You planned your trip but end up with a spare day in Hanoi? Take a day trip to Hoa Lu – Tam Coc in Ninh Binh province.
Most of the travel agents in Hanoi can get you on a group tour at short notice. We confirmed our trip only a day before and were on the shuttle to Hoa Lu – Tam Coc next morning. We didn’t even have to pay any deposit upfront.
We were picked from our hotel in Hanoi early morning by the tour guide. The group was a mix of international and Vietnamese tourists.
Our first jaunt was Tam Coc. Tam Coc literally means “Three Caves” and the name describes it perfectly. You ride through three caves on a river. It is like mini Halong Bay on land. As with any of these tags, you must take it with a pinch of salt. These destinations are beautiful in their own ways but if you compare with the original, they fall way short.
We rode on one of the numerous boats on the river. The boatman was interestingly using his feet to paddle. We travelled through the valley, under the caves, to a lagoon and back. The ride itself is scenic with lush green paddy fields along the river.
Our take: We thought it was crowded and too ‘touristy’. The boatperson was pestering for tips and photographers were trying to sell photos which weren’t asked to be clicked in the first place. If you have time and budget for it, opt for the original.
The tour included a buffet lunch at a local restaurant. The spread had enough options for both vegetarians and carnivores. The highlight of the menu was special goat meat wrapped in leaves. We relished the meal and the local cuisine.
The best part of the tour was the biking tour of the fishing village. We took the rental bicycles near the restaurant and followed our guide to the fishing village.
We rode along beautiful countryside, the paddy fields and the ponds. This ride gave us the best views of the hills and the valley. We rode close to the river and also stopped near the fishing area. In the middle of the fields, the hills rode out of nowhere, resembling the islets at Halong Bay. The ride was comfortable and short.
We also visited the village temple-cum-congregation hall. The tour guide had taken special permission from the village people to enter the place. He explained the history of the place and talked about the ceremonies and the idols. The building had rustic village charm.
We returned the bikes and rode the bus to our final stop for the day. Hoa Lu is the ancient capital of Vietnam. The capital had moved to Hanoi only in 12th century due to better economical, agricultural and military prospects.
As we visited the temples for three generations of the kings, the tour guide gave us a good background of the history of the old capital and the reasons for moving to Hanoi. We also ventured into the ruins of the old temples and felt like explorers.
At the end of the day it was then time to return to the rush of Hanoi.
The group tour cost us $31 per pax including lunch, shuttle, biking and tour guide.
The trip to Ninh-Binh from Hanoi takes 2-3 hours depending on time taken to get out of Hanoi traffic.
Do you have a story to tell about your Tam Coc – Hoa Lu experience? Drop in a comment or send us a mail. We will definitely reply. All the interesting tales will be published in a special feature.