Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tam Coc

We woke up bright and early this morning hoping that the weather had cleared and we would have a nice sunny day to explore Tam Coc. Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn’t get our request and we awoke to pretty dismal weather – more rain and fog. We only had one day left in Ninh Binh, so we bought ponchos for a buck a piece, hopped on our scooters, and hoped for the best.
I’m glad that we did because we had an absolutly amazing day in Tam Coc. It has got to be one of the most beautiful and serene places on earth. With huge limestone mountains and rock formations jutting out of Vietnam's lush rice paddies, the lingering fog only added to the wonderful aura of the setting.
The main activity of the day was to hop on a small boat and paddle through the rice paddies down the Ngo Dong River. We arrived at the dock at 9:30 AM, just as the rain subsided and still early enough to miss the throngs of tourists coming down on day trips from Ha Noi.
Just the beginning

Tam Coc is an island of peace and serenity hidden among the cacophonous craziness that is Vietnam. For most of our two hour journey, we were accompanied only by one or two other boats and were able to hear the sounds of nature for the first time since we came to Vietnam - birds were chirping all around us.
As we moseyed down the river, we made our way through caves and watched as some farmers tended to the rice paddies. The two-hours we spent on our boat were probably one of the most relaxing and serene of our entire trip.
on our way under

Our guide rowing us through the cave

taking a break

Since the local guides spend all day paddling tourists up and down this river, it is expected that their arms would get tired every now and then. To give themselves a little break every now and then, they will start to paddle the boat with their feet!
Of course, everybody has their own way to enjoy Tam Coc. While I was spending the morning marveling at the tranquility of it all, there were other visitors who wanted the trip to be educational as well.  In order to reach the entire tour group of 10 - 20 people, megaphones were necessary.
As soon as I heard the megaphone my blood pressure rose and I had a flashback to our time spent living in Taiwan and of blue advertising trucks interrupting my Sunday morning slumber. Thankfully we were able to navigate away from these small groups and spent most of our time enjoying the peace and quiet.
After our boat ride and some lunch, we went off to explore. The area around Tam Coc has very little traffic and the countryside is littered with small pagodas and temples. With nowhere in particular to go, we spent the entire afternoon meandering through the paddies and around the mountains just enjoying the scenery.
Bich Dong Temple

a view from above

As we were exploring one of the temples, a woman tapped me on the shoulder and offered to give us a tour. After Nick gave the requested $15,000 Dong (75 cents US) donation to the temple, she took us back into a sacred cave hidden in the mountain behind the temple. We made our way through various caverns and she pointed out Buddhas and stalactites, one of which looked like the revered Ho Chi Minh himself.
the door leading to the cave was just behind this statue 

our guide unlocking the cave door for us
Buddha inside the cave
Vietnam has got to be one of the most cacophonous and vibrant places on earth; the energy here is high and everyone is on the move. Tam Coc, on the other hand, is one of the most peaceful and serene places I have ever been to. The fact that it's nestled in among the craziness of Vietnam makes it all the more refreshing.
As the Lonely Planet says, Vietnam's calm spots are like "sweetened condensed milk in an ice coffee so strong it would be illegal in other countries," and for me, that's exactly what Tam Coc was. The day we spent here was by far one of my favorites of our entire trip.


  1. i have never been here before! face turned red of jealous when i see this :) this place looks so peaceful..

  2. I can see why it's one of your favorite places, this might be my favorite photo series!