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Monday, September 04, 2017

Surreal Tam Coc: Vietnam’s Gorgeous Natural Wonder

The magic of the Tam Coc river at Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Do you remember the scenes of lush green paddy fields, a calm river and mighty limestone karsts from the Kung Fu panda movie? Well, wouldn’t it be awesome to actually experience it in real? The location pictured in the movie is in China, but its southern neighbour Vietnam, also has similar mind blowing landscapes. Such is its aura that it is lovingly referred to as ‘Halong Bay on Land’, in reference to Vietnam’s number 1 tourist attraction.

Vietnamese lady and her foot rowing boat at Tam Coc River, Ninh Binh, Vietnam

I am referring to Ninh Binh’s Ngo Dong river that calmly meanders through Tam Coc (three natural caves – Hang Ca, Hang Hai and Hang Ba) and misty limestone karsts that seem to prop up out of nowhere, a river that snakes its way through underground caves and from deep bowels of mother earth, a river on whose banks floating paddy fields exist and it is on which locals row with their feet.

Tam Coc river flanked by paddy fields on either side, Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Tam Coc, which is part of the Trang An scenic landscape complex UNESCO World Heritage Site, is made up of flooded cave karst system and a series of mountain pagodas. But, the thing that makes this place special is the fact that the limestone karsts seem to rise out of nowhere. There are two special ways to experience this astonishing landscape.

Boating on the Tam Coc river and inside caves, Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Option 1 is to take a boat from Tam Coc village and float through underground cave systems, rice fields and black limestone karst mountains while admiring the skills of the boatman who row with their feet. Be prepared to crouch in your boat and tackle darkness as you enter the three underground cave systems, which are an absolute highlight of the Tam Coc boating experience. At other times, be amazed at the gorgeous natural wonder that you are surrounded by and may be celebrate all of this with a mug of local Vietnamese brew.

Tam Coc river and the limestone karsts as seen from Hang Mua, Vietnam

Option 2 is to plan a short, yet steep hike to Hang Mua peak that offers a 360 degree view of the boats floating on the Ngo Dong river, the entire ecosystem of limestone karsts, the paddy fields that seem to shine in the sun, the Red river Delta on the East and mountains on all sides. The best way to reach here is by bike or motorcycle that you can rent from your hotel or homestay. Shoes will come in handy as you will be required to climb over sharp rocky terrain.

Tourists from all over the world enjoy the beauty of Tam Coc river, Vietnam

In addition to this Tam Coc river and Ngo Dong river experience, you can also add the Trang An Grottoes and the Bich Dong Pagoda to your itinerary. While the Trang An Grottoes are similar to the Tam Coc experience, they consist of many more caves and are more popular with locals. But, if you were to ask me, I would choose Tam Coc to Trang An due to the sheer natural environment of the former. Bich Dong Pagoda is an interesting 15th century pagoda that is built across three levels on a steep mountain. Do remember to climb to the top to experience some spectacular views of the entire karst ecosystem.

Misty limestone and paddy view from Hang Mua, Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Whatever your holiday itinerary in Vietnam may be, do not miss out on surreal Tam Coc, VIetnam’s gorgeous natural wonder!

How to get here?

Local photographer Vietnamese lady and her boat, Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Ninh Binh will be your nearest city and it is well connected by both rail and road from both the Southern and the Northern regions of the country. Hanoi would be the closest domestic and international airport.

Where to stay?

Limestone world of Hang Mua, Vietnam

The best way to experience this natural wonder is by staying at one of the homestays in and around the Tam Coc village. This will allow you to soak in the natural beauty at all times while getting to experience the local way of life. For creature comforts, opt for the hotels at Ninh Binh. For international quality hotels, head to Hanoi in the north.



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