If you're looking for some down time in North Vietnam, the serene Tam Coc village, in Ninh Binh Province, is the place to go! Framed by lush green rice fields and limestone karsts, the area is a stunning, yet peaceful, get away from the buzzing cities and whizzing motorbikes of Vietnam. (Tam Coc Village is located just a three-hour bus or train journey from the capital, Hanoi.)
Translated as 'three caves', Tam Coc is often referred to as “Halong Bay on Land” due to its incredibly scenic landscape and the rice paddies. Even the foggy conditions during our visit couldn’t diminish the beauty of this picturesque village.
Spend at least a couple of days exploring the ancient pagodas, maybe take a ride on a sampan and let the locals take you along the scenic river Ngo Dong. You will see visitors cycling through the rice fields, but we recommend renting a motorbike to make things easier. It will give you the freedom to explore Tam Coc and its surroundings at your own pace.
Things to See and Do in Tam Coc Village, North Vietnam...
Experience the Bích Động Pagodas:
Start your day by exploring the Bích Động, a complex of mountain pagodas located a short bike ride south of Tam Coc. This UNESCO site, located near Ngu Nhac Mountain and dating back to 1428 has three tiers, the Lower pagoda Ha, Middle - Trung and the Upper Pagoda Thượng.
Make sure you admire the panoramic views as you ascend the first 120 rocky steps to the Middle pagoda. If you are lucky, you might even witness the local ladies performing a sacred ritual. We sure enjoyed seeing this unusual sight and hearing some chanting before proceeding to the highest temple.
From here, look for a narrow tunnel on the left side of the temple and slip through it into the dark cave beyond. This dark cave will lead you to the Upper pagoda, offering a rather slippery further 40 steps to take you to the top. You might need a torch here to illuminate your way up.
On arrival, you will be able to park your bike at a parking lot monitored by the local chap but remember to have some spare change with you.
- Tranquil Tam Coc Lake:
Next up is Tam Coc Lake, the star of the village, abundant with sampan. These long narrow boats are just waiting to take you on a fascinating journey. Sit on the crescent shaped steps leading into the lake and take a moment to admire the beauty of the towering karst in the distance whilst soaking up the peacefulness of the place.
- Cruise the River Ngo Dong:
Take a ride in Sampan with a local lady. Only women row the boats here and if you take the tour, prepare to be astounded at how skillfully they row with their... feet! Once you manage to peel your eyes away from the unusual rower, inhale the stillness of the surrounding landscape. Hold your breath and duck a little as you approach and slide into the spooky and rather claustrophobic caves along the river. Tam Coc is named after the caves for good reason, it’s the main draw.
Boat tours usually start from the small village of Van Lam and can accommodate up to four passengers per boat. A word of warning though - as well as skilful rowers, these business minded women are accomplished saleswomen and we challenge you to get off the boat safely without buying one of their handmade handicrafts!
- Visit Hang Mua Cave:
You can never have enough of viewing points and panoramic vistas when travelling and Hang Mua Cave is a perfect spot for one more.
So jump on your motorbike and head north into the green jungle for your chance to pay your respects to the Goddess of Mercy (Quan Am). That is if you don’t mind conquering another 500 steps up to the very top!
- Have a chilled cycle ride:
Not keen on a motorbike? Not to worry, most of the accommodations in Tam Coc have bikes to rent for a chilled cycle through the surrounding neon green paddy fields. But watch out for muddy trails, it gets very slippery in places.
- Explore the village on foot.
This is also a great option as nothing is too far away. Therefore you can easily get around and do the sightseeing at your own pace, just be aware of stray dogs down some of the alleyways.
Exploring Beyond Tam Coc village...
Have some extra time to explore further? Then you should visit the Imperial Hoa Lu, a former capital of Vietnam. Here you will be able to explore tombs, temples and pagodas built to celebrate the Vietnamese emperors and their sons. Each with its own stunning limestone karst backdrop tells a story of the ancient Imperial Vietnam in the 10th and 11th century.
Where to stay in Tam Coc?
To have a relaxing stay in the village, we highly recommend Tuấn Ngọc Hotel. It’s a family run hotel tucked away from the main road. A lovely breakfast is included in the room rate. Delicious lunch and dinner can also be ordered here and enjoyed on the terrace overlooking the beautiful surrounding scenery.
How to get to Tam Coc Village?
- By Train from Hanoi:
There are regular trains connecting Hanoi to Ninh Binh which cost around $15 for a soft seat and $12 for a hard seat. The journey takes around 2.5 hours but be ready to hop off the train quickly as this is a very short stop. We really enjoyed railway rides in Vietnam and would always recommend train journeys over a bus.
- By Bus from Hanoi:
If you are taking a bus from Hanoi, you can catch a direct one at the Giap Bat station direct to Ninh Binh. The journey takes around three hours or even longer depending on the traffic.
Search train and bus times from Hanoi to Ninh Binh here. (Or use the search box in the side bar on the right)
- To reach Tam Coc village from Ninh Binh:
Take a Taxi. 100,000 VND ($4.50 USD) seems to be a standard taxi price to and from the village.
- Travelling from Cat Ba Island to Tam Coc?
If by any chance you will be travelling to Tam Coc from Cat Ba Island, like we did, it’s easy to make it in one day. First, get to Haiphong via a public fast boat at the Cat Ba town harbour. Tickets can be purchased just before departing. It takes around 1 hour to get to Hai Phong on a rather speedy boat. No more scenic Ha Long Bay views, but still interesting scenery. We stayed at Haiphong overnight and the next day took a bus to Ninh Binh but it’s easy to make a direct connection. The bus to Ninh Binh from Hai Phong leaves from Niem Nghia Bus Station. Tickets can be bought at the bus station. The journey from Haiphong to Ninh Binh takes around 3 hours but mind you, local buses on this route aren’t the most comfortable.
About the writers: Hi, we’re Charlie and Kristina and we love to travel. We love to travel so much that we started our travel blog to inspire others to travel more. During a 2 week trip to Cuba in 2015, we had an honest chat on the beach one night and decided to change our lifestyle to one of travel. We soon realised it wasn’t just the rum talking and made a plan to quit London and set off on a lifetime of adventure. Come and say hello on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube