Ninh Binh is a small town about 100 km south of Hanoi, which is surrounded by a number of lesser known interesting sites. Hoa Lu was the first capital of the independent Vietnam, under the Dinh dynasty and the early Le Dynasty (968-1009). There are two sanctuaries, each of them devoted to the emperors of one of these two dynasties.
They are set into a landscape of limestone mountains reminiscent of some the better known sites of South China.
In Tam Coc, you can take a boat tour on a river which tunnels several times into the same type of mountains. The river is actually used by local villagers to access their rice fields.
The nearby Ken Ga canal provides the opportunity to observe river life in the North, and contrast it with what you can see in the Mekong Delta. The whole area was an important center of catholicism, and you will be surprised to see churches among the rice fields. Phat Diem has a vast cathedral which has a unique Sino-Vietnamese architecture.
Known to travellers as HaLong Bay without the water; Halong Bay on the rice paddies and so on; Tam Coc boasts breathtaking scenery. While Halong Bay features huge rock formations jutting out of the sea; Tam Coc has them jutting out of its rice paddies. Some travellers will notice a striking resemblance here to Guilin and Yangshuo in China.
Tam Coc means Three Caves. Hang Ca; the first cave; is 127 m long; Hang Giua; the second; is 70m long; the third and smallest; Hang Cuoi; is only 40 m. The best way to see Tam Coc is by rowboat on the Ngo Dong River. The boats are rowed into the caves; and this is a very peaceful and scenic trip. The boat trip to all three caves takes about two hours and tickets are sold at the small booking office by the docks. A boat costs 55.000 D including the entry fee; and seats two passengers. Even on cloudy days; bring sunscreen and a hat or umbrella - there`s no shade in the boats. You can rent an umbrella at the pier.
You may find you need a healthy dose of patience and good humour at Tam Coc; if youre prepared for a bit of a hassle then it won`t seem so irritating. One reported problem is that boat owners ask you almost constantly to buy embroidery if you don`t want it; just say no. There are also boat vendors who paddle up along side your boat and try to sell drinks; if you don`t want any; they will suggest (rather strongly) that you buy Coke for the person rowing your boat. Many travellers do this and then later find that the oarsperson simply sells the Coke back to the drink vendors for half the price.
The area behind the Tam Coc restaurants is Van Lan village. which is famous for its embroidery. Here you can watch the local artisans make napkins; tablecloths; pillow cases and T-shirts. A lot of these items wind up being sold on Hanoi`s Pho Hang Gai; but its cheaper to buy them here directly from he artisan. The village has a better selection and slightly lower prices than those available from the boat vendors.
Source : www.vietnamholidaytourism.com