The best thing that we did in Hanoi was to ditch the usual tour series and say upfront we don’t want to have crowded places to visit. This opened up new frontiers to our tour . We were quickly skimming through pictorial references of Ning Bin province and Hoa Lu. This region is equally famous among the locals as the limestone caves and crags arise along the river beds. This is more local as this is far cheaper than a cruise along the Halong bay itself.
The old capital town of Hoa lu is a two hour drive ( 90 kms) from the town of Hanoi and opens up a Pandora box of postcard picture perfect Vietnam which actually did attract you over to this country. This small town of Hoa lu has been the capital town from the 10th century and still holds the old world charm of a quaint quite town.Its just a pass by town on the tour.This will serve as the entry point to Tam Coc, Bich Dong, Trang An and Ba Dinh tourist spots. There are only a few temple buildings of interest here and is often skipped for the look out for more popular spots.
A short ride of Hoa lu towards the southern town of Ning Bin lies the place nicknamed ‘halong of the paddy fields’. Keeping up with the nick name, the limestone krasts are flanked by velvety smooth greenery. The ride is extremely beautiful too with the road sides full of vegetable and paddy fields and rising mounts limestone. It looks like like the giant dropped rock candy as he walked though (expression borrowed from my children). In flows river Ngo Dong River adding water to this fertile region.
The ride along this river is the highlight to this region. The tickets cam be picked up at the town of Pier Van Lam, which has some eateries and short buy areas. Toilets are payable so please keep small change.
Boat rides along River Ngo Dong
The bamboo boats rides take around two hours. The rowers are chatty Vietnamese women who encourage you to row all with them. Join the fun as you paddle along ( free workout). It’s a two hour hard ride for them to paddle the heavy bodies along so indulge and row along. The river winds down though the huge limestone monolithic rocks with caves and caverns endless. These caves are formed by the erosion of these limestone rocks.
There are three caves the river traverse through as you pass by this region. Hang Ca, Hang Giua (70 meters long) and Hang Cuoi . These limestone caves are passable by the small bamboo boats.. Some with large mouth and some quite narrow so try boats pass in a single file. It’s beautiful
The caves are equipped with electric lights. It definitely would be spooky to pass through these caves with just a head lamp. The rocks arising from the water and the stalactites from the ceiling marked it a slow but fun ride. the shimmering flow-stones leaved a marked impression.
“Move right”, “slant”, bend low all instructions arose in Vietnamese from our boat lady efficiently maneuvered the boat through the dim lit caves. It was quite a wonderful experience and the ride back allows us to connect back with the green paddy fields of the Van Lam village in the background and the bright sun.
Your onward journey could go on tour to explore the mountainous pagodas of Bith Dong. On the Ngu Nhac mountain is located three pagodas the Han, Trung, and Thuong..
We decided to skip this as we were quite tired already.
Typical tour package has only two of these places. If you are a traveler without children accompany you then will recommend to stay in Ninh Bin. and explore Trang An, Ba din Pagoda too
The tour package includes lunch. For vegetarians /vegans inform ahead as you book. Yet being there at the restaurant use your code word “chay” to get instant response..
The rides are fairly safe for kids. Choose a boat with life jackets new. Our one had it all broken and damaged.
What to carry?
Please carry a hat to protect yourself from the sun, sunscreen and water. You could buy them as you go along too. But, better to be handy..
Points to keep in mind
Tipping is a common practice.
The ask for tip starts as soon as the boat woman veins to row is back. Our two cents… It’s a long two hours of heavy paddling to work as their wages. So we helped her rowing and also tipped her.
As soon S you are out if the third cave a swarm of boats, trying to sell food or trinkets will not let you go. Till you buy something. Our truck offer the boat lady to get rid of them ahead and tell her you will give a better tip (please keep in mind as you tip her) The idea worked for us.
Our trip was a memorable one day away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The myriad hues of green still lingering in my eyes as I close them each time. Read on for the updates on Trang An too to plan your trip better.
Check out a video of Trang An caves which look similar at our You tube channel.
Check out the other regions you may want to explore with us at our page the Travel Diaries
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