If you're headed to the city of Ninh Bin, don't. Ditch the city and book a homestay on the Trang An River in Tam Coc.
We stayed at Trang An River Homestay, and we unanimously agreed that it was the most beautiful location we’ve stayed in through all of Southeast Asia. This region of Vietnam is known for its luscious green valleys and calm, winding rivers. Stay on Trang An and you can enjoy your morning coffee in front of true postcard material.
If you make it to Tam Coc, you’re probably there to lazily float down the river in one of the famous paddle boats. You can fit up to 3 people in one boat and the ride will last about an hour. Go in the morning around 8am for beautiful lighting - you’ll probably be the first ones there, too.
Don’t forget to tip your captain - although he might try to swindle you into it anyway. There are a few merchants along the river with snacks and drinks, and they’ll definitely be chasing you down. If you buy yourself anything, they’ll insist on you buying your captain a drink or a snack. Just be mindful of how many snacks they throw into your boat...
Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the ride. During the mornings, there are lots of birds tiptoeing around the shores while locals tend to the nearby fields. Enjoy the peaceful serenity of early morning Vietnamese river valleys - just watch your head, there are 3 caves to pass through!
Don’t be intimidated by the 486 stairs. You can do it. It’s definitely worth it. Get that selfie with the Laying Dragon and enjoy unbeatable panoramas of the Tam Coc River and the entire surrounding area.
The climb splits into two paths when you’re most of the way up. The left side will take you up to the Laying Dragon and give you the best views of the Tam Coc River. The right side will take you to a separate peak that has an awesome view of the Dragon.
Once you make it back to the bottom, right when your legs feel like noodles, sit back and relax on the swings by the Fairy Stream. If you’ve got the energy, have a wander in the caves along the base of the mountain - they tend to be a bit cooler inside if you’re needing a break from the heat!
Biking around the area
Most home-stays keep pedal bikes and motorbikes for guests to rent out for a few dollars a day. Take the main road and bike through some of the tunnels that cut through the mountains, or zig zag around the potholes in the backroads. There are lots of beautiful landscapes around if you’re willing to go exploring.
The Hot Lu ancient capital is a cool place to wander around and explore some 10th century temples and fortresses. If you’re not satisfied by the Hang Mua climb, there’s another short hike in the capital that takes you to a mountaintop shrine. Bring some choco-pies as a gift to the gods if you’re feeling generous.