“Halong Bay on Earth"
It’s hard not to be captivated by the mystical, watery beauty of one of Vietnam’s most spectacular sights – a mini landlocked version of Ha Long Bay. This stunning landscape served as the backdrop for Régis Wargnier’s film, Indochine. Located in the heart of Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014.
(Phat Diem Stone Cathedral)
As a professional photographer, places like Tam Coc are some of the reasons why Vietnam is my favourite country in Southeast Asia.
There is nothing more wonderful than a boat trip on Ngo Dong River. If possible, do it early in the morning or late in the afternoon, to avoid the excursion groups from Hanoi. Local women will paddle you in small boats along the river for a couple of hours, through caves and past paddy fields and karst formations.
(Rowing with feet)
Another great way to discover the natural wonders is to rent a bicycle and explore the surrounding areas. Don’t miss a visit to the cave-pagoda of Bich Dong. Stone steps, entangled by thick roots of banyan trees, lead up a cliff face dotted with shrines. The cave, is believed, to have been discovered by two monks in the early 15th Century. Hang Mua Peak is a must-do. After 450 steps you arrive at the peak to be rewarded with spectacular panoramic views of the entire region, the Red River Delta on the East and the mountains on the other sides. Time permitting, pedal to Hoa Lu to explore the temples dedicated to Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang of the Dinh Dynasty and Emperor Le Dai Hanh of the Le Dynasty. If you’re up for the challenge, continue to imposing Bai Dinh Pagoda.
(Tam Coc just before rice harvesting)
(Linh Coc Jetty)
For those with more time, take a day tour on motorbike to see Phat Diem Stone Cathedral, one of the most beautiful churches in Vietnam with its mix of western and Vietnamese religious architectural styles. It is in this area that French and Portuguese missionaries first introduced Catholicism to Vietnam.
(Hang Mua Peak)
Tam Coc is a two-hour bus ride from Hanoi. Night sleeper trains and buses also travel south. A direct road trip to Halong Bay takes about four hours.
Staying: The Tam Coc Garden definitely! Located a few km from Bich Dong Pagoda, the hotel offers three standards of bungalows set around a central garden. Using natural materials, rooms have been stylishly decorated. The large windows and terraces allow you views of the surrounding countryside. There is a swimming pool and an outside bar. The Lemongrass Restaurant offers a range of delectable local dishes. Remember to order the local specialty; mountain goat meat and cơm cháy (not to be confused with the vegetarian cơm chay) which is the burnt rice off the bottom of the pot, served with pork.
When to go?
Between April and November when the weather is pleasant and the rice paddies are amazingly beautiful.
(Tam Coc Garden)