When you think of Vietnam, what comes to mind? Could it be the images of Sapa’s rice fields, traditional conical hats, and tasty pho? How about those emerald colored waters dotted with limestone karsts in Halong Bay? Vietnam, despite its small size, is a natural wonderland! While many people are familiar with Hoi An, Halong Bay, and Sa Pa, I have created this travel guide to highlight a lesser known natural site in Vietnam: Tam Coc.
Why Visit Tam Coc
In recent years, Tam Coc has become a top tourist attraction in Vietnam. Some of that can be attributed to the beautiful filming locations of Kong: Skull Island and Indochine. Other times, Tam Coc is the go-to choice for Vietnam visitors who seek a less-crowded alternative to Halong Bay.
I heard about Tam Coc through word of mouth. A colleague of mine had recently gone to Vietnam and traveled all over the country. In addition to visiting Halong Bay, he mentioned his visit to a place that’s commonly referred to as “Halong Bay on land”. Like many others, he advised that Tam Coc should not be missed, and in fact, Tam Coc is the preferred choice over the crowded Halong Bay.
I researched it as soon as I got to a computer, and instantly was in awe by the limestone karst and green landscape. I was starting to believe the hype!
Tam Coc is located in northern Vietnam – 200km from Halong Bay and 100km from Hanoi. This central location makes Tam Coc easy to get to from either base!
Top things to do in Tam Coc
There are several activities to occupy your time in Tam Coc. One of the main attractions is taking a rowboat tour through Tam Coc.
Tam Coc means three caves in Vietnam. The Ngo Dong river flows through Tam Coc and is so surrounded by rice fields, that it’s commonly known as the Green Sea. The caves have been eroded over time and now have openings large enough for boats to row through.
After you pay the 195,000VND entrance fee at the Tam Coc wharf, you’ll be provided a life jacket to board the rowboat. Prepare to enjoy a two hour boat ride on the Ngo Dong river!
As you prepare to row through the caves, watch your head to be sure as not to hit it against the cave.
I found the boat ride to be very peaceful. You’re rowing up and down the river for a little under 2 hours, rice fields on either side of you.
If you pay special attention, you can even see goats looking for food on the sides of the mountains. I recommend you sit back, relax, and take in the beautiful landscape you can only find here in Tam Coc!
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Best Time to Visit Tam Coc
The best time to visit Tam Coc is between March and June. The weather is warming up, but more importantly, this is when the rice fields start showing their true colors. Harvest season is approaching and the rice fields start with a deep green hue and transform to bright yellows by May and June.
May and June also welcome the start of Tam Coc’s humid and rainy season, and lasts until about September. The hot and wet climate can make it quite difficult to enjoy your time in the outdoors.
November – February is Tam Coc’s dry, winter season. It’s quite chilly in northern Vietnam with the highest temperatures falling below 20 degrees Celsius. This is the time of year when rice is planted, so the rice paddies will be muddy and wet. This time of year is relatively low season for tourism. You will also find less cloud and fog which makes for beautiful photos.
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“I couldn’t say why, I couldn’t say how, but somehow, as I stood there, I felt not just on the ‘rooftop of the world’ mentioned in all the brochures, but on the rooftop of my being – some clearer, stronger state of mind I didn’t recognise.” – Pico Iyer • • • #visitvietnam #tamcoc #vietnamcharm #northvietnam #ninhbinh #limestone #travelphotos #globelletravels #theculturetrip #girlsjustwannatravel #workhardtravelwell #natgeotravel #soultravel #naturephotographer #femaletravelbloggers #theglobewanderer #thetravelblogs #wanderlusting #wanderlusttribe #blackvoyageurs #blacktraveljourney #travelholic #blackgirlstraveltoo #nomadnesstribe #pursuehappiness #pursuitofhappiness #mindfulness #picoiyer #sonymirrorless #tbtcollective
How to get to Tam Coc
Hanoi is a great hub to explore north Vietnam. Just 100km from Hanoi, there are many modes of transportation to go to Ninh Binh and Tam Coc. Most public transportation options go directly to Ninh Binh, which is located 5km from Tam Coc.
If you end up booking transportation to Ninh Binh, take a taxi to Tam Coc.
This is one of the cheapest ways to travel to Tam Coc.
Buses from Hanoi to Tam Coc and Ninh Binh run daily and take 2-3 hours. A bus ticket on a local bus to Ninh Binh can cost you anywhere from 5-10 USD.
Vietnam Local Bus offers one bus per hour from your hotel in Hanoi Old Quarter to Tam Coc. The journey lasts 3 hours and costs about 15 USD. They also offer one bus per hour from Tam Coc to Hanoi at the same price. All you have to do is book 48 hours in advance.
Cat Ba Express allows you to book a bus online from Hanoi to Ninh Binh for 10 USD. After arriving in Ninh Binh, you can take a short taxi to Tam Coc.
You can also find tourist buses to go from Hanoi to Tam Coc. These buses have one departure in the morning, usually around 8:00am. Booking in advance, especially during high season, is recommended. You can find tourist buses as part of a packaged tour with a tour operator such as Viator or even by just walking around in Hanoi. Hanoi’s streets are filled with travel vendors selling packaged tours.
You will have to take a train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh as there is no train station in Tam Coc. The ride takes 2.5 hours and will cost you between 7-12 USD. After arriving in Ninh Binh, just take a quick taxi to Tam Coc.
12go.asia is a site that lets you find bus and train tickets in one convenient place.
Private Car or Taxi
For a private car from Hanoi to Tam Coc, you can estimate that this will cost about 75 USD one-way and take 2-3 hours. This option is ideal for travelers who like the freedom of choosing their own schedule.
Rent a Motorbike
If you really want to be on your own, and you enjoy some thrill in your life then renting a motorbike is a great option! You will find that this alternative is quite cheap as it costs about 10 USD to rent a motorbike for the day. This is a great way to ride through Vietnam’s beautiful landscape. As you’ll be on your own, you can stop to take photographs as often as you’d like.
From Halong Bay – Cat Ba Island
How awesome would it be to go from visiting Halong Bay to the “Halong Bay on land”, Tam Coc? This is the route I took as I was exploring Vietnam in a short amount of time. After finishing your Halong Bay tour, make your way to Tam Coc for more breathtaking landscape!
Departing from Cat Ba island in Halong Bay, the bus to Ninh Binh takes 4-5 hours, which includes a slow ferry off the island to the mainland. I took the Cat Ba Express which cost 14 USD one way. The bus came equipped with reclining seats, USB plug, and spotty wi-fi. There is no bathroom on board so if you need to make a stop, you will have to notify the bus driver – most likely in Vietnamese.
If you’d like to do a reverse itinerary, you can always visit Tam Coc first, then take the Cat Ba Express to Cat Ba island to begin your Halong Bay tour. Whatever route, be prepared to be in a photographer’s dream!
This is the more expensive option, but the fastest. This takes about 3-4 hours and costs roughly 70-80 USD. This option includes taking a high speed boat from Cat Ba island to the mainland.
If you are part of a tour in either Halong Bay or Tam Coc, you should also ask them if they can organize your transportation to Tam Coc.
Where to Stay in Tam Coc
Tam Coc has a wide selection of places to stay. A common type of lodging found here is the homestay. Tam Coc Westlake Homestay is a very popular option. It’s family-run and their reviews suggest that you feel a very warm, welcoming atmosphere your whole stay. Plus, you’re perfectly positioned to visit the caves, pagodas, and temples nearby!
If you’re looking for a quiet and peaceful stay in nature, then Tam Coc Garden Resort is for you. The resort has taken advantage of being surrounded by rice paddies and have themed the resort to fit the landscape. You’ll get to enjoy their pool, free bike rentals, and their on-site bar and restaurant. They are located about 5km from Tam Coc and 15km from Trang An Cave.
This family-run hotel is located in Ninh Binh city, and is a 15 minute drive to Tam Coc. The owner is super helpful if you need help planning your itinerary or if you need to find transportation to Hanoi. The hotel itself is very modern with comfortable beds, free toiletries and breakfast. The hotel is also conveniently located near restaurants and bars if you’re into spending time in the city.
How Long to Stay in Tam Coc
So as not to feel rushed, I recommend to stay in Tam Coc for 1 day and 1 night, at minimum. By starting your day early, you’re able to take your time and take in the gorgeous landscape.
If you can’t manage to stay the night in Tam Coc, don’t worry! It’s still very possible to visit Tam Coc as a day trip from Hanoi or Halong Bay.
If your schedule allows it, stay in Tam Coc for a few days so as to space out your activities and have some time to relax.
How to Get Around in Tam Coc
There are a few options in getting around in Tam Coc, which really depends on what kind of visit you’re looking to have.
The best method of transportation in Tam Coc is to rent a bicycle. If you’re staying in a hotel or homestay, they will more than likely have bicycles for you to rent for the day – for FREE (or just about)! This method is not only economical, but it will get you right there in the middle of the gorgeous landscape. You will be able to ride on the narrow paths in between rice fields, and witness the rice harvest up close.
Other methods of getting around in Tam Coc are possible. If you’re staying in Ninh Binh, your accommodation can help you set up a private transfer to Tam Coc, either by car or motorbike. If you’re interested, the private transfer will stay with you all day to take you to the different sites. A private tour by car from Ninh Binh to Tam Coc will cost you about 40USD.
Practical Tips When Visiting Tam Coc
Start your day
…with the Tam Coc boat tour. It’s two hours and once you’ve gotten this out of the way, you can time the rest of your itinerary as you wish. The morning is also one of the less crowded times to go on the river.
Eat before the boat tour
…or bring snacks. While rowing through Tam Coc, you will come across several boats with people selling snacks. And yes, they will approach your boat! If you refuse, don’t be surprised when they pull out their biggest marketing play: asking you to buy a drink or snack for your sailor as a tip. Politely decline if you are not interested.
Spend at least one night in Tam Coc.
I know this is not always manageable, especially if you’re visiting Tam Coc on a day trip from Hanoi, but I do recommend it. It allows you to fully maximize a whole day in Tam Coc. For more options, neighboring Ninh Binh city has plenty of accommodation. I spent the night in Ninh Binh at the Vancouver Hotel, woke up the next day, and was out on the boat in Tam Coc by 9am!
If you plan to bike your way around Tam Coc, or hike up the Bich Dong pagoda or Mua Cave, then I highly recommend having proper shoes.
Tam Coc is an underrated tourist destination in Vietnam, but I anticipate they will see an increase in tourism in the coming years, especially if visitors are looking for alternatives to the crowded Halong Bay. Have you heard of, or been to Tam Coc, Vietnam? What was your experience?
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