A day tip from the capital city to Tam Coc landscape in Ninh Binh, a southern province of Hanoi, is always recommended to every travelers visiting north Vietnam who seek for a serene countryside and stunning natural scenery. Tam Coc features a lovely river running through picturesque limestone mountain ranges, which are surrounded by yellow rice paddy fields dotted with hard working farmers. The destination is one of Vietnam’s UNESCO World Heritage listed-sites.



The first time I took travelers to Tam Coc was in 2003, when we often stayed in Ninh Binh for two nights, we visit the nearby Cuc Phuong National Park on the first day and then head to Tam Coc on the second day. The road was bad, so two days was a much better choice. But with the better highway completed recently, it’s become much easier for us to dive straight to Tam Coc and head back comfortably within a day, the drive is only two hours each way.


Yesterday, I went back to Tam Coc with two clients from the US, and I got very positive comments about the beauty of the area as well as the pacing of the day. My clients did not want to spend the whole day in Tam Coc, so we only took the two-hour boat ride to see the scenery along the way, then we drove back to Hanoi after having lunch at a local family.


Halong Bay on Land


Yes, it’s often referred to as the “halong bay on land”, as the formation of the limestone mountains in Tam Coc are very much similar to those found in Halong Bay. The only difference between them is that Halong is part of the Tonkin Gulf in the Vietnam’s east sea, while Tam Coc is a part of the Red River Delta with villages and rice fields. With the fabulous nature setting, it’s really worth the drive for a day trip.



Feet Rowing Sampan Boats


The best way to take in the stunning beauty of Tam Coc is to take a sampan boat ride, which traditionally used by the local people to transfer their rice crop along Ngo Dong river. Ever since there were more travelers finding their way to see Tam Coc, the farmer started utilizing their daily-use transportation to row the tourists on the same path and make good extra dollars. Meaning most of them have been transporting visitors for more than 20 years, since tourism begin to rise in the late 1990s.



What surprises visitors are the unexpected skills of the local rowers, women and men are paddling their half-bamboo wooden paddle with their feet instead of rowing the boat by hands, their techniques haven’t been seen elsewhere. Mrs. Thu, my rower, said that by rowing with her feet, she can rest her back and arms, and also face a forward position while weaving along the curved river.


She was paddling with her feet for almost the length of our 2-hour boat trip, and only used her arms when we were gliding through the dark grottos. Obviously, she wasn’t the only one. Everyone who rows along the winding river has picked up on the art of rowing with their strong leg muscles. I thought that not only these jagged outcroppings are drawing travelers to the site, but the local rowers here are also an attraction, making Tam Coc Ninh Binh the busiest day trip destination out of Hanoi each day.


The Three Grottos



The three grottos, created by water erosion, are the only three places where the Ngo Dong river runs through. Everyone visiting the site have to bow their head when passing through each of them, as the passage is only 2 meters (6.5 ft.) high. There is a path right behind the first “cave” leading to a beautiful spot, where nice photos of Tam Coc were taken from.


Take in the limestone outcrops amid serene rice paddies, enjoy the soundtrack of the river lapping against the oars, the water erosion that forms the unique ceilings, and the cooler temperature when you are going through the grottoes. With all that, Tam Coc sounds indeed like a movie scene.


We came back to their hotel at 15h30, which allowed us to start a food tour exploring the Hanoi’s old town and sampling some of its typical street foods. Incense Travel offers private one-day or two-day tours to Ninh Binh, including Tam Coc, Trang An, and Van Long Nature Reserve. Contact us to book a private car and driver for your comfortable tour to Ninh Binh today.



Buffalo Joe