Tam Coc – a little Halong Bay without an ocean

At 4am the bus arrived in Ninh Binh. The driver stressed us out of the bus and took off again. I had booked a hostel in Tam Coc. I had heard from many people that this little village is a lot nicer than Ninh Binh and it is just like 7km away. Since I knew that I would arrive very early in the morning I had asked what would be the best way to get to the hostel and if I could get inside somehow. The owner of the Happiness Homestay had told me I should call when I arrive and he would send someone to pick me up. This worked very well and after about 20 minutes I was picked up and could even check in and go to bed immediately. I slept a little and got up for the free breakfast at 9 again. I didn’t feel very well that day. Everything was hurting, especially my back and my head and I felt a little sick as well. So I just walked around a bit in the close proximity of the hostel

and slept again for a while. My room had no windows at all and the air in there was pretty stale, so I moved to a bigger dorm across the hallway with a nice big window and balcony. I was completely stiff from the impact of the fall (accident in Hoi An) and the night in the bus, so I thought a massage might help. I asked the hostel owner if he would know a place. He did and since there was no chance to get a taxi out there, he quickly dropped me in Ninh Binh with his motorbike. The seeing hand massage was a bit odd. Good, but didn’t help much with my problem. I got a mango and took a moto taxi back to Tam Coc.

Since I didn’t want to hang around in the hostel all day and the beds were super hard and not very comfortable anyway I used some tiger balm on my back, swallowed some pain killers and took off to see something I came here for. I walked the 100 meters to the entrance of the Hang Mua Cave (entry fee: 100k Dong (~3,80€)). I visited the Tiger Cave

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and then started climbing up the many many stairs to the top.

It is absolutely worth it, just for the view!!!

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When I returned to the hostel the power was out and we had no light. So I went across the street to a little bar to drink a coconut and write my journal. Later we had family dinner at the hostel for 60k Dong. The owner had cooked himself. It was a lot and really yummy.

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I had a quiet evening with watching a movie on my tablet and going to bed early. Since the bed was so hard and there was some annual big celebration going on in the temple near bye (it was super loud) I hardly slept though. I was not in the best mood the next day. With the help of the owner I organized a train ticket for the next day (there is an app to book trains, but you can’t pay with a foreign credit card). I asked if I could rent a motorbike somewhere. At the Happiness Homestay they don’t have any, but he asked the neighbor and I got one from them for 200K Dong for the whole day including petrol. Was not the cheapest, but due to the lack of an alternative I took it. I drove to the Trang An boatride and met a French couple on the parking lot. We shared a boat together and the next 2.5 hours we were paddled along between the limestone mountains, caves and temples.

There is also an old movie set from King Kong (Skull Island).

It is very beautiful there and although it is super touristic I would recommend doing it if you get to the Ninh Binh Province. It is basically a bit like Halong Bay. Unfortunately it was very overcast and no sun at all, so the pictures don’t do justice to the reality. The tour was 200k Dong per person. Since Fred and Mathilde were going in the other direction I drove alone to the Bai Dinh Pagoda after the boat tour. You only have to pay for parking there, like everywhere (usually 15k Dong (~60cent)), the entry is free. If you take an electric car to the entrance it is another 30k. The Bai Dinh Pagoda on the Bai Dinh Mountain is considered the largest complex of Buddhist temples in Vietnam and has become a popular site for Buddhist pilgrimages from across Vietnam. It consists of the original old temple and a newer larger temple. This place is just huge and I have hardly ever seen so many Buddhas in one place.

You can easily spend several hours in there. On my way back to Tam Coc I stopped for some Pho Bo. Already on my way to the temple I had seen a lot of goats on the side of the road on tables or similar structures and people standing next to them wagging big leaves. I didn’t have a close look since I was concentrating on the traffic but was wondering a bit if those goats were sacred or something that they get so much attention. While driving back I realized that I couldn’t have been more wrong! Those goats were actually dead and they were selling their meat. They wagged at them to shy away the flies. They had looked so alive since they probed them up in a sitting or sometimes even standing position, so from just a glance they didn’t look dead at all. Once I knew they were all dead, it felt rather creepy to drive past all those goats! Unfortunately I couldn’t take a picture since the sellers were rather allergic to cameras. I returned the bike, had a shower and secured my pictures. Later I contacted Yvonne and Tivo (the German couple I met in Phong Nha) since I knew that they were planning to come to Tam Coc as well. They were already there, but in Tam Coc village (not in the middle of nowhere like me). We decided to have dinner together. So I had to ask for the motor bike again. It was a bit adventurous to drive along those farm tracks in the dark without any street lights. But at least there was hardly any traffic and there was not exactly another option anyway. We had dinner at the Orchid Restaurant which was ok. Then we went to another place for a beer.

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Do you want some duck?

It had been a really nice evening! When I returned, the gate of the neighbors was already closed, everything was dark and no one to be seen. But the dog was barking at me so loudly that eventually somebody opened the gate and I could return the bike. And I settled in for another night with not too much sleep. It was a lot quieter though that night. The next morning I checked out after breakfast and took a cab I had organized already the day before to the station in Ninh Binh. I had to pay more for a 7 km taxi ride than for the whole way to Hanoi, but when you are outside of a village you don’t have many choices. And off I was to Hanoi!

Tam Coc is very beautiful and definitely worth a stop if you travel from Phong Nha to Hanoi or the other way round. It is also a lot nicer than Ninh Binh which is the place where the trains and busses stop. If I would go there again I would probably rather stay in a hostel within the village though. Apart from the way too hard beds and the problems with the electricity, the Happiness Homestay was pretty nice. The owner spoke good English and was really looking after his guests. But it’s harder to go somewhere for food and harder to find a taxi and such if you are outside the village.

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