Known as Ha Long Bay on Land, Tam Coc and its surroundings is a place of natural wonders. Adorned with sunken rice fields, glorious karst and the scenic Ngo Dong River, the area offers many things to see and do for all kinds of visitors.
Located in Ninh Binh Province, northern Vietnam, only a short distance from Hanoi, both Tam Coc and the surrounding area make it a nice day trip. But in our experience, it’s worth visiting for longer than just a day trip.
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Top Things to Do in Tam Coc
Tam Coc translates as three caves and is mostly known for its tiered Bitch Dong Pagoda and boat tours rowed by feet. But there’s much more to this scenic place hiding in one of the most spectacular corners of northern Vietnam.
Explore Tam Coc by Bike or Motorbike
Renting a bike or a motorbike anywhere in Vietnam is one of the best ways to explore and Tam Coc village is no exception.
Whizzing through the local areas and seeing the scenic landscape in the distance is a great thing to do in Tam Coc. The village is pretty flat so it’s easy to sightsee on a bike. Just beware of stray dogs when driving or walking through some narrow local streets.
We rented a motorbike at our hotel for 200,000 VND ($8.57) plus petrol 50,000 VND ($2.14) and had a great time exploring the surroundings.
Take a Tam Coc Boat Tour
Tam Coc boat tour along the Ngo Dong is perhaps, one of the most popular Tam Coc activities among visitors.
If you’ve just arrived in town, the best thing you can do is head for the scenic Tam Coc lake. From here you can catch a boat called sampan and get taken along the river, through the rice fields and caves for a spectacular day out.
The locals here row their boats with their feet which is a big attraction alongside the scenic landscape.
Visit the Famous Tam Coc Bich Dong Pagoda
There are several ancient temples near Tam Coc that you can visit by yourself or with a tour, but if you are here for just one day, visit the 3-tiered Bich Dong Pagoda.
Located near the Ngu Nhac Mountain, the stunning Tam Coc Bich Dong Pagoda dates back to 1428. The most spectacular part of visiting the pagoda is the entrance and the location itself.
Connected to the mainland by a stone bridge across the emerald-green lake, the Buddha worshipping temple looks like something out of an Eastern fairytale.
The entrance into the pagoda is especially stunning with an ornate arch greeting you at the foot of the shrine. Surrounded by lush greenery, Bich Dong pagoda consists of three tiers – Ha (lower), Trung (middle) and Thuong (top).
At the middle pagoda, squeeze through the left side of the pagoda to reach the Dark Cave. But take extra care due to wet steps leading towards the Upper Pagoda. Bring a torchlight if you have one or use your smartphone to light up the steps. It was pitch black on our visit.
We highly recommend visiting this scenic Tam Coc viewpoint. It might be a little challenging to reach the summit, but the views from the top pagoda will be worth it.
The entrance to the Tam Coc Pagoda is free, but you might be approached by locals telling you otherwise and asking to pay up.
There’s a parking space for bikes and motorbikes at the foot of the bridge to pagoda and costs around 10,000 VND ($0.43) per bike. But then again, the locals might ask for more.
Explore the Imperial Hoa Lu City and its Temples
With stunning scenery for a backdrop, Hoa Lu in Ninh Binh is one of the most visited places in the area. It’s hardly surprising since it’s located just 90 km from Hanoi, making it the perfect day trip for many visitors to Vietnam.
Throughout the 10th and 11th centuries, Hoa Lu was home to the first two imperial dynasties of Vietnam. The Dinh dynasty was established by King Dinh Tien Hoang and the Early Le dynasty – by King Le Dai Hanh.
Hence the names of the two main temples in the imperial city: King Dinh and King Le temples. Located within a short distance from each other, they worship the imperial kings that the temples were built for.
King Dinh Temple is located on the grounds of the former royal palace citadel while the King Le temple is located at the foot of Ma Yen mountain. If you have time and will to climb some more, the summit of the mountain offers beautiful panoramic views of Hoa Lu.
Other attractions in Hoa Lu include the First Column Pagoda (Nhat Tru) that holds artefacts from the 10th and 11th century and the legendary Thien Ton Cave decorated in motifs of the Ly Dynasty.
Near Nhat Tru, there’s a small temple dedicated to Dinh Tien Hoang’s daughter who was imprisoned for running away from the imperial city and later sent to Nhat Tru Pagoda to serve as a nun. She later tragically killed herself.
Go See the Bai Dinh Pagoda Complex
If you have enough time, visit Bai Dinh Pagoda just outside Ninh Binh. Home to hundreds of Buddha statues of all shapes and sizes, the temple complex is the largest Buddhist pilgrimage site in Vietnam. Look out for the impressive 10-meter high Buddha statue cast out of bronze.
The site is a combination of old and new, with the latest temples completed in 2010. You’ll find the original Bai Dinh Pagoda some 800 meters away from the new structure.
If you don’t enjoy crowds, avoid the lunar festival at the temple which is hosted between February – March. Though, with local rituals and local food stalls, it could be quite a unique experience during your visit.
Explore Trang An Caves with a Boat Tour
If Ha Long Bay is known far and wide by many, the dramatic UNESCO World Heritage Site, Trang An complex, known as Ha Long Bay on Land is yet to be discovered by the masses.
Just like the breathtaking boat tours from the scenic Tam Coc village, Trang An boat tours take you on a spectacular ride through towering limestone karsts, green valleys and spooky caves. Here, at times, you might need to duck slightly so not to scrape the cave’s ceiling.
Bring a hat, snacks, plenty of water and sunscreen to protect yourself from the fierce sun. Also, if you burn easily, pack a long-sleeve shirt or a shawl.
Discover the Thung Nham Garden
The park is beautifully landscaped with a path leading to the viewing platform. Boat tours here offer a bird-watching opportunity in more remote locations for a more close-up experience.
Climb the Tam Coc Mua Cave
If you’re after panoramic Tam Coc viewpoints, head for the Mua Cave. Only 5 km north from Ninh Binh, the Hang Mua Cave boasts spectacular 360-degree panoramic views from the top.
To reach the Mua Cave summit, follow the steep manmade stone staircase zigzagging up the soaring karst. Prepare for a gruelling climb though – it’s 500 steps to the mountaintop also called the Dragon Mountain due to the stone dragon snaking along the ridge of the karst.
As you climb the steps and before or after you reach the peak, explore other paths too leading to more fantastic panoramic views of rice fields and the Ngo Dong River and a pagoda sticking out on the karst’s rugged cliff.
To get to the foot of the mountain, you can either hike, cycle or hire a motorbike. Parking is available and should cost 10,000 VND ($0.43) per vehicle. Entrance fee per person: 100,000 VND ($4.27).
Take a Day Trip to Tam Coc from Hanoi
Taking a day trip to Tam Coc from Hanoi is easy. You can easily organise it yourself by getting a train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh and then a taxi to Tam Coc.
To plan your trip from Hanoi to Ninh Binh, use the super friendly 12Go Asia website and find the best ticket for you. We used their services throughout our Vietnam travels and beyond and only had a great experience.
The best part is that you don’t need to print your tickets. Just show them on your smartphone when boarding the train.
To eliminate all the hassle and to get the most out of your day trip to Tam Coc from Hanoi, join one of the organised tours. Most of the tours from Hanoi include the above-mentioned attractions.
From a visit to Hoa Lu, Mua Cave, Bai Dinh, Tam Coco Bitch Dong Pagoda to a boat trip along the stunning Ngo Dong River, everything will be organised to a tee. You won’t need to worry about transportation or any other logistics.
Stop at Ninh Binh
If you are not staying in Ninh Binh, you could take a quick bike trip to see the town. Although it looks like the town is trying to get back on its feet with lots of construction taking place, we felt quite overwhelmed on our arrival.
There’s not much to do or see in Ninh Binh as during the American War the area was completely flattened by the heavy bombing. Still, if you have time and transportation, you might find it interesting to explore the town.
Tam Coc Travel Tips
How far is Tam Coc from Hanoi
Tam Coc is located around 90km south from Hanoi which is extremely convenient if you can only spare one day to explore the area.
How far is Tam Coc from Ninh Binh
Tam Coc is located around 7 km from Ninh Binh and can be easily reached by taxi, bike or motorbike. Or on foot, if you are on a tight budget.
How much is a taxi from Ninh Binh to Tam Coc
A taxi from Ninh Binh to Tam Coc is around 100,000 VND ($4.28) per taxi ride. It seems to be a standard taxi price from and to the village, but some drivers may try and charge you more.
Getting to Tam Coc Village
Hanoi to Tam Coc
The easiest way to get to Tam Coc from Hanoi is to catch a train to Ninh Binh and then grab a taxi from here. Depending on the train, the total journey time varies between 1.30 h to 2.15 minutes. To book your train in advance, use the efficient and super-friendly 12GO Asia website.
Getting to Tam Coc from Cat Ba Island
In case you are planning to travel to Tam Coc or Ninh Binh from Cat Ba Island, you’ll need to catch a high-speed boat from Cat Ba to Haiphong and then take a bus to Ninh Binh. From here, grab a local taxi to Tam Coc.
High-Speed Boat from Cat Ba to Haiphong
To get to Hai Phong, you can get a public fast boat at the Cat Ba town harbour. Tickets cost 180,000 VND ($7.71) per person and you can buy them just before departing. We tried buying them beforehand, unsuccessfully.
The choppy ride to Hai Phong takes around an hour.
Catch a Bus from Hai Phong to Ninh Binh
The bus to Ninh Binh leaves from Niem Nghia Bus Station. We bought our bus tickets for 140,000 VND ($6) per person when we arrived at the station.
The journey from Haiphong to Ninh Binh takes around three hours but beware that the local sleeper buses aren’t the most comfortable (if you have long legs).
Catching a taxi from Ninh Binh to Tam Coc
Once you are in Ninh Binh, it’s best to catch a taxi to Tam Coc village. Taxis are readily available and cost around 100,000 VND ($4.28) per ride.
Where to Stay in Tam Coc
Run by a local Vietnamese family, the hotel is a hidden gem, away from the busy main street. We enjoyed our stay here so much that we extended it for a couple of more days. We especially loved the terrace where we could do a bit of work.
The room, complete with crisp clean sheets, was very spacious and clean. We also had a little balcony in our room overlooking the neighbour’s garden and the rocky karsts.
At 402,000 VND ($18) per night with breakfast included it was a great base from which to explore the wonders of Tam Coc and beyond.
Is Tam Coc on your Vietnam itinerary? Let us know in the comments below what you’re planning to see and do there…