From Sapa trekking with the Vietnam hill-tribes to the world-famous Halong Bay, Northern Vietnam is a jackpot of some of Vietnam’s most stunning natural sights. It’s these jaw-breaking landscapes that helped land Vietnam on the list of Most Pinterest-Worthy Places on Earth! The amazing sights in Northern Vietnam go well past Halong Bay, however. The undulating limestone cliffs surrounding the city of Ninh Binh, about 2 hours south of Hanoi, have been nicknamed “the inland Halong Bay”—and for magnificent reason. A visit to perhaps the most famous wetlands of the region, Tam Coc, will quickly show how the area has earned the honorable nickname. If you’re wondering what to do in Ninh Binh, look no further! A glorious Tam Coc boat tour into the rice paddy wetlands framed with daggering limestone formations is well-worth the ride on the train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh. It may just be your favorite thing you do while backpacking in Southeast Asia! To help you in your journey, we’ve compiled the ultimate Tam Coc guide, with all the essential details of the Tam Coc boat tour, directions to Tam Coc, Vietnam, tips to having the best experience and the best views, and suggestions for alternative boat tours in the area of Ninh Binh.
Here’s our ultimate guide to Tam Coc, Vietnam!
- 1 Tam Coc Guide: Halong Bay on Land
- 2 Tam Coc Boat Tour Tips
- 3 How to Get to Tam Coc, Ninh Binh
- 4 Mua Caves: A Stunning View of Tam Coc, Vietnam
- 5 Van Long Nature Reserve: A Tam Coc Alternative
- 6 Like this post?
- 7 You Might Also Appreciate…
- 8 Have you visited Vietnam? If so, what were your favorite Vietnam destinations?
Tam Coc Guide: Halong Bay on Land
With its name meaning three caves, Tam Coc, Vietnam forms an area on the Ngo Dong River through serene rice paddies and towering limestone karsts. A 3 km Tam Coc boat tour up the mellow river takes you through three low-ceiling caves and calm green waters.
One of the highlights of Tam Coc, Vietnam is watching the unique method of rowing used on the Tam Coc bout tours. Able to row with not only their arms but their feet as well, the Tam Coc boat tour rowers make for perfect photo opportunities against the natural landscape in the background.
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As a spot with stunning scenery, it’s no surprise that many people visit Tam Coc, and as such can get very busy at times. The best way to experience and appreciate Tam Coc’s beauty is of course with as little crowd as possible. Even at peak times, you can avoid the crowds if you go in the early morning (dock opens at 7:00) or possibly the late afternoon after the tour groups have left.
We usually make it a point to try and go to places as early as possible to beat the crowds and the heat. On our Tam Coc trip, we arrived on a local minibus from Hanoi around 8 AM, finding it much less crowded than when we arrived back at the dock at 10 AM.
Being such a popular attraction, Tam Coc has its fair share of vendors, who can create a hassle and take away from the experience. Keep an eye out for the men with cameras who try to take your picture, as they will expect payment for the photo. Also, at the boat turn-around point, you will surely be approached by vendors who try to sell you overpriced food and drinks. You might be pressured to buy something for your rower, but they might sell it back to vendor for half the price. You can avoid this prevalent scam by bringing a snack and water for your rower.
Tam Coc Boat Tour Tips
It’s quite simple to get a Tam Coc boat tour in Ninh Binh without pre-arranging a tour in advance. You can simply show up to the ticket office at start of Tam Coc where the boats wait and buy your tickets upon arrival.
Essential Things to Know About a Tam Coc Boat Tour
- Prices are fixed at 150,000 VND ($6.60) per boat, and 120,000 VND ($5.30) per passenger with a maximum of two passengers per boat.
- In total, a boat trip at Tam Coc for two passengers costs about $17 for a two-hour tour.
- Your rower will also expect a tip at the end.
- Come prepared with a snack and bottle of water for your rower to avoid pressure to buy overpriced snacks for them from floating vendors.
- Avoid having your photographs taken by men with cameras, who will expect payment from you.
- As in many places around the world, it’s much cheaper to arrange this yourself than by paying for a Tam Coc boat tour in advance.
- To avoid the crowds, begin your Tam Coc boat tour as early as possible!
What to Bring on Your Tam Coc Boat Tour
- Water and snacks for yourself and your rower
- Small bills to tip your rower
- Sun hat
- Comfortable sandals or shoes
- Dry bags to protect your electronics from water
How to Get to Tam Coc, Ninh Binh
Visiting Tam Coc and the Ninh Binh area can be done as a day trip from Hanoi. If you have the time, it’s worth staying in Ninh Binh a night or two to explore the surrounding areas.
Tam Coc, Vietnam is 6 km from Ninh Binh and is easily accessible from the city, whether you rent a motorbike ($5-10 a day + ~70,00 VND for 3 liters of fuel) or take a taxi.
While renting a car in Vietnam is possible, we advise against it. Instead, we recommend reaching Ninh Binh for your Tam Coc boat tour by train or bus. Luckily, Ninh Binh is easily accessible by train or bus from many major cities in Vietnam, including Hanoi.
Bus From Hanoi to Ninh Binh
Buses from Hanoi’s Giap Bat terminal leave every 15 minutes or whenever full and cost around 70-90,000 dong (more with luggage). The 90km journey takes around 3 hours, depending on traffic.
Train From Hanoi to Ninh Binh
You can also take the Reunification Express train to the Ninh Binh train station, with trains leaving from Hanoi at 06:00, 09:00, 13:10, 19:30, 20:10, and 22:10. The train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh will take about 2-3 hours as well. You can bypass paying more for a train ticket through a travel agency and use the Vietnam Railways website yourself, which offers seat selection and e-ticket service. A one-way ticket in the soft-seat, air-conditioned cabins costs 89,000 VND per person, with hard and non-AC seats costing correspondingly less.
Mua Caves: A Stunning View of Tam Coc, Vietnam
We thoroughly enjoyed our Tam Coc boat tour, mostly because we came early to beat the crowds and the heat. But something we enjoyed as much, if not even more, than the Tam Coc boat tour was the view of the landscape from the nearby Mua Caves.
The View of Tam Coc, Vietnam from Mua Caves
The caves themselves pale in comparison to other magnificent caves throughout Vietnam. Rather, the real treat you’ll find at the site of the Mua Caves is the view from the small mountain on top of the caves. Take in the view over not only Tam Coc, Vietnam, but over the rice paddy fields of the Red River Delta and range upon range of spectacular limestone karst mountains in the distance.
The climb up to the viewpoint requires a 15-minute climb up 500 steps, with absolutely no shade. Yet another reason to go early and beat the heat! There is at least a small pagoda on top where you can take shelter from the sun or rain while you enjoy the view.
Van Long Nature Reserve: A Tam Coc Alternative
If concerns of tourism and overdevelopment might deter you from a Tam Coc boat tour, the nearby Van Long Nature Reserve is a perfect alternative in Ninh Binh, Vietnam, with similar scenery and as-of-yet undeveloped feeling. While Trang An is another valid alternative, some find that it also can be quite touristy.
The most popular wetlands in Ninh Binh, Vietnam, Tam Coc is definitely worth at least a day’s time in your Northern Vietnam trip. Even if Tam Coc brings in plenty of tourists, it’s still worth a visit, especially if you can avoid the crowds and hassle of vendors by planning ahead and coming early. If you’re brave enough, rent a motorbike to explore the beautiful countryside on your own (bicycle is also recommended), and see as many of the Ninh Binh wetlands as you can!
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