Change of Plans
Following our last minute flight from Hue to Hanoi to try to get out of Typhoon Doksuri’s path, we landed in Vietnam’s capital hoping for some sunshine but instead, we were greeted by more heavy rain. On the plus side, we met two lovely ladies from England that were in the same situation as we were. We decided to check in to the hostel they were staying at (our first Asian hostel experience!).
It was a chilled two nights at Flipside Hostel and would really recommend this spot if you’re looking for great low-budget accommodation (we paid 11 USD/night for a double bed in a dorm including breakfast for 2). We especially loved the atmosphere, staff, location and rooftop area. Of course with all the rain during our 36 hours in Hanoi we didn’t really get to visit the city as much as we’d have liked. We get back to the capital for a few days before we fly out of Vietnam so hopefully we have better conditions.
Getting to Tam Coc:
Tam Coc is a quick and easy bus ride south-east of Hanoi. We were very excited about our this next destination. This small town is commonly referred to as “the inland Ha Long Bay” by locals and tourists alike (more on Ha Long Bay here!). It’s definitely worth spending a few days here if you’re coming form or going to Hanoi. From the endless rice fields to the majestic limestone mountains, we were amazed by the landscapes no matter which direction we turned.
What to do:
- Bich Dong Pagoda : Three temples built in caves way back in 1428. These pagodas are definitely worth a visit when you’re in the area. Walk up to the top and admire beautiful views of the surrounding areas. The visit is free but expect to pay 10 000 VND for parking.
- River boat tour : There are two boat tour options you can chose from, both costing 200 000 VND/person.
- Tam Coc : The easier boat tour to get to as it leaves from the center of town. We have heard mixed reviews about this tour. Pros: beautiful views, easier access. Cons: being pressured into buying food/drinks for your rower and begged for tip, overcrowded, shorter than the Trang An tour for the same price.
- Trang An : This boat tour is a little outside of the city. It is a really great option if you rented a motorbike as it is about a 15-20 minute ride away. We arrived around 9 am and were pleasantly surprised to see that there weren’t many people there, however if you’re looking to take great pictures, we would definitely recommend going right before sunset as the light was very harsh in the late morning.
- Mua Caves : Catching sunset at the top of Mua was the highlight of our time in Tam Coc. It does get quite busy but the view is so worth it! Climb the 500 steps to the top and get ready for one of the best views in all Vietnam! We stayed until the last light and ended up being completely alone as everyone had already made their way back down, what an unreal experience and a photographer’s dream! Don’t forget comfortable shoes and lots of water. You can find parking for 5 000 VND on the street leading up to the entrance and admission will set you back 100 000 VND.
- Explore the rice fields : An awesome activity that’s completely free (once you get your hands on a scooter of course!) is diving through the small unpaved roads that cut through the limestone peaks around Tam Coc. The combination of the lush green rice with this landscape makes for some great pictures. Just follow the main road out of the center of town towards the Bich Dong Pagoda’s and turn off onto as many as you wish! Make sure to drive carefully though as the potholes can come up on you quite fast, especially as it gets dark.
- Bird Park : We ran out of time and didn’t get to visit the bird forest but heard really good comments from people that made the trip so we would suggest you check it out for yourself!
Where to eat:
- We were kind of disappointed by the food in Tam Coc. Of course after coming from bigger cities where the food options are endless and prices are so cheap, our expectations may have been too high.
- Chookie’s Beer Garden. Although it is not authentic Vietnamese food, our meal at Chookie’s was the best food we had in Tam Coc. We tried two different burgers which were both excellent and we especially loved the location, chilled atmosphere and views.
Where to sleep:
- Tam Coc Family Hotel: As the name suggests, a family run homestay with a very convenient central location. They were extremely kind and helped us with everything we needed. A private room (which was very good size) cost us about 250 000 VND per night. The only downside was the complimentary breakfast that was far from the quality we had gotten from similar priced accommodation in Vietnam.
- Rent a motorbike : We paid around 120 000 VND per day by renting our motorbike directly from our homestay. You’ll find many options for rentals on the main road, close to the Tam Coc boat tour departures. We think motorbikes are essential if you want to see as much as you can during your stay as many of the top sights are spread out a few kilometers appart.
Getting out of Tam Coc:
- Bus to Hanoi: The easiest and most popular option. Prices range from 200,000 – 250,000 VND. We suggest to just take a bus back to Hanoi and then head out to Ha Long Bay from there. For those that want to head to Ha Long bay directly, our experience follows.
- Bus to Cat Ba : We travelled with the Long Bus Company from Tam Coc to Cat Ba. It was unfortunately a subpar experience. The bus turned out to be a large van into which they crammed as many people as they possibly could. Talking with a few people during the journey, we all realised we had paid varying amounts for the same service. We heard almost every price between 270 000 – 450 000 VND depending on where you had stayed in Tam Coc. There doesn’t seem to be many companies in Tam Coc offering this route. Most of the hotels and guesthouses in the area do business with the Long Company. Therefore if you do need to take this route we highly recommend shopping around for the best price.