Originally, I had ambitions that we would organize the two-day trip to Tam Coc and Cuc Phuong on our own with the help of public transport. Yet, our laziness prevailed and we bought a tour which was offered at our accommodation.
Early in the morning, a guide picked us up at the hotel and with five other passengers, we hit the road to Ninh Binh city. It was a few hours long drive and after a couple of hours, we made a break at cafe/souvenir shop. It was one of those places where every tour group stops and prices are million times higher than everywhere else. A classic tourist trap.
About midday we arrived in Ninh Binh area and our first stop was at Hoa Lu. Hoa Lu was the ancient capital city of Vietnamese kingdom called Dai Co Viet in the 10th century. A nice bridge led over the river to the entrance gate where a man offered taking a picture with his buffalo. For a small donation of course.
In the area, there was a number of temples, pagodas and courts. Inside temples, the statues of kings were surrounded by piles of offerings and everything was wrapped in veils of incense. The complex was surrounded by limestone hills which back in the past had provided protection against Chinese invaders.
From our guide, we also learn a bit about history and old dynasties.
Later, we moved on to Tam Coc. We had lunch at restaurant nearby the lake but it was average, nothing special.
After lunch, we got on small boats and rowers took us for two hours ride. Tam Coc is said to be a miniature landlocked version of Ha Long Bay. Our boat slowly peddled through the landscape of karst hills with rice paddies on sides. We went through three low-level tunnel caves which were eroded through the limestone hills and during rainy seasons are barely passable.
The place is a popular touristic spot, so even along canals, there are boats loaded with snacks and drinks and ready to attack passing boats. And of course, the rowers expected a tip at the end of the ride (on the top of the tickets we’d bought). My mom and brother totally overpaid their rower, so he said goodbye to them with a shiny smile on his face. On the other hand, our rower would have rather seen us down in the water.
Over the night we stayed in a hotel somewhere in Ninh Binh. In the evening we went to explore the city but except a nice park with a Buddhist temple and a lookout with grey smog view, there was not much and the city didn’t impress us.
Next day morning, after a few nervous moments, wondering whether our guide forgot about us and we would have to find our own way back to Hanoi, we set off to Cuc Phuong. Only with an hour delay.
Cuc Phuong is the Vietnam’s first national park. Walks within the park allowed to explore the rainforest and the life in it. After we arrived to the park, firstly, we visited a primal rescue center where we saw all the different monkey species. While adults were lazily sitting on tree branches, babies were jumping and playing around.
Just a few meters from there, there was a smaller turtle center. It was rather the informational center referring to attempts which had been made to increasing the number of those endangered animals but they had a few living pieces crawling around too. Apparently, turtles are a pricey item on the black market.
In the park, we made two short walks to ancient trees. Walks were a bit overgrown and muddy – which kind of made sense – it was a rainforest. Still, two young guys who were part of our group set off in flip flops. It wasn’t the best choice for steep slippery parts.
We had lunch in a remote restaurant which looked more like a shelter in the middle of nowhere but meals were absolutely delicious.
The rest of the afternoon we spent on the way back to Hanoi. In the evening we were going to get on a train and head off up north to Sapa region for few days. But about that – next time.