Vietnam: Explore Tam Coc with kids
Known as the Halong bay on land this certainly didn’t disappoint. We headed to the Ninh Binh area and, as recommended, stayed in Tam Coc with kids. It reminded me of Yangshuo in China before the tourism boom!
It has a quaint little area with a main street full of small eateries and bars, and plenty of hotels to choose from. Some of these are based a little out of the town, but as the streets are quiet it’s easy to hire a bicycle or scooter to get around here.
There’s lots of building work going on around the area, it’s very much in development!
How to get to Tam Coc
It’s only a short 2 hour train ride from Hanoi so easily accessible. The train arrives in the city of Ninh Binh – but in all fairness nobody would stay here, there’s nothing much about the place. Instead, most people head to Tam Coc, which is a 15 minute drive away by Grab Taxi.
Where to stay
We had a number of fellow family travellers recommend a swimming pool for our stay in tam coc. As you can imagine accommodation with a pool was much more pricey, but we stumbled upon a place called Tam Coc Tea House Homestay.
It was off the busy main street and aside from the building work (which is going on all around Tam Coc) it was a peaceful location.
It was o.k. The staff were not very engaging – in fact I’m not sure they were interested in us being there. The room we had was huge with very high ceilings but this meant the Air conditioning didn’t really cool the room! The beds were also really hard – I even checked we weren’t sleeping on pieces of wood!
Finally, breakfast is included, but I wouldn’t account for it – it really wasn’t that great. Instead – plan to eat out for breakfast. We always grabbed a Banh Mi each from the main street for £1 which set us up for the day nicely. So all in all – it really wasn’t the best, but for the price, we made do.
In addition, I should note that the pool was a place to just have a splash. The water was a bit cloudy, and a little warm in this weather, but actually the kids loved jumping in each afternoon! It was just too hot to do much else. So I have to agree, if you arrive during the hot season then make sure you have a pool!
Places to eat in Tam coc
Banh mi Hanoi
Our favourite place for morning Banh Mis. Served by lovely staff and the food was fresh, but not overly quick. There are a few tables inside or you can take away. Great price & delicious!
Sunflower tam coc
A lovely little place with decent food and really prices. The service was a little slow, but they are a family run place. So, we relaxed & enjoyed a few beers and a nice meal in here one night.
Sometimes you just crave something other than noodles and rice! So after walking past this Italian for a few nights we succumbed to the boys cries and dipped in. I’m so glad we did… yum!! The pizza cooked in a hot stone oven were delicious!! It’s obviously more expensive than the local food, but soooo nice!
Linh chi family restaurant
We stopped again on the main Street for dinner one night. The hosts were very friendly with good service. We were bright fans immediately and an air conditioning unit to cool us down!
The food was good and cheap. But to be honest the menus and modus operandi is similar throughout this area. Just pick a restaurant with nice seating and a warm smile and you can’t go wrong.
Things to do in Tam Coc
There are quite a few sites to visit during your visit in Tam Coc. Most prominent are the number of boat trips through caves and around Karsts. Certainly if you didn’t get chance to visit Halong bay then take a couple of boat trips here instead as the scenery is absolutely stunning. However, we had seen enough karsts so just enjoyed one boat trip at Nha Trang. Here’s the activities we enjoyed while visiting Tam Coc.
Trang An Boat Trip
After reading lots of reviews we opted for Trang An.We spent the morning gently cruising the waterways around Trang An. It’s very touristy so get there early. Sometimes if you want to see the area, you just have to accept that a tour is the best way!
It’s also known as Halong Bay on land and it was fabulous. The limestone karsts really are quite striking.
Every now and again our boat steered towards a dark shadow. Before we knew it we were weaving our way through the caves! It was a mini adventure, which the boys loved.
We had done a bit of research beforehand as there are lots of boat trips. We just can’t afford to do all of them! We opted for Trang An, although it was a touristy site, because there were reports of hawkers and over selling on the other trips (especially tam coc). I’m not sure if it’s true, but we just wanted a hassle free boat ride – and that’s what we got!
We visited a number of Chinese temples along the route where you can get off and explore (or go to the toilet) and we also stopped at Kong skull island movie set (I haven’t seen the film). The scenery around here is stunning!
Bich Dong Temple
Only 3kms away from tam coc this is an easy bike ride (but go early if you are in the hot season as it’s quite draining!). You can park your 2 wheeled vehicle at the entrance for 10,000 dong. There is no entrance fee to view the pagodas.
To start with you arrive at a huge lotus pond filled with these beautiful flowers!
After taking a few photos we wandered over the concrete bridge and through the gate entrance. From here is a bit of a sweaty climb to see the 3 pagodas, one of which is inside a cave.
The temples themselves are not overly impressive, but it’s worth it for the view point.
When you return back to the entrance, there is a weekday around the edge of the lotus pond. This path leads up to another viewing area. It’s a dead end, but there’s a lake which is surrounded by karsts. Just another nice, and fairly quiet, place to take pictures.
Hang Mua peak (also known as Mua caves)
Described as a wonderful viewing platform that is frequented by travellers for the sunset views over rice paddy fields. But it’s not for the faint hearted as it requires a climb of 500 heart pounding steps to reach the top! So we sent daddy up to check it out! Unfortunately, his visit was not timed well as cloud obstructed the spectacular sunset!
At the top you will find a large stone carved dragon… draped in Instagrammers!
His version of events were that it was quite crowded and lots of Instagram shots taking place! The cost was 100,000 per person.
If Keith felt it was worthwhile we’d venture up another day with the kids…However, we decided it wasn’t very child friendly and so we gave it a miss!
Thung Nham Bird Park
This is slightly off the beaten track, and we only saw a handful of people here, so if you don’t have your own transport (it’s a bit hot and far on bicycles) then you might need to negotiate a driver or arrange a tour to take you and bring you back. It didn’t appear to be one of the tourist hubs. Click here for more information about the area.
As for us, we had our trusty scooters and had a very enjoyable ride (with the assistance of OsmAnd Offline Maps) through paddy fields and limestone karsts. We paid an entrance fee of 100,000 per adult (about £3.50) and 50,000 for kids and then a further 10,000 per bike, to park. There’s a small shop at the entrance, make sure you have plenty of water as there’s no facilities in the park itself.
From here you are left to wander around the area. There’s a small map on the back of your ticket, but again we used OsmAnd (https://osmand.net/) to get around. As we walked through we saw an option to take a boat ride, but we skipped this and headed straight to the Mermaid cave. We made our way down the stairs and found a bamboo bridge which weaved its way through the lightly lit cave.
I always assumed underground caves would be nice and cool, but it was really humid and whilst we were bent in half to get through some sections it was quite sweaty. My back was killing me within 5 minutes but I couldn’t stop laughing – so funny trying to make our way through. Luckily it did improve and it became more bearable for adults!! ha ha.
Note: I wouldn’t recommend the Mermaid cave to anyone with mobility issues, bad backs or pregnant as you have to crouch down to get through some sections.
When we finally popped out we were all a bit sweaty but enjoyed the unexpected experience!
We then made our way over to the bird viewing area. The best time to view the birds was early morning and late afternoon but as we were nearing mid day we only saw a few. However, the area itself was stunning. So after building up a sweat by walking to the viewpoint we stopped and had a drink of water and enjoyed the gentle breeze flowing through the valley!
We then headed over to the 100 year old tree, also mentioned on the map. Well, this was just a tree – we saw, we shrugged, we moved on!
You then walk through a farming area, past a lake and back towards a cafe/restaurant and hotel!?! although it doesn’t look like a hotel – I’m not sure if it’s in development, been developed or just been disbanded. Either way the place was deserted! But it was great to explore!
Cycling through Paddy Fields
Our hostel came with free bikes so we decided to take them out for a morning. Oh my goodness… it’s soooo hot! I was sweating within 10 minutes and it was flat! Luckily cycling brings with it a breeze but when it’s a hair dryer it doesn’t provide much relief!
We cycled to Bich Dong temple, then we took a more securitas route back to town by turning left just past Chez Loan Hotel and restaurant. This leads down some alleyways and pops out at Tam Coc Lake.
We cycled around part of the lake then took a left turn to head out towards Thai Vi Temple as there are several sunset photo points here and we wanted to have a look.
When you go exploring it’s just nice to have a focal point to aim for and this was a flat nice ride – albeit a little sweaty!
This is an activity in itself! We had such a great time zipping around on our bikes to explore the area. The boys even had a go at riding them (with us on the back obvs!)
Most people are a little nervous about hiring scooters, especially if they’ve never hired a bike before. But I can tell you it’s not as bad as it seems. They are easier to manage than you think. Just like in Bagan, give yourself about 5 minutes to get a feel for it and you’ll be zooming about the place in no time.
Luckily this area has very low traffic compared to other areas of Vietnam so it’s a great place to ride scooters if you are a bit nervous.
Cost was 100,000 per scooter per day (£3.50), plus petrol, I think it was around 80,000 for a full tank.
Note: don’t get petrol from them (or just get a little!), instead drive to the nearest petrol station… it’s much cheaper!
There are so many places to visit to watch sunset! While scootering or cycling around – pick a spot and just enjoy 😊
Other things to do in Tam coc
Tam coc boat tour
As I mentioned, we did lots of research and actually there were lots of comments about hawkers and pressure to buy drinks and requests for tips on these boat rides.
We also found that you could cycle most of this route anyway, so we could instead see the backdrops by bicycle or scooter and at our own pace too.
The boats are easy to access from the Tam Coc town. However, I didn’t like the sound of all the hassle so we gave this a miss! I don’t think it’s aggressive but this kind of approach is something which annoys me!
Bai Đính Pagoda
We went out for a scooter ride to see sunset. But it took a little longer than expected (45 mins) and we needed to get petrol. This meant we arrived too late to enter as it closes at 6pm. But it was a nice ride out. Maybe get a taxi if you have small children as it’s quite a way out.
There are many temples and pagodas at the site. There’s also a lovely pagoda with 360 degree views. You can enjoy a couple of hours exploring here. The entrance fee is free. However, you have to pay for parking your scooter and then an electric car to the main site (not sure if this is optional). But I read you can get the car one way and then walk back down.
The entrance and signs are a little confusing on arrival, so ask a local & point to the pagodas.
A must see place on your tour around Vietnam. We spent a relaxing 4 days in the area in order than we could visit all the sites at a gentle pace. If you are pressed for time, a couple of days is enough.
Make sure you hire a bike, or definitely a scooter if you want to go further afield. The roads are quiet and the boys even had a go at driving!
The scenery is just breathtaking and the area, although quite geared to westerners, still has an authentic feel.
Enjoy beautiful Tam Coc!