Just a two-hour drive from the capital of Hanoi, Tam Coc makes a perfect day tour for anyone hungry for some authentic Vietnamese culture. Once here, you will easily become enchanted with the spectacular countryside scenery made more dramatic by the surrounding limestone towers. This is the reason why the village is often likened to Halong Bay. Tam Coc is part of the Ning Binh province of Vietnam and is specifically located along Highway 1. Despite its accessibility, the area is less touristy than Halong Bay.
The highlight of your visit to Tam Coc is a scenic and tranquil row boat trip to the famous three caves in the area. The trip involves navigating through the Ngo Dong River for several kilometers while overlooking lovely rice paddies and limestone cliffs. It does not only feature the picturesque geological features of this Vietnamese region, it also allows you to witness the simple daily lives of the residents. A number of tourists find it simply amazing to photograph local farmers harvesting rice. The rowing technique for these local boats is also an attraction in itself as the rowers use their feet aside from their hands.
The first cave along the river is called Hang Ca, which stretches 127 meters long. The second and third caves are named Hang Giua and Hang Cuoi, which are 70 meters and 45 meters long respectively. The entire boat tour takes around two hours, and each boat carries two passengers and two rowers. The essential things to bring on the boat ride are hat, umbrella and sunscreen. The boats have no cover so you will be directly exposed to the sun during the entire tour. The best times to do the tour are early in the morning or late in the afternoon. During these times, the weather is usually more comfortable, and you’ll have a greater chance of avoiding the hordes of day trippers coming from Hanoi.
The last boat trip usually takes passengers at around 4:30 pm. Aside from the boat tour, you will also need to pay an entrance fee. The tickets can be purchased at the small booking office near the car park. Most of the rowers expect to receive a tip at the end of the trip, so it’s best to settle the amount of money they expect to receive to avoid complications. You will also encounter floating vendors who will insist on selling you some drinks, fruits or linen. This is considered a tourist trap by many, but you can ultimately decide not to purchase.
If you work up an appetite after the tour, the Tam Coc village has a number of restaurants to choose from. Behind these restaurants is another village called Va Lan, well known for their wide selection of embroidered products like tablecloths, pillowcases, napkins and T-shirts. Although these items are also sold by boat vendors and in Hanoi, the ones offered in Van Lan village are cheaper because you will purchase them directly from the artisans. You can easily ride a bicycle to the river area coming from the Ninh Bihn village. If you have more time, explore the Tam Coc area by biking around or hiking to the top of the hills, which offer fantastic views.