I have received many messages from you wanting to know more about our recent trip to Hanoi so, thank you for your interest! If you missed the first installment on our adventures around the city, you can see my ‘Family Holiday in Hanoi‘ post here.
If I’m honest, writing this has taken me far longer than expected – Christmas, New Year, school holidays and an apartment move for us, but I’m finally back with an overview of one of the most picturesque day trips you can make from the capital city.
Trang An and Tam Coc in the Ninh Binh Province are only a two hour drive away, and totally transport you from the hustle and bustle of the busy Hanoi streets to the stunning natural beauty of this region of natural parks, caves and rivers.
There are a few options when it comes to booking such a trip. You can do this as a group bus tour, you can do it in a private car with driver and tour guide (which worked well for us as a family of four with two children) or you could be real adventurers and do the trip yourself which I’ve heard isn’t too difficult to do if you are happy to jump on a motorcycle and hit the open roads.
We booked our private tour via our hotel and were picked up promptly at 8.00am to take the two-hour drive to our first stop. Our tour guide spoke perfect English and was happy to answer questions we had as we drove out of Hanoi and onwards to the region of Binh Ninh.
Once you reach Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam, that was the economic and political centre of Dai Co Viet during the 10th and 11th centuries, there are a number of different sights to be seen. The region is rich in history and boasts a number of temples and pagodas, but exactly where you will stop, and which spot you will visit, will be largely ruled by the tour you book.
Our first stop was at Bich Dong Pagoda, which is built into the mountainside, and encompasses three small temples spread out over different levels but easily accessible by a few steps. It’s well worth making your way to the top, passing through the caves and then enjoying the stunning views over the valley below. A great spot for photos and learning about the history of the region.
The highlight of any day trip to the region is probably going to be the two-hour return boat trip that you will take along the Sao Khe River. It is photos of this very part of the trip that inspired us to visit the region in the first place and we were not disappointed.
Everywhere you look it’s picture-postcard perfect; with lush greenery, towering limestone rocks, and caves, your guide will take you on the most tranquil of journeys, mostly rowing with her feet (this in itself is a sight to be seen!) as you just sit back and relax.
The day wasn’t over yet! We then went to a local restaurant to have our lunch which was all included in the rate we paid. I will admit I was a little nervous before arriving (you know, in the middle of nowhere, two children in tow…you get the picture!) but this place was spotlessly clean with a choice of indoor and outside (yet covered) seating with full bathroom facilities to wash up before sitting down to eat. We ordered drinks and were then served a large mixed platter of goodies for a starter, more than ample for the four of us. There were nems/spring rolls, chicken pieces, French fries, and salad. The main course then came out in the form of a delicious local goat curry with sides of rice and vegetables. To round off the meal, we had some fresh fruits and all in all, we ate really well. There was something for everyone, and while I can’t say the waiting staff spoke English, the service and food were both great.
Before heading back to Hanoi there was one final stop off point at Hoa Lu.
There is not a lot left of the original ancient citadel, but when you stop here, you visit two temples (sat side by side) that were built in honour of the emperors Đinh Tiên Hoàng and Lê Đại Hành. We wandered through the two enclosures and visited both the inner and outer citadel, and the littles got to feed the fish in the pond before heading over to see the rest of the gardens.
All in all, it was a really great trip to the region, all of which lies just 100 km away from Hanoi and can be reached in a two-hour transfer. The boat trip on the Sao Khe River was just amazing and the most memorable part of the day for us all. If I had to say anything negative about the trip, it would just be that I wish there has been a stop at a viewpoint to look down over the valley and river (if you’ve ever googled the region, you’ll know the exact scene I’m talking about!) but having had such a great day, I really can’t complain about that.
Hopefully this has given you a bit of an insight into a day trip that is easy to do from Hanoi should you be in the city for a few days and feel the need to escape the general traffic and noise. The next installment? Of course, we did an overnight in Halong Bay, and what an experience that was! The kids did NOT want to get off the boat! All that and more coming in Part III of our Vietnamese adventures. S x