What to see and do in Tam Coc - Ninh Binh


February 20, 2022

Also known as mainland Halong Bay. It is so called because of the similarity in its landscapes of immense rock formations, formed millions of years ago, but with the particularity that they are surrounded by extensive land and rice fields, instead of the sea. Tam Coc means the 3 caves, and refers to: Hang Ca, Hang Hai and Hang Ba which are part of the Trang An complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

How to get to Tam Coc?

It is a small rural village located in Ninh Binh province, 100km from Hanoi. Buses leave from Hanoi, Cat Ba, and various points in the south such as Phong Nha and Hue.

You can buy the tickets at a travel agency or online here.  

There is the option of visiting Tam Coc on a tour from Hanoi but our recommendation is that you go on your own and spend at least two days there. It is a truly beautiful place with breathtaking scenery.

Tam Coc or Ninh Binh Where to stay?

Most of the tourist attractions are located around Tam Coc. This is a small town that is growing day by day. We loved it. We found it super quaint and local. Just outside Tam Coc is Ninh Binh, a much larger town, with more accommodation and where many travellers stay. We opted for Tam Coc, as we preferred to stay in a quiet place surrounded by nature.

How to get around in Tam Coc?

As it is a small place, the best options for getting around are: bicycle and motorbike. The roads are fairly flat and in good condition.

The bike rental per day is $40,000 VND ($1.73 USD) and the motorbike rental is 100,000 VND ($4.30 USD).

What to do in Tam Coc?

1. Boat ride on the Ngo Dong River

The boat ride on the Ngo Dong River is one of the most recommended things to do in Tam Coc. It is a two and a half hour ride in a small rowing boat driven by a local. They have a peculiarity when rowing; they row with their feet!

The scenery along the route is truly beautiful! The river is surrounded by huge rock formations, rice paddies and you pass through three caves: Hang Ca, Hang Giua and Hang Cui.

This walk was one of our favourites in Vietnam, the scenery was one of the most beautiful we saw. Definitely a must on your visit to Tam Coc.

ngo dong river
man cannopy in ngo dong river

The entrance fee is $120,000 VND per person ($5 USD). The price per boat is $150,000 VND ($6.50 USD), up to two people.

Tip: Ideally early in the morning before the tourists arriving on tour from Hanoi.

ngo dong river
ngo dong river

2. Mua Cave

Another must is Mua Cave and climb its 500 steps to the Hang Mua viewpoint for one of the most beautiful views of Tam Coc. From the top there is a panoramic view and you can see karst formations, the Ngo Dong River and rice paddies. A magical view.

Halfway along the trail the path splits in two, the views from both peaks are truly incredible. The one on the left goes to the dragon and the one on the right to a pagoda.

mua cave
mua cave

The entrance fee is $100,000 VND ($4.30 USD).

  • Opening hours 7am to 5pm
  • Tip: You can park your motorbike at the entrance of Mua Cave for less than 50.000 VND. When you arrive you will be stopped by many locals telling you to park your motorbike with them as there is no place to park it nearby, don't believe them. We were almost made to park our motorbike 1 km from the entrance, but luckily we decided to continue!

3. Bich Dong Pagoda

Another of our favourite places to visit in Tam Coc was Bich Dong Pagoda. This pagoda was built in 1428 and has 3 different temples. Each one inside a cave at different levels of the mountain. These are Ha Pagoda (lower level), Trung Pagoda (middle level) and Thuong Pagoda (upper level).

The entrance to the temple is one of the most photogenic places in Tam Coc, located at the end of a stone bridge over the Truong River surrounded by water lilies. Once through the gate there is a small path that takes you to the lower level temple. To get to the upper level temple there is a short climb, 100% recommended. The view from the top is really beautiful.

The pagoda is located 3 km from Tam Coc jetty.

bich dong pagoda
bich dong pagoda

  • Admission is free of charge
  • Open 24hs

4. Getting lost and exploring Tam Coc aimlessly

Another activity to do in Tam Coc is to get lost in the spectacular scenery! Go for a ride on a motorbike or bicycle and let yourself be carried away by the peace of the place and nature.

tam coc landscape
tam coc road motorbike

5. Bai Dinh Pagoda

It is an extensive complex on the Bai Dinh mountain with several Buddhist temples. It is the most crucial Buddhist complex in Vietnam and is one of the main pilgrimage points for the country's faithful, especially during the Lunar New Year.

"Bai" means the practice of worship and "Dinh" means the summit. "Bai Dinh" means the worship of Heaven and Earth. It is the belief in Buddha and heavenly angels of Buddhists.

Bai Dinh also has the distinction of being composed of an ancient pagoda built in two caves and a new pagoda. It is 800 metres from the old pagoda, where many outstanding Buddhist temples and monuments are scattered, connected by two long corridors. The new pagoda is 100 metres high, making it the tallest pagoda in Vietnam.

Photo: @vietnamtravelers
  • Admission is free of charge
  • Opening hours from 6am to 10pm

6. Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam

If you are a history lover you cannot miss Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam during the Dinh and Le dynasties in the 10th century. There you will find several interesting temples, such as the Dinh Tien Hoang or the Le Dai Hanh, dedicated to some of the emperors of the time.

  • Admission is free of charge
  • Opening hours from 7am to 4pm