town. It is lovely no doubt, but if you want to do just one of them, then I would recommend Trang An tour, hands down, I wouldn’t think twice about it!  Did you know that the Ang Tran complex is a UNESCO heritage site? As for the time, pick up early morning or evening for this as it is less crowded and you’ll get more of the place for yourself.

Trang An is about 12km away from the centre of Tam Coc and you can reach there by your transport – bike or cycle. You can also book a cab as well. You’ll visit temples and caves during both the rides but can depend on the crowd or the rower as well.

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Photo by Nestor Lacle
Hang Mua Caves

I was expecting to be swayed away by yet another magnificent cave when I heard about Hang Mua Caves. Having already been besotted by the beauty of caves in Phong Nha, it felt obvious to me. But Hang Mua is anything but the cave.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a small cave at one end, named as the Tiger cave. And it is too tiny. I felt that they should rather make this place known for the hill. A rocky hill is dotted with 500+ stairs that leads you to the top, and from there, the panoramic view of the town of Tam Coc is too gorgeous.

With absolute greenery on all the sides, you can see the rocky hills grouped until the horizon, with the river navigating in between. It felt so tranquil at the top that I lost track of time sitting there on a rock at the top. The best time to visit is early in the morning or just before the sunset to avoid the hot weather. But I was there during the rainy season, and was lucky to see the greenery that appears quadrupled thanks to the monsoon!

Bich Dong Pagoda

Bich Dong temple is not very far from the town, and I went to this pagoda by bike on an afternoon. The pagoda is simple but its location is lovely, and you can hike a bit further ahead of the temple for some more views of Tam Coc fields. There is a small cave inside and it is touristy as well. There is no entrance fee but there is a parking fee which depends on the person’s mood! (No I am not kidding – I paid double of what the locals pay, and an American guy met 5 times more than me!)

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Photo by Tupham
Bai Dinh Pagoda

Unlike Bich Dong, Bai Dinh Pagoda is new and hence there is no historical background to it. But it is worth visiting if you have time and love visiting the Pagodas. The other thing it’s huge, and consists of thousands of Buddha statues. The entry to this temple is free but you’ll have to pay the parking fees.

Hoa Lu

Hoa Lu is an ancient citadel located close to Trang An. Most people include it in their itinerary on the day they opt for Trang AN boating tour. The citadel used to be an ancient capital, and most of what remains are ruins today, which aren’t that grand. The drive to Hoa Lu by bike is worth it as you pass by lush green rice fields and hills.

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Photo by Richard Mortel
Ninh Binh Itineraries – How To Plan Your Trip To Tam Coc, Ninh Binh

Day Trip From Hanoi to Tam Coc Ninh Binh

A lot of people short on time opt for a day trip to Tam Coc Ninh Binh from Hanoi. If you just have a day and are contemplating on whether to explore Tam Coc, then don’t think, just do it! It’s worth your time and you might also be left feeling that you needed more days!

There are many options to do this day trip from Hanoi. If you rent a motorbike, you would be covering about 80 miles depending on how much you see. The other way is to book tours – either private or group tours, which can be arranged at your hotel itself. I would suggest you take a bike if you love exploring as you can enjoy the beauty of Tam Coc better this way.

If you are on a day trip, then start early and first head to Trang An for the boat ride in the morning. Since it would last for three hours, you’ll have the rest of the day for others. You can then head to Hang Mua caves post lunch, followed by Bich Dang Pagoda. If you still have time, you can head to Thung Nam and drive back to Hanoi, but this would be a bit of a long journey though.

The other way to plan this day trip would be to head to either Cuc Phuong or Hoa Lu ancient citadel after the boating.

Tam Coc Ninh Binh in 1 Day

If you have just one day to spare, start from the Trang An boat ride. Then head to Hang Mua while checking out Tam Coc rice fields on the way. There is a restaurant in Hang Mua but it is slightly expensive, and apart from that there isn’t anything to eat, so better get your lunch while in the town itself. You can then head to Bich Dong temple, which is close by. Start to Hanoi in the evening after an eventful day!

Ninh Binh in 2 Days

Day 1: You can choose the above for day 1. You can cut down Bich Dong temple for the next day if you want to take it slow.

Day 2: Head to Hoa Lu in the morning, and then check out Thung Nam national park. Keep around 3 to 4 hours to spend time there and 1.5 hours to travel and back. If you wish to do another boat ride, you can go on Tam Coc boat ride. Do it early in the morning if possible or push it to the evening to avoid crowds.

Ninh Binh in 3 Days

Day 1 & Day 2: The above plans for 2 days should do.

Day 3: You have the option of doing one or both of the national parks – Van Long reserve and Cuc Phuong, depending on how much time you plan to spend in each of these. You can include both if you start the day early, and leave to the next town in the evening.

From June to October, even until the beginning of November, Tam Coc Ninh Binh region receives rains like the other regions in northern Vietnam, so right after this until March or April is a better time to visit Tam Coc.

The first place that I can think of when I reminiscence on Vietnam’s countryside is Tam Coc. Even if just for a day, don’t miss to travel to this gem of a place!

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