After a little research, we decided to make Ninh Binh and Tam Coc our first stop in Vietnam. As we were studying our TESOL qualification in Hanoi two weeks later, we thought it best to explore as much of the country as possible before settling in a busy city 4 weeks.
Ninh Binh is a 2 hour drive south of Hanoi. Our accommodation offered to arrange a driver to greet us from the airport for $85, which we were happy to pay after a 12 hour flight.
Following our arrival we had the opportunity to spend almost 4 days exploring Ninh Binh and Tam Coc, also known as “Halong Bay on land”.
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In two days we have managed to navigate our own way around Ninh Binh, have conquered riding mopeds on Vietnam's crazy roads, have avoiding getting ill and have been attacked by mosquitos (more repellent required). See link in bio to read what we've been preparing over our last 3 months in the UK. #vietnam #teachvietnam #eslteacher #travelbud #xploreasia #ninhbinh #travel #explore #englishteacher
Ninh Binh and Tam Coc by Motorbike
After arriving at our accommodation in Tam Coc, we quickly decided to take the opportunity to familiarise ourselves with Vietnam’s road etiquette and learn how to ride mopeds.
We had been warned on many occasions of the dangers of driving on Vietnam’s hectic roads, but as we were staying for the foreseeable future, we thought it best to give ourselves some independence!
Neither of us had ridden a moped before, but as both of us had driven cars for over a decade in the UK we picked it up pretty quickly! We were no longer reliant on taxis or tours and were able to adventure as of and when we pleased.
Please do take care when you’re riding, it isn’t always as easy as it looks…especially when you’re dodging cows, goats, ducks, children, pot holes, monsoons, lorries, insects…
Hang Mua Viewpoint: The Lying Dragon Mountain
Travelling up Hang Mua, or The Lying Dragon Mountain is a must when visiting the region of Ninh Binh. The entrance for Hang Mua is accessible through Huang Mua Ecolodge and an easy find from both Ninh Binh and Tam Coc by motorbike.
Entrance to the viewpoint comes at the price of 50,000VND ($2.17) and parking is free for all paying customers.
Be warned, there are many women on the side of the road whom claim to run parking for the site. We were flagged down by a woman with a whistle who proceeded to charge us 20,000VND for parking, which we agreed to pay. We must admit, she did look very official with that whistle!
The lying dragon sits at the foot of an ancient staircase that leads to the most breathtaking viewpoint in Vietnam. Not to mention how breathtaking .
From the top you are able to look out across some of the most iconic views of the Vietnamese countryside. Many that we were unable to capture due to the consistent rain and humidity.
The pictures don’t do it justice anyway!
Trang An Grottos by Boat: Our Alternative
The Trang An Boat Tour is probably the most famous and attended attraction in the Ninh Binh and Tam Coc area. Visitors spend just under two hours being rowed through limestone mountains and low ceilinged caves, whilst attending hidden temples. All of this comes at the cost of around 150,000VND ($6) per person.
Due to it’s popularity, the attraction can become overwhelmed with tourists and it is also very popular with the locals. For this exact reason, we decided to avoid it and subsequently stumbled upon our own alternative.
Close to the entrance of Thung Nham Bird Graden a group of locals run boat trips through the impressive Ninh Binh mountain range and cave system. We paid 150,000VND (2$) to experience a 1.5 hour boat ride through jaw dropping scenery and into the depths of three caves.
Tam Cốc-Bích Động is definitely worth a visit and offers and entirely different experience for less than half the price.
Throughout the entire experience we only encountered about 6 other boats! We found Tam Cốc-Bích Độngvery personal and would happily pay the small fee of $2 to do it all over again (probably when the heavens hadn’t just opened).
Hoa Lu: Hidden Ancient Temples
Throughout the 10th and 11th centuries, Hoa Lu was the capital of Vietnam. Today visitors are able to wander the remains of beautiful pagodas and temples spread across area surrounding Tam Coc and Ninh Binh.
At Trường Yên, Hoa Lư, Ninh Bình, within a valley of limestone mountains lies a blue lake where you can find hidden temples.
The main attraction is the Temple of King Dinh Tien Hoang, located a short 15 minute drive from the lake. From here you have the option to pay a tour guide to walk you around the various different artefacts in the area.
It is a popular destination for locals and Vietnamese visitors, it can become very busy during the late morning.
Close to Tam Coc there is another temple that is hidden within the limestone mountainside just outside of the town. Danh thắng Tam Cốc – Bích Động is an ancient temple that can be accessed via a staircase that runs through a cave within the mountainside. It too is worth a visit.
Ninh Binh or Tam Coc: Accomodation
Depending on the experience you want, you can either stay in the busy city of Ninh Binh or the remote area of Tam Coc.
Ninh Binh gives you the opportunity to experience staying within the hustle and bustle of one of Vietnam’s cities. There are endless restaurants, bars, cafes, hostels and hotels.
Tam Coc offers a more rural experience, where most hotels and hostels are surrounded by rice fields and mountains. Here the roads are quieter which provides the opportunity for new motorbike users to familiarise themselves with the roads.
We opted to stay at Tam Coc Rice Fields Resort. The bungalows sit at the bottom of a limestone mountain and look out over rice fields. We really enjoyed our stay here and would definitely recommend!
However, be sure to remain aware of the mosquitos if you are staying near a rice field. No amount of DEET could save us!
How to Cope with the Rain
I don’t think we quite knew what to expect when we planned our trip to Ninh Binh and Tam Coc during rainy season, but we sure do now!
We visited in July, the height of the summer and the height of wet season for Ninh Binh and Tam Coc. It rained at least 4 times everyday throughout our time here.
At first the rain did seem overwhelming, but after we had challenged 3 or 4 downpours with our ponchos, it became more of a game to us.
It’s easy to tell when the heavens are about to open. Big, bad black clouds can be spotted a mile off, the humidity rises by about 25% and the locals begin to put on their brightly coloured ponchos.
And then you have it, RAIN LIKE I’VE NEVER SEEN.
Downpours seemed to only last about 10-15 minutes, and once they’re over the air is clearer and the temperature drops. Plus the locals are more than happy to offer you shelter, which should definitely take!
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After being caught in a monsoon and eaten alive by mosquitos, this fabulous local gave us shelter, a drink and cream for my bites. What a woman!! ___________ I'm sad to say goodbye to Ninh Binh, but looking forward to our 12 hour journey on a night train in a carriage shared with 4 others to Hue. It's all a laugh! ___________ #vietnam #vietnamlocal #portrait #explore #helpplease
All in all, we couldn’t have picked a better place to start our adventure in Vietnam!
In just 4 days we managed to learn road rules, the basics of riding a moped, local etiquette, some Vietnamese, the beauty of pho and the history of Vietnam’s ancient capital.
If you’re considering teaching in Vietnam, read our 8 Essentials to Prepare for Teaching in Vietnam.