Having gotten to Hanoi a day before Typhoon Rammasun was set to strike Vietnam, I found my options for traveling relatively limited, as all trips to Halong Bay and other adventures along the coast were all preemptively cancelled. Fortunately, my hostel was very accommodating and found me some alternative trips that I could do, and I got very lucky with an amazing day trip to Tam Coc, or the “dry Halong Bay.” Tam Coc is located approximately 100 km from Hanoi, boasting three limestone caves that sit over a long, winding Ngo Dong river that runs through the picturesque karst mountains.
We were picked up from our hotel around 8 in the morning and driven for about an hour to our first destination, which was a temple mounted in honor of one of the former kings of Vietnam. Our guide, Lucky, told us a little bit about the history of the area, then let us roam around on our own. We spent about twenty minutes at the temple, then set out again toward Tam Coc. When we arrived we ate a generous buffet lunch full of fresh and tasty regional foods, then set out on our two hour boat trip up the river.
In front of the small lagoon where the boats are held are people peddling souvenirs and goods, most of which are pretty tacky. Some of the items, like the local rice-paddy style hat, might have come in handy on the boats, which were entirely in the sun. Our boats were paddled by local women and men, usually two to a boat, with one person rowing with his or her feet and another paddling by hand. Most of them were either wearing one of the hats or holding an umbrella to shield them from the harsh sun, and I would suggest doing the same if you’re planning on doing one of these tours, as there were few opportunities to take a break from the sun along the two-hour journey.
The few breaks we did get from the sun came in the form of the three limestone caves that broke up the river. These caves are still being rapidly built and changed by the water seeping through the rocks from the plants above. In some places there’s water literally pouring down from above, and its pretty cool to get to see a cave being changed basically as you’re traveling through it.
The whole trip is picturesque, personal (2 people per boat was the norm), and a great way to get to explore the mountains, especially with Halong Bay temporarily out of the picture. If I were to do the trip again I definitely would have put on more sunscreen, brought an umbrella for the sun and stocked up on water well before getting on the boat. The only drawback to the tour was that people were constantly trying to sell you things, from pictures they’d snap of you while you were trapped on the boat, to flowers, drinks, snacks and hats, and I even heard of some of the rowers trying to get more money out of their tourists, which unfortunately puts a damper on the beauty of the whole trip. Overall, though, the trip was definitely worth the time and the price (about $40 with all transport and food included), and made for an awesome alternative to Halong Bay!
Activity Type: Tour, Day Trip
Value for Money: Average/good. Transport and food and activities all included, but some elements felt like people were constantly trying to get more money out of you.
Suitable for: Anyone. Did not require any specific fitness levels.
Recommend: Maybe, especially if you can’t go to Halong Bay or if its in the season where the rice all turns yellow.
1) Bring. Sunscreen. And probably an umbrella and a hat. Its insanely sunny and you’re stuck in a boat on water for two hours, its important to protect yourself!
2) Bring enough water.
3) Try and go when rice fields are yellow, which I’ve been told is in September. Also, make sure you get a view from above the fields– I didn’t on my tour, but apparently most tours tell you to and the photos I’ve seen from that vantage point look amazing.