After Ha Long Bay, we went in circles trying to figure out where to go next.
Do we fly South and visit the highly recommended Hoi An?
No. No more flying!
Do we head back to the Ha Long Bay area and do some DIY kayaking and hiking off the island of Cát Bà?
We JUST came from Ha Long Bay. Although we didn’t have a chance to explore the surrounding islands, we should try to go somewhere new.
Do we travel to Sapa for hiking and rice fields?
Would love to but we REALLY don’t feel like giving up two more days of our trip to travel. Plus, this isn’t a good time of year to visit the rice fields.
What about venturing off the beaten path and visiting Pu Luong?
All the good homestays are all booked up. How do you feel about sharing a room with a bunch of other people? Nah. What else is there?
What about heading to Ninh Binh? They call it the Ha Long Bay on land.
Hmmmm – Well there are a ton of options for places to stay. It’s not too far away. We can get there by train! I wanna go on a train.
BINGO!!! We were heading to Ninh Binh.
We played it safe and purchased our tickets in advance for 97,000 ₫ (or about $4.22) each. When we arrived at the Hanoi train station the next day, we weren’t sure if we were in the correct spot–the platforms were COMPLETELY EMPTY!
Fortunately, the station only appeared empty because all the other passengers had already boarded. I guess we were fashionably late. Several trains leave Hanoi daily and pass through Ninh Binh, about 60 miles to the south. Unlike our open air train experience from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, this train car had CLOSED windows! No face masks needed. It was a comfortable ride and in a little over 2 hours, we arrived in the town of Ninh Binh.
Ninh Binh is the name of the province. Ninh Binh “town proper” is actually just a stopover travelers pass through in order to get to the ultimate destination–a smaller town known as the Ha Long Bay on land: Tam Coc. Jutting out of the flat bright green rice fields appear massive limestone karsts which is what puts this tiny place on people’s radar. We ordered a Grab Taxi to take us to our homestay in Tam Coc, Zuli Zen Homestay. Of all the homestays/hotels/hostels in Tam Coc, this place stood out to us the most.
We didn’t have very much time to do our research on where to go and what to see before arriving in Tam Coc, but luckily the host of our homestay, Zuli, made it easy on us and had a large map of recommendations. Zuli sat down with us and wrote out a list of recommendations, pricing, and a few insider tips.
After we checked in and saw the view from our room, our plan to stay 4 nights doubled and we finished our South East Asia adventures with 8 nights in Tam Coc. Some of the activities we did include:
Bike Ride to Thai Vi Temple
Bike Ride to Bich Dong Pagoda
Tam Coc Boat Ride
Bai Dinh Temple and Spiritual Complex
Boat Ride through Van Long Nature Reserve
Massages at Garden Spa Tam Cốc
Hike to Mua Cave Viewpoint
But of all things we did, I think our favorite activities were enjoying the view from our room window and aimlessly exploring the area around our homestay by bike and foot.
Our final stop in Tam Coc, Ninh Binh was the perfect way to end the trip. A little bit of adventure, mixed with convenience and relaxation. After 3 months of hopping from country to country, sleeping in 22 different beds, and constantly packing and unpacking, – we were ready to head back to some place familiar: Sarasota, FL.