As we were on a 4 week ‘holiday’ rather than travelling, we wanted to make the most of our time but not race around like lunatics. There are so many options but here are the places we decided on visiting!
I was really unsure about going and then fear of not going kicked in! There are literally thousands of trips on offer from millions of travel agents in Hanoi, where to start! In the end we got our hotel to sort it for us and they played a blinder! We got a great deal and even ended up with a suite cabin on the Azalea – fab.
The weather wasn’t great but what do you expect going in rainy season?! It was warm (and drizzly) but it was super chilled which is what we were after. All the one night trips seem to follow a similar itinerary with a lunch on arrival, some sort of mini trip in the afternoon (we went to the caves on Cat Ba) with an evening meal and cooking demonstration. The following morning was an early start with kayaking before brunch and then back to the port and onto Hanoi.
I’m not sure I’d recommend going if I were a first time visitor. Although it is nice to have a couple of days out of polluted city. However, you are surrounded by polluted water. We were offered the opportunity to swim in the waters but I politely declined and I’m not sure I’d recommend it. On the evening we were enjoying our happy hours drinks on the deck, when we saw a phenomenal amount of fisherman waste bob past us 🙁 If you’re after the serene blue skies and clear waters as per the photos, then give this a miss. If you’re after some chill time and a lovely view then off you!
Ninh Binh Province
This area is often described as the Ha Long Bay of the land. This place is stunning but does feel like tourism is creeping in a little. You could visit in a day from Hanoi but we decided to stay overnight so we weren’t rushing around so much.
The main town/large village of Tam Coc is non event. However this is where most of the homestays are, so most likely to be your base. We stayed at Tam Coc Garden Homestay which was delightful. The amount of food that was included was unbelievable, but all of the food was incredible! We also got a little cooking class included which I loved! We used the bikes provided to cycle around the area and to Thai Vi Temple.
Tam Coc is part of the Trang An UNESCO heritage site. Tam Coc means ‘three caves’ and you can take a lovely boat ride along the river and through the caves. The local women are very entrepreneurial and half way through the journey, you’ll reach a few boats selling snacks and essentially force you to buy something! A little sassy but I guess they’ve (literally!) got a captive market! Ha!
Climbing the stairs of Mua Caves allows you to view Tam Coc from the peak. Theres nearly 500 stairs to the top which would not pass health and safety in the UK! It was pretty humid when we climbed so I was pretty relieved (and a little sweaty) when we reached the top! It’s incredible to see the boats below (that you were just on) bobbing along.
There is a little tourist complex around the start of the steps, which to be honest is ghastly. My personal favourite was the below galloping horses! But there is no need really to hang around and I’d recommend staying around Tam Coc.
Bai Dinh Pagoda
A spiritual and cultural complex about 40mins from Tam Coc, this is a must see if you’re in the area! Bai Dinh is the largest Buddhist complex in SE Asia. This area houses the original temples as well as newer temples that were built between 2003-10. The new temple complex is over 700 hectares, with the older complex nearby and includes 300 stone steps up to a giant ‘happy buddha’.
Don’t let the ‘new’ put you off visiting, nothing about this complex feels modern or fake. Traditional building methods and designs have been used, with a striking bell tower and pagodas. Everywhere you look there is something incredible, from the corridors lined with small gold buddhas to the 10m heigh bronze statue!
As always, these are just my opinions!