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10 Best Things to Do in Tam Coc (Ninh Binh Province)

Discover the enchanting landscapes of Ninh Binh Province. Towering limestone karsts and peaceful rivers await you, as part of this perfect escape to nature. Explore ancient temples, cycle between rice paddies, cruise along the Trang An river, and witness the natural beauty of Vietnam’s countryside.
Ninh Binh Province is large and includes a city of the same name so most people base themselves in Tam Coc, a charming but touristy small town in the middle of everything.

Things to do in Ninh Binh Province

1. Bich Dong Pagoda

Bich Dong Pagoda is a beautiful ancient temple situated in the mountains near Tam Coc. To this day it is still used for worship and it continues to be visited by many Buddhist pilgrims and tourists every year.

Near the entrance to the pagoda, the view of the temple gate surrounded by floating water lilies is one of most photogenic spots in Northern Vietnam. There are three unique cave pagodas on different levels in the mountains.

To reach the upper pagoda, you will climb 100 steep steps. Once at the top, there is a serene and spiritual atmosphere with impressive views of the countryside below.  There is no ticket price, entrance is free, but the gate closes at 5pm.

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  • How to get to Bich Dong Pagoda: located only 3km from Tam Coc, you can choose to motorbike, cycle, walk (35min) or catch a cheap taxi.
  • Entrance fee: FREE
  • Parking Fee: 10,000 VND ($0.40)
  • Opening Hours: Until 5 pm every day. Tip – try to come early in the morning to avoid large crowds.

2. Cycle in the countryside

The best way to discover the surroundings of Ninh Binh Province is to cycle around the green countryside. Most hotels provide free bikes or rent them for a small fee. There are many paved and unpaved tracks that cut across the endless rice fields.

Traveling by a leisurely cycle ride is the best way to see the beautiful ricefields of Tam Coc. You may be lucky enough to see water buffalos cooling off in streams along the way.

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Suggested cycling route: Tam Coc – Mua Cave – Trang An – Hua Lo Ancient Capital – Bai Dinh Pagoda.
The last stop was quite far from Tam Coc so we recommend stopping in Hua Lo if you’re not keen cyclists.

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Always check if your bike is in good condition before starting your trip. My bike chain broke in the middle of the day, 20km from Tam Coc. Luckily, we found a nice Vietnamese guy who fixed it for $0.20.

3. Hoa Lu Ancient Capital

Hoa Lu was the ancient royal capital of Vietnam between 968 and 1010 under three dynasties: Dinh, Early Lê, and Ly. The area boasts many natural geographic advantages, such as surrounding waterways and steep limestone mountains. In the early 11th century, the capital was transferred from Hoa Lu to Thăng Long (modern day Hanoi city).

Today, you can explore several ancient sites including two temples with unique architecture dedicated to old kings, a cave, many pagodas, and the first emperor’s tomb on top of a mountain.

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  • How to get to Hoa Lu Ancient Capital: 14km from Tam Coc, you can choose to motorbike, cycle, walk (2h) or catch a cheap taxi.
  • Entrance fee: 20,000 VND ($0.77)
  • Parking Fee: Free
  • Opening Hours: 7 am to 4 pm every day

4. Hang Mua Peak

The steep 500 step climb to Hang Mua’s two viewpoints is a little challenging, but it is surely worth it to reach the best viewpoint in Ninh Binh Province.

From the top the panoramic views include majestic limestone mountains, endless rice fields and multiple rivers crisscrossing below. The owners of the site have now added a long stone dragon statue on top of one of the views. You can climb around the dragon statue but be careful there is no railing for safety.

There is another peak halfway through the ascent with a pagoda. It’s less crowded and offers views of rice fields and farms with limestone karsts in the background.

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There are many little shops where you can buy ice cream, water, or a refreshing coconut to cool down after. On this site, you can also visit the Mua Caves which we do not recommend. There isn’t much to see and it often floods.

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  • How to get to Hang Mua Peak: very near Tam Coc (4km), you can cycle in 10min or walk there in less than 1h.
  • Parking Fee: Min 10,000 VND for a scooter / 5,000 VND for a bike. ($0.40 – $0.20)
  • Entrance Fee: 100K VND ($3.86)
  • Opening Hours: 6 am to 7 pm

You can no longer park inside Mua Cave Entrance for free – we asked for confirmation when we bought the entrance ticket. This means that you will have to pay for your parking outside.

5. Eat at Family Restaurant

This family-owned restaurant serves the most delicious food in Tam Coc. If you are tired of eating Pho and spring rolls, this is the place to go. The restaurant’s specialties are spit-roasted ducks and goat meat skewers. We also loved the sauteed spinach and banana flower salad. The welcoming family owners speak great English and French and offer complementary rice and slices of watermelon or pineapple for dessert!

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There is another restaurant called Family on the same road so check you are going to the right one! Prices for half roasted duck or goat are from 130K-150K (around $5).

6. Van Long Nature Reserve

Van Long Nature Reserve is the largest wetlands in the Red River Delta region. There is an incredible and unique ecological system living in this reserve. The best way to explore Van Long is to take a little rustic rowboat through this poetic scenery. You will see many bird species, fish, snails, and caves along the flat river. If you are lucky, you can spot the Delacour’s langurs, an endangered species of monkeys. If you want a peaceful, authentic, and affordable experience, the Van Long Reserve is the perfect place.

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  • How to get to Van Long Nature Reserve: located 25km south of Tam Coc, the best way to get there is to cycle or motorbike in 40min.
  • Boat ride ticket: 70K-100K VND ($2.7-$3.86) for two people for 1h
  • Opening Hours: 8 am to 6 pm

Try to come in the late afternoon to see beautiful colors reflecting in the river and more active wildlife.

From May to June every year, the water surface of Van Long has a pink color during the blooming lotus season.

From November to April, this is the nesting season with hundreds of white birds flying around.

7. Go for a run in the rice fields

Tam Coc is the only place in Vietnam where we enjoyed doing a run outside! The conditions are perfect as there is no pollution, almost no traffic, and the roads between the rice fields are flat. You will enjoy views of stunning limestone mountains and encounter farmers herding goats or cows.

We even did a quick morning run to see the famous Bich Dong Pagoda before the crowds arrive. Be careful with dogs barking at you in remote villages – they can be a little scary but usually not dangerous.

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8. Bai Dinh Pagoda – big complex

Bai Dinh Pagoda is a complex of Buddhist temples located 20km northwest of Tam Coc. The site consists of a thousand-year-old ancient pagoda and a newly constructed immense pagoda built in 2003.

Bai Dinh is the largest pagoda complex in Southeast Asia and has become a worshiped pilgrimage destination for Buddhists. Expect to see hundreds of Buddha statues, a 36-ton-bronze carved bell, and an impressive 100m stupa making it the tallest in Vietnam.

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  • How to get to Bai Dinh Pagoda: located 20km from Tam Coc, you can cycle in 1 hour or motorbike in 25-30min.
  • Opening hours: every day from 7 am to 6 pm – you will need a couple of hours to cover the entire site.
  • Entrance fee: Free
  • Extra costs:
    • 15,000 VND ($0.50) to park your scooter
    • 30,000 VND ($1.0) for electric golf cars to drive around the complex
    • 50,000 VND ($1.90) to go to the top of Bao Thao Tower

9. Trang An Boat ride

Float down on the river between green rice fields overshadowed by limestone karsts and discover many caves. There are three different routes to choose from. We recommend you take route 3 – the most scenic route including the 1000m Dote Cave. The boat ride offers stunning landscapes where every turn uncovers more natural beauty.

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  • How to get to Trang An boat ticket office: located 7km from Tam Coc, you can cycle in 20min or walk 1h30.
  • Boat ride ticket: 250K VND ($9.50) per adult – usually accommodates 4 people and lasts 2 to 3 hours.
  • Opening Hours: 7 am to 4 pm

10. Drink at Nam Coffee Beer Garden

This place is an absolute gem offering a stunning view over Tam Coc’s rice fields and mountains. The outside garden is the perfect spot to watch the sunset sipping a beer or the famous coconut coffee! The family that run the restaurant is super kind and rents a few rooms beside the restaurant.

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Best restaurants & bars

  • Family restaurant in Tam Cocgoat & roasted duck are local specialties
  • NGON Vegan Restaurantdelicious and busy vegan restaurants (fresh spring rolls, curries, bowls, and juices)
  • THU HA Restauranttraditional Vietnamese food and excellent banh mi
  • Tam Coc Lantern best restaurant in Tam Coc
  • Thao Béo Restaurant Bardelicious vietnamese restaurant just outside tam coc center
  • Nam Coffee Beer Garden amazing rice field views, delicious coconut coffee!
  • T-Pub Restaurantcheap beers and good atmosphere
  • Aadi Tam Coc Rooftop Bargreat cocktails and good atmosphere
  • An Tam Coc Restaurant & Coffee popular place in Tam coc’s main street serving classic vietnamese dishes
  • Trang An Riverside garden restaurant friendliest owners, nice views and good Vietnamese food!

Where to stay in Ninh Binh Province

We recommend Tam Coc over Ninh Binh city because it has a better atmosphere and is filled with many restaurants and bars . Also, it is easily walkable unlike Ninh Binh. However, don’t expect a sleepy untouched village, Tam Coc is a pleasant tourist town.

For more peace and quiet away from the crowds, Trang An is a great option!

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In Tam Coc:

  • For party: Banana Tree Hostel
  • For mid-range: Tam Coc Wonderland Bungalow, Tam Coc Sunshine Homestay (outside the center – nice area for peace and quiet around Tam Coc)
  • For luxury – Le Clos du fil, Tam Coc Horizon Bungalow

How to travel to Tam Coc

Travelling to Ninh Binh Province from Hanoi is really easy. There are regular buses and minivans that will drop you off directly at your hotel. The journey takes 2 hours and costs around 150K VND per person ($5.80).

We booked a minibus directly through our hotel in Hanoi. If you come from the south to Ninh Binh Province, there are also direct buses from Hoi An, Hue or Phong Nha.

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Getting around

The best way to visit the area of Ninh Binh province is by bicycle. You can easily cycle from Tam Coc to most of the nearby sites in 30-45min. Most homestays have bicycles to rent cheaply.

We particularly enjoyed cycling through the rice fields alongside the river. We saw many farm animals like water buffalos, ducks, and goats and beautiful landscapes! The roads can be bumpy with some holes but it’s manageable.

There aren’t that many roads so the itinerary should be pretty straightforward but don’t forget to download offline maps in case you get lost. If you want to visit the furthest attractions such as Van Long Nature Reserve, we recommend to rent a scooter or book a taxi.

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Best time to visit Ninh Binh Province

The best time to visit Ninh Binh province is during the dry season, between November to April. The sky can be cloudy but it’s drier and cooler.

The rainy season in Ninh Binh province is from May to October. If possible, avoid the months of August and September that are very rainy and stormy.

How many days do you need

Ninh Binh Province has so much to offer but is also very quiet and relaxing. It’s the perfect destination after the buzzing Hanoi. Spend at least 2 full days to explore the different temples, nature reserves, cycling around the beauty of Tam Coc and other small villages.

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  1. Thank you both for this excellent site which we are using as a basis for our Vietnam trip. The suggested accommodation has been very comfortable and the restaurants you have recommended have led to some authentic and flavoursome dinners. The advice about sightseeing has been very useful also. Well done and thank you!

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