On our first trip to Vietnam in May 2015 we took a day tour of the Ninh Binh province and ‘Dry Halong Bay’ (Tam Coc). We booked the trip with Apt Travels (www.apttravel.com); prices started at 950,000 VND per person (£31.75) (Prices checked September 2018).
The tour guide was very chatty and kept us entertained during the two-hour journey from Hanoi to our first stop which was a grand Buddhist temple in the mountains.
It was so hot! We walked around the complex, up many steps and drank a lot of water. At the top was a steep climb to a giant Buddha statue. I think my husband and I were the only ones stupid enough to climb to the very top; we certainly lost everyone else in our party. We were sweating profusely and bright red by the time we got there. I’m surprised we didn’t get sunstroke! There were fantastic views from the top though.
On our return, we got told off for being late (although it wasn’t our fault!) then taken to a place for lunch. It was traditional Vietnamese food and you could pick and choose what you ate, which made it easier for me as I have coeliac disease and need to be careful what I eat. I had some steamed rice and then a piece each of lemongrass chicken (delicious), goat (OK) and pork (tasty) with some spinach/cabbage type vegetable.
Tam Coc (translated as ‘three caves’) is a land-locked version of Halong Bay, surrounded by lush rice paddies and towering limestone karsts. It is approximately 100km (63 miles) south of Hanoi and popular with Vietnamese tourists. The area is best explored by ‘sampan’ (a rice barge) down the Ngo Dong river where you can relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
The boat trip was lovely and very peaceful. The woman used her feet to row the boat. She didn’t say much, just shouted at us to duck when we went through the caves. It was very hot in the sun, but cool inside the caves and there was a pleasant breeze from time to time.
We had been told to expect the area to be crowded and to get hassled, but actually it was pretty quiet. Our party was joined by another party from Vietnam, including some monks, and they started singing in the caves which was brilliant.
We saw lots of duck farms on the way back and paddy fields. We were dropped off at about 7pm at the hotel, in desperate need of a shower to cool down.