We took a day tour to Ninh Binh province from Hanoi on our second full day in Vietnam. I’m usually not one for group tours but except for the drawn out “shopping” stop at the beginning of the day, the trip was actually quite pleasant and we met some other international travelers. The tour covered Hoa Lu, a town that was the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries and Tam Coc, known as Halong Bay on Land. All that is left in Hoa Lu are a few temples so we quickly shuffled through them and moved on.
Tam Coc, literally Three Caves, was beautiful. It’s very similar to the landscape of Guilin/Yangshuo area in China. I had read online about how vendors pressure you to buy things in this area so I was well prepared to say “no” to everything. We visited the caves on a 90 minute rowboat trip and the rowers are so talented that they can row with their hands and feet! At the halfway point, floating vendors tried to ask us to buy beverages for our rowers and of course we said no. We did offer the rowers a brand new bottle of water and they turned it down so I guess they weren’t really thirsty. On the way back to the dock, the pregnant wife of the main rower tried to get us to buy souvenirs from her but she already knew we were going to say no.