Tam Coc is located in northern Vietnam and is a two-hour drive from Hanoi through scenic rice-farming areas. On May 20th, I hired a car/driver to take me from Hanoi to Tam Coc. A car/driver from Hanoi to Tam Coc and back to Hanoi (total of 10 to 12 hours), came with the price tag of about $50 usd, including fuel. Alternatively, one can hire a motobike and driver for about $10 usd, and $5 usd for fuel, for a full day round trip excursion from Hanoi to Tam Coc. The motobike ride is very pleasant as the ride is entirely through small villages and farming areas. I opted for the car because the temperature that day was over 100 degrees F and the sun was blistering! Be sure to view the photo gallery at the end of this post!
Tam Coc is a countryside location, and is located about six miles from the nearest city, Ninh Binh. The city of Ninh Binh (pronounced ning bing) is a small city (population about 100,000) and serves as base for exploring the scenic areas in the surrounding countryside, such as Tam Coc, Trang An, and Cuc Phuong. There really is nothing to do in Ninh Binh, except hang out on the sidewalks and eat and drink beer with the friendly locals – very pleasant thing to do.
Tam Coc is most famous for the scenery along the Ngo Do River, which flows through steep karst hills, and rice paddies and lotus fields immediately adjoining the river. This riverside scenery has a beauty all its own, I have never seen such gorgeous river scenery. The scenery is viewed via a three-hour ride on a very small rowboat (can fit about 2 to 4 people). The Bich Dong pagoda (constructed during the 1400s), located on Ngu Nhac Mountain, is also viewable from the boat. The pagoda is built into the side of cliff and offers spectacular views of the surrounding river, rice field, and lotus field scenery. Be sure to view the photo gallery at the end of this post!
The rowboats are rowed by local women who use their feet, rather than hands, for rowing. The rowing is very hard work and they do this each day for at least six hours!! These women are in superb physical condition! The woman who rowed my boat let me try rowing with my feet, as they do. For me, it was next to impossible! I got nowhere!! Went sideways a little bit! She told me it takes a long, long time to develop the necessary coordination and strength. The women also sell embroidered goods from their boats – they make the embroidery at home themselves.
Rowers are paid a minimum wage and are allowed several tours each week only. The rowing is simply too strenuous to do each day. Consequently, the selling of their homemade embroidery is the rowers’ main source of income.
The 3-hour boat route begins in the small, countryside village of Van Lam and involves passing through three caves (i.e., tam coc) — Hang Ca cave, Hang Hai cave and Hang Ba cave. As the river passes through the caves there is not enough head in many areas of the caves to sit up straight in the boat. The largest cave is about 125 meters long and 1 to 2 meters high above the water surface.
The local culinary specialties include mountain goat meat served with fried rice, com chay (the burnt rice from the bottom of the pot served with pork, and duck dishes of several kinds. Also, there are many dog meat restaurants throughout the area (just look for signs with the picture of a Great Dane and the words “thit cho”).
Another local specialty is cơm cháy (not to be confused with cơm chay, vegetarian food), which is the burnt rice off the bottom of the pot, served with pork. Duck also features in many restaurants.
Hoa Lu is the ancient capital of Vietnam – served as the capital of Vietnam until about the year 1010. Not much is remaining in this area, with the exception of several beautiful archways and three temples – Dinh Tien Hoang, Nhat Tru Temple, and Le Dai Hanh.
For the photo gallery below, be sure to click on any photo to trigger a “lightbox” presentation of the the photo gallery — doing so adds more “life” to the photos.
Also, note that there is an area at the very end of this post to comment or ask any questions you may have.