Tam Coc, Ninh Binh
Tam Coc is undoubtedly, one of the most amazing things to see in Vietnam. It is quite simply a most spectacular sight. If your are visiting Ninh Binh or even simply find yourself in Hanoi, you should visit. Try and take a boat ride in the morning, the earlier the better, before the many cruise boats set out taking the hundreds of tourists from Hanoi, about 50 miles north. Alternatively you may wish to leave it until later in the after when they have all left. The last boat trips start out at about 5:30pm in the summer and 4:30pm in the winter, though maybe an hour before this is perfect.
Tam Coc is an easy taxi, motorbike or even bicycle ride to Tam Coc from Ninh Binh; it’s flat and easy going. You will be pestered by the floating drink sellers who can be extremely persistent, don’t feel pressured if you don’t want to, but try and remember these are extremely poor people. Buying a drink for your oarsman or woman is helping two people out. The drink is usually sold back immediately afterwards for half price, but so what. The oarsmen and women usually prefer to row with their feet, though can use their hands as well; it makes quite an interesting sight, if you haven’t seen it before.
These people have a hard life in the boats, they are paid a minimum wage and only have the right to a few tours a week only. They normally carry handicrafts to sell and supplement their meagre earnings. They sell the famous Tam Coc hand-made embroidery, made to extraordinary quality by the oarswomen at home. It is in fact this that is the local people’s main income. Again don’t feel pressured, but either buying or giving them a tip does not cost a great deal and helps them greatly.
The most important part of this three hour excursion along the Ngo Dong River is the three caves. Your journey starts at the village of Van Lam and procedes through unbelievably scenic landscapes dominated by rice paddies and enormous limestone karst hills. Not for nothing is this called the Halong Bay on Land. The three natural caves, called (Hang Ca, Hang Hai, and Hang Ba, are spectacular. The largest of is about 400ft long with a ceiling little more than 6ft above the water. If you are claustrophobic, this might not be for you. There is a nearby pagoda that you will see as well, called Bich Dong. it dates from the early 15th century and actually is three separate, in ascending order.
Tam Coc simply should not be missed, if you have half a chance to visit, go for it.