Tam Coc Paragraph
What to do
In the Ninh Binh/Tam Coc area, there are two main spots that you can drift through the stunning landscape: Tam Coc central, and Trang An. Both spots are gorgeous but have differences. Tam Coc is really easy to access as its launch point is the centre point of the town. Payment is well set up and you do not have any issues with having to negotiate or be overcharged. Pricing is ... And a boat can take a maximum of 2 people. While the rowers are not supposed to ask for tips (as it details in the written rules) many will come after you or ask you to buy from the very overpriced vendor boats while on the water. The route takes about 2.5 hours and takes you through several caves before you explore the final one on foot.
It is likely that when you get to Tam Coc and look at all the gorgeous mountain tops with rice fields surrounding them that you would love to see it from above (panorama). Luckily for us, there is one area that has been developed to offer that stunning overhead view- but be prepared to climb some pretty steep stairs! The Mua Caves are a series of caves in the valley that have become a popular spot to explore. Leading up from their mouths, are a few hundred stairs
that take you up to the top of two mountains. On one side, you have a small pagoda and views of the rice field valleys between you and Ninh Binh. While on the other top, you have a stunning view into a river valley with a backdrop of dozens of mountains. The spot has also become a hotspot for wedding photos, so dont be surprised to see a few couples decked out in wedding gear trying to climb the steps!
This unique Pagoda is one of the top attractions in Tam Coc. While it may not be the largest pagoda, oldest, or most important pagoda in the region, it is in one of the coolest locations. Tucked away in a series of caves connected by staircases hewn right out of the rock, these pagodas have amazing views of the surrounding valleys. The main pagoda was built in the 15th century along with the entrance gate and bridge that leads you across the stunning lotus pond. The pagoda is just a few KMs from Tam Coc so its easy to get to on a bicycle or motorbike but watch out for people overcharging you for parking. A bike should cost 10,000VND MAX but likely 5,000VND so ignore the higher prices and bargain hard.
Not far up the road from the Bich Dong Pagoda is the sprawling Bird Garden park. This well manicured area is much more than meets the eye. Not only is it a popular nesting ground for tens of thousands birds, but it has a few popular caves and great walking/biking trails. Mermaid cave takes you down into a cave with an awesome river running through it. The boardwalk is set up overtop the water and squeezes through sections that are only 2 or 3 feet tall so be prepared to get on your hands and knees. The stalagmites are not massive but its cool to see them up close. At the entrance to the park is the ... Cave. To access it you have to walk up 400 steps but in doing that it opens up a fantastic cave. It seems like the entire mountain is hollow as steps bring you back down over 60 feet or up through narrow crevices at least 100 feet. At the top there is a viewpoint that offers spectacular views over the bird garden and many mountain tops.
Test your firefighter skills with a hike through the Seven Ladders Canyon!
Where to Stay
For those just starting to look at the area, it may be a bit confusing to figure out the difference between Tam Coc and Ninh Binh and which to stay in. We felt the same way and were expecting to stay in Ninh Binh but are so happy we decided to change our minds. Tam Coc is what the area is all about and where are the action is. Ninh Binh is like staying 5 KMs inland from the beach while Tam Coc is a gorgeous beachfront resort. Its not saying that Ninh Binh is bad by any means, but for the majority of tourists, Tam Coc is the ideal choice. There are so many places to stay in Tam Coc that there is something at every price point. This has also meant that there are a ton of restaurants so you wont struggle finding a place to eat. We spent over 2 weeks in the town so check out at least 20 places to find one that would be a perfect home base. We found that there were 2 that stand out. The first is a small homestay called Viet Anh Homestay, where you truely feel like you are with a family. Greeted with tea and snacks, the hosts are amazing and the accomodations are in small bungalows that face towards a small garden. If you are lucky you can even chat with the house Grandma who was an "villager" in Kong: Skull Island. This place should be your choice if you are a pretty tight budget.
The second place (and one of the most amazing places we have ever stayed) was Tam Coc Garden Homestay. On the edge of town, the dozen stand alone bungalows from a ring around a beautiful pond with more fruit trees then you can imagine. Everything from papaya to jackfruit to bananas and even starfruit, the setting is amazing. To top it all off, the homestay looks out at a massive rice field and several mountains. Every morning you will wake up to a stunning breakfast and be able to watch the workers tend to the fields.
How to get there and around
Tam Coc is one of the most popular destinations for tourism in Vietnam so it is really easy to access. If you are on a "open" or "Hop on Hop off" bus ticket, Tam Coc is one of the stops going both north and south. It is just a few hours south of Hanoi so it’s a good way to break up your bus journey if coming from the south. Ninh Binh is on the train line and has numerous trains coming through at all hours of the day. Take a look at DSVN.VN for schedules and pricing. From Ninh Binh, your best bet is to grab a taxi to take you to Tam Coc. When you get off the train there will drivers trying to flag you down contently. Haggle with one of them but don’t be scared to walk away. The posted rates (from Tam Coc TO Ninh Binh) are 80,000VND so don’t pay more then that. If it is slow season you can get it even cheaper (we got it for 70,000VND). Lastly, Tam Coc is just off a main highway so if you are cruising the country on your own motorbike or bicycle, it is an easy stop.
Getting around Tam Coc is pretty much solely done by foot, motorbike, or bicycle. We don’t think there is actually any public transit system within the town so you are on your own. Ninh Binh does have public busses but we are unaware of any additional information. There are so many motorbike and bicycle rental places around town so you shouldn’t have any issues finding one. Its also a good idea to enquire if the place you are staying offers free bikes as spending a buck or two more per night may be cheaper in the long run!
Brasov is the perfect base for southern Transylvania as it is a hub for transportation as well as being surrounded by world-class attractions. You can easily spend a week in Brasov if you explore the outer areas. While cities like Sighisoara and Sibiu are often said to be day trips, they are quite a distance and deserve way more time than a few hours. The options below are great day trips that take less than an hour to get to on public transportation.
At less than an hour on the train south towards Bucharest, Sinaia is a gorgeous mountain town with some spectacular hikes and even better castles. Peles, Pelisor, and Foisor Castles are the three major castles in the town and are all in a line about a 35-minute walk away from the train station. Peles and its younger sibling Pelisor, are modeled after hunting lodges rather than fortified castles like Bran or Rasnov, and were built in the early 20th century for the
Romanian Royalty. Peles Castle was a state of the art luxury residence complete with electricity (the first in Europe to be built with it), a huge arms collection, and a retractable stained glass roof over its main foyer. Decked out in stunning wood trim from around Europe and filled with treasures of the world it is well worth the visit - and expensive entry ticket! Next door is the colourful palace of Pelisor built shortly after Peles Castle. Foisor Castle is still owned by the royal family and is private so you must have an invite for the small number of functions that are held within the space or be super special!
On the edge of the town is the Bucegi National Park, which is littered with excellent hiking routes. Follow the Royal Path up to the Franz Josef Rocks for an awesome overhead view of the city and down the valley.