Hua Lu-Tam Coc Tour, Vietnam

While researching what to do in Vietnam, I came across several articles that recommended Ha Long Bay (of course) and the Perfume Pagoda. I quickly contacted several Vietnamese companies, and several sent me affordable rates. We booked with Go Asia Travel because they had the cheapest rates and a lot of inclusions in their package, and they had plenty of positive reviews. However, Kien CaoKim of Go Asia Travel recommended replacing Perfume Pagoda with Hua Lu-Tam Coc because, based on recent feedback from their past customers, Perfume Pagoda was getting a bit rundown already because it was filled with tourists. I agreed with his recommendations, which was a good thing, because my sister had a foot condition that made it difficult for her to walk, and Perfume Pagoda involves a 2km trek up a mountain.
Tip: Book your tours directly with Vietnamese companies, via your hotel, or from reputable tour companies near your hotel. It is so much cheaper, but I recommend clarifying what’s included in your package (i.e. food, entrance fees, etc.).

Hoa Lu

The Hoa Lu-Tam Coc tour is actually a tour of two places: Hoa Lu and Tam Coc.

Hoa Lu is where the 10th-11th century ancient capital of an ancient Vietnamese kingdom is located. There wasn’t much to see except for two temples, King Dinh and King Le, that they renovated. If you’re into history of countries, this is a good place to visit.

The sun was scorching hot despite the early hour, so I recommend either wearing long sleeves or putting on a lot of sunblock and bringing a cap.

Hua Lu, VietnamHua Lu, VietnamHua Lu, Vietnam Hua Lu, Vietnam
Tam Coc

After a buffet lunch with other tour groups in a Vietnamese restaurant, we headed to the next leg of our journey. Tam Coc is what they call the land version of Ha Long Bay. You will ride a boat that will cruise through rice paddies–or at least, that’s what we thought. Since there were no rice paddies when we toured, the place wasn’t as scenic as the pictures suggested. However, I had a nice time cruising with my sister, and it was a relaxed kind of tour.

Tam Coc, Vietnam
View from the wharf
Tam Coc, Vietnam
You can book one of these little cabins along Tam Coc.

You will pass underneath very dark caves and in through a long and winding river. The boats are driven (mostly by female) locals who use their feet! Our tour guide impressed on us very strongly not to give beyond a tip of USD 1 even though our drivers might sulk. He said that’s the standard tipping rate for them.

At the end of the river is a mini market where locals sell fruits and beverages while on a boat. If you’ve been on a boat and went to a food/fruit market in Vietnam (Mekong) or Thailand, it’s the same experience. Of course, expect the prices to be jacked up.

Tam Coc, Vietnam

My favorite part, however, was after the river ride, when we got on bikes and drove around the quaint village. The locals were used to tourists passing by their kind of narrow streets, and they would wave or greet us in their local language. And the surrounding mountains were slightly foggy, and all around us was just like the backdrop of antique Chinese paintings.

Because it was cold and it was already around past three in the afternoon, the sun wasn’t as hot and we didn’t get as sweaty as I thought we would. It had been a long time since I last rode a bike, but I quickly remembered how to do it. I’m really so grateful that my sister insisted on teaching me how to ride a bike when I was 10 years old!

I was so mesmerized by that backdrop.

The Hoa Lu-Tam Coc tour was a glimpse into both ancient and current everyday Vietnamese life. Even though there were a lot of tourists that day, being able to bike through the local village streets was such a boon. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stop to take photos because we were biking as a group, and I would have held up everyone.

I’m so glad I booked with Go Asia Travel because everything was taken cared of from start to finish. They were also easy to communicate with via chat or email. My parents just wanted to relax and not have to think of anything while on tour, and that was exactly what we got from the tour company. I know most people prefer to DIY nowadays, which is what I usually do when I’m alone or when with just my sister or friends, but there are instances, especially now that they’re both in their sixties, where they prefer to travel comfortably even if it costs just a bit more.

View my other posts about Vietnam here!

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