Tam Coc in Ninh Binh, also known as the Halong Bay on land, is one of the most underrated places to travel to in Vietnam. You won’t find the usual tourist crowds that flood the shores of Halong Bay, Hoi An, Phu Quoc, or Da Nang. Is this what makes it so exceptional?
Tam Coc, Ninh Binh is a rural area where crystal clear lakes weave in and out of tall limestone karsts and open-plane rice terraces. It’s one of the most scenic places to visit in Vietnam and should definitely be added to your travel itinerary.
How To Get To Tam Coc And Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh is in the north of Vietnam, 100 km south of Hanoi. You can get to it by one of three ways:
From Hanoi, it’s a 2-hour bus ride with prices starting at 70,000 VND one way. It’s imperative to check with the bus company you’ve chosen what their pick-up and drop-off address are. You don’t want to spend three times more on taxi fare to complete the last stretch of your journey or travel halfway around Hanoi to the bus pickup location. Bus company The Long Travel will conveniently drop you off outside the Long Hotel, situated in the centre of Tam Coc, whereas most other buses stop at the bus station, 5 km’s outside of Tam Coc.
The train will take 2 hours and costs between 160-200,000VND/person one way. Drop-off is at Ninh Binh train station, 4km’s away from Tam Coc.
If you’re staying in Tam Coc area, you’ll need to take a taxi, hire a scooter or walk the rest of the way.
Minivans And Limo Vans
Alternatively coming to Ninh Binh and Tam Coc by van is another option. It’s a far better experience, and the driver will more than likely pick you up from your accommodation and drop you straight off at your hotel, saving you both time and money. We booked our minivan through Bookaway and had the best experience ever. The price might be a bit more, but you’ll have a hassle-free, comfortable ride on a direct route. Minivans usually seat nine guests so if you’re travelling in a group; this could be your best option.
How To Get Around Tam Coc
Tam Coc and Ninh Binh are small-scale with most of the sights clumped together. The farthest you’d need to ride is from the Bich Dong pagoda in Tam Coc to the Bai Dinh pagoda in Trang An area. These two locations are 20km’s away from one another with all the other sights lying somewhere in-between.
If the weather is good, you can comfortably explore the sites of the town by bicycle at a low cost of 50,000VND (or less) per day. Some of the homestays and hotels even offer them for free!
Using Taxi’s in Ninh Binh is standard and available everywhere. Grab is also an option, but sparse at times.
Alternatively, Scooter rental is available throughout Ninh Binh and arranged by your accommodation for about 100,000 VND/day. Unlike other parts of Vietnam, The roads in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc are relatively quiet, and you’ll enjoy riding a scooter through the peaceful countryside.
Best Time To Go To Tam Coc
Ninh Binh lies in the north of Vietnam and as a result, experiences four seasons with vastly different weather conditions for each one.
You’ll want to visit Tam Coc and Ninh Binh when everything’s lush and green. Rice fields are at their fullest and vibrant around September and again in March-April.
Avoid the peak winter season from November to early February. Not only are temperatures quite low during this time, but the landscape is parched and brown.
Many tourists prefer visiting this area before harvesting time as rice fields turn a brilliant shade of golden yellow, around June and again in October.
Where To Stay In Ninh Binh
There are three main areas in Ninh Binh: Trang An, Tam Coc and Van Long. All three regions have great sights to see and are relatively close to one another. However, most of the activities, restaurants, bars and shops are in Tam Coc, and for this reason, it’s probably the best place to stay.
Accommodation options include hotels, homestays and hostels. Hung Mua Valley Homestay and Mua Caves Eco Resort are located near Mua caves, a 10-minute drive from the busy Tam Coc main road. The morning views of misty limestone mountains and rivers are unrivalled at these two locations. A stay at Mua Caves Eco Resort might be a bit pricey, but you’ll have free access to the Mua Caves, and it is a beautiful area to stay in!
Where To Eat In Tam Coc
Ninh Binh is known to have a few unique dishes of their own. Goat is an everyday favourite amongst the locals, so don’t be shocked when you see an entire smoked goat being sold whole on the side of the road! Goat meat is often prepared slightly underdone and paired with crispy rice- another Ninh Binh speciality.
Best Local Spots:
There are plenty of Vietnamese restaurants on the busy main road of Tam Coc. If you’re looking for a local taste experience, we recommend these restaurants for their consistently good meals and cosy atmosphere:
At Began Buddha Belly, Vietnamese cuisine is done in a vegetarian way. It’s not always the easiest thing, finding pure vegan or vegetarian dishes in Vietnam. Even places advertising vegan meals will add fish sauce, meat pate’s cheese and eggs, not realising their mistake. This restaurant offers fresh plant-based options while still sticking to local style dishes.
If you’re looking for a creamy Vietnamese egg coffee, La Carte Lounge Bar does them best. This charming spot is also specializing in regular cappuccinos, smoothies, cocktails and beers.
A firm favourite in Tam Coc, the Family restaurant specializes in grilled goat and succulent duck dishes. The family pay attention to detail and understand the meaning of genuinely tasteful food and serving it with a smile!
Best For Western Meals In Tam Coc
If you’ve been travelling around SE Asia for some time and need a break from the usual rice and noodle dishes, these are our recommendations for the best western spots in Tam Coc.
If you’re looking for a delicious, authentic curry, Aroma is the number one choice in Tam Coc. Offering a wide variety of both North and South Indian dishes, Aroma hits the spot with their bold flavours.
The Pizza Factory
It’s not often that you get to enjoy thin-crusted pizza from a wood-burning pizza oven in South East Asia. The Pizza Factory, in the heart of Tam Coc, is your best choice for pizza done well! They also offer an assortment of vegan pizzas using a plant-based cheese (although I wondered after eating one if it were plant-based- almost too good to be true!)
Rico Taco Mex Bar
Rico Taco offers anyone looking to escape Asian rice and noodle dishes for fresh Mexican cuisine and an assortment of beers and cocktails. Interesting decor, friendly staff and a great view give this place such a high rating from most of its patrons.
Chookies Beer Garden
Chookies Beer Garden is not to be confused with their branch in Ninh Binh 7 km away -Choockies Garden Bar. The beer garden is one of the best spots in Tam Coc and a firm favourite for many. Creative meals, vegan options, a massive selection of wines/ beers/cocktails, mouth-watering desserts and a great vibe are some of the things continually attracting large groups of holiday goers to this trendy eatery.
Things To Do In Tam Coc And Ninh Binh
Below is a list of all the activities and sights available in Ninh Binh but If you’re looking for details on each event (including links and prices), head over to our article: Top 11 things to do in Ninh Binh and Tam Coc. If you’re spending three or fewer days in Ninh Binh, we highly recommend adding the first three excursions to your travel itinerary.
Trang An Boat Tour
Trang An is a UNESCO listed heritage site. The slow winding Ngo Dong river takes you through low hanging caves (around 9 of them) and valleys with high-rise limestone karsts. Trang An Boat Tour is the one paid excursion you ought to do when coming to Ninh Binh.
The Trang An boat trip takes 3 hours to complete and stops at numerous temples along the way. At each temple, you can walk around and explore further. Snacks and drinks are on sale, and toilets are provided.
Mua Caves & Lying Dragon Mountain
Mua Caves (Hang Múa) area is 4,5 km away from Tam Coc, which takes 12 minutes on a scooter. It has so many great attractions including a waterfall, hot springs, caves and the most spectacular mountain views you’ll see in Ninh Binh. It’s a popular tourist destination, so make sure you get there early.
Tam Coc Bich Dong Pagoda
This mountainside pagoda is one of the oldest and most impressive in the region, dating back to the 15th century.
It’s three stories high going up the side of a mountain, each level joining onto a cave behind it. The view from the highest level is incredible.
Visiting Tam Coc Rice Fields
If you’re heading towards Bich Dong Pagoda from Tam Coc, you’ll pass the fields on both sides of the road. You can either pull over on the side of the road and snap a few pics of the rice farmers going about their daily routines or drive to the far end of the fields where a small restaurant called Nhat Linh offers sunset views with these rice terraces in front of them.
Visiting The Ancient Town Hoà Lu
Take a trip to Vietnam’s capital throughout the 10th and 11th centuries. All that’s left of Hoa Lu today are a few relics—the remains of an ancient temple and a collection of new pagodas dedicated to Hoa Lu’s former dignitaries.
Bai Dinh Pagoda
You wouldn’t want to pass up a chance to see the largest pagoda complex in Vietnam. Bai Dinh consists of a series of Buddhist temples, halls and courtyards set on a mountain. It’s an area where old meets new. The new complex includes an area of 700 hectares and took seven years to build, from 2003-2010. The ancient temple is 800 meters away in a series of small caves. You’ll get there after ascending 300 stone steps. Both areas are spectacular and well worth the drive out to witness.
Vang Long Nature Reserve
If you want to keep exploring outside of Ninh Binh, then you can head to Van Long which is a wetland reserve, 30 minutes away from the bustle of Tam Coc. The reserve covers about 3,500 hectares and is home to Spoonbills and geese, along with the Delacour’s langur (an endangered species of monkey only found in Northern Vietnam).