In our first week in Vietnam, we took an all day tour from Hanoi to Tam Coc, just outside of Nim Bihn. This area is known as the Halong Bay of the Land.
The tour company picked us up from our hotel around 8:30am and we immediately departed on a 2.5 hour drive along the well paved highway. For most of the ride, the views were of rice paddies and Lotus farms that stretched alongside either side of the road. Sleeping on a tour bus in Vietnam is a tough task as the continuous acceleration and deceleration from weaving in and around other motorists and oncoming traffic has your body swaying and feeling slightly nauseous. Additionally, the non-stop horn blowing from your own vehicle and those in other vehicles will jolt awake even the heaviest sleeper.
Our tour’s first stopped at the ancient city of Hanoi. It is situated in a valley with temples and is rich with history. This wasn’t our favorite part of the day, but it was nice to get out of the minivan and stretch our legs on the walk around the ancient city. After being there for 40 minutes or so we made our way to the Nim Bihn region for lunch. Lunch was so-so. It was served buffet style and offered a variety of noodles, mystery meat, and fresh fruit (unfortunately, the ants had started feasting on the fruit before we had a chance to get some). From there we took a short walk to a man-made lake with tons of wooden rowing boats. At first we felt that it was not going to be exciting due to the location of the starting point. However, after five minutes of rowing by our talented rower — she rowed nearly the entire way with her feet! — we were shocked to witness the stunning topography of Tam Coc. Tam Coc, named after three long, dark tunnel-caves (Hang Ca, Hang Giua and Hang Cuoi) eroded through the limestone hills with barely sufficient clearance for the sampan after heavy rains.
At the beginning of our journey the clouds set in and there was rain for about 15-20 minutes of the journey. This added an almost magical and very mystical ambiance to the experience. After going through two of the caves the weather started to clear and the fog lifted and we could really appreciate all the beauty around us. Even in the down poor we found the experience very romantic and exciting.
As we made our way through the third cave, we found a dozen or so vendors in their own rowing boats wanting to sell souvenirs and snacks. When we declined their solicitation for any nicknacks or snacks, they change their tactic to a guilt sale by pressing you to buy something for your “tired and hungry boat rower”. We chose to forgo snacks for any of us and determined it best to give her a cash tip at the end of the journey. After ten minutes watching all the boats around us be approached and haggled, we made our way back to the starting point which took about another 40 minutes.
The change in colors, breathtaking mountain views and vegetation were more impressive without the rain on the way back. Luckily the rain held off until just before the final cave when it started drizzling again. By this point our butts were numb from the hard benches on the boat and we were ready to reach shore. With that said, it was truly an unforgettable experience with so much beauty.
Once we arrived on shore, we had a short break and then we were off for a lovely 40 minute bicycle ride through the local towns, rice fields and countryside. There were some great photo opportunities and the ride was flat and very easy.
Following our bike ride, we hoped back into the minivan for the 2.5 hour drive back to Hanoi and arrived at our hotel around 6pm. All in all, we thought it was a good tour and would recommend making this day trip part of your Hanoi itinerary.
Insider Tip: In our opinion, a day trip to Tam Coc and the Nim Bihn area is enough to discover the beauty it offers. We had originally considered taking the train to Nim Bihn to stay a couple of days, but after seeing how remote the area was, we were glad we just went with the day trip.