Located in the Ngu Nhac Son Mountains, Hoa Lu District, Ninh Binh Province, it is a grandiose complex of Bich Dong pagoda and Tam Coc grotto which is one among the 21 crucial tourism destinations of Vietnam.
Tam Coc-Bich Dong is featured with a tropical climate, with 2 seasons. The cold and rainy season lasts from May to October, and the dry and hot season from November to April. Its annual average temperature is 23.5oC. As situated at the base side of the Red River Delta Triangle, it is a half-mountain half-plain area, with a coastline of 18 kilometers.
Historical Values of Tam Coc-Bich Dong
Bich Dong is a beautiful pagoda on the nearby Ngu Nhac Mountain dated to 1428 under the Le Dynasty, comprising three structures: Ha, Trung, and Thuong Pagodas, in ascending order.
In 1773, Mr. Nguyen Nghiem (the father of the great writer Nguyen Du) visited this cave. He was much impressed by the whole magnificent scenery of mountains, waterways, fields, and sky covered in green mist. Thus he gave it a very beautiful and romantic name, Bich Dong, which literally means “Green Pearl Grotto”.
This picturesque landscape is added by Tam Coc portion. It derives its name from its consisting of 3 caves (Hang Ca, Hang Hai, and Hang Ba); “Tam” means 3, “Coc” means cave. Tam Coc or “Three Caves” portion is of great enchanting charm and mystery, inviting tourists to come and explore!
What to See in Tam Coc-Bich Dong?
1. Tam Coc Wharf – Starting Point of Journeys
To begin the journey, tourists have to queue at Tam Coc Wharf to take a boat to travel along rivers. The pier is crowded with tourists from morning till afternoon. People coming here share the same pleasant feeling about such a nice picture with the classical communal house, ancient banyan tree, moss grown well, marble rock, and friendly locals.
2. Tam Coc – A Mysterious Grotto
Tam Coc Grotto, located approximately 2km from the pagoda, is the place that will make tourists feel like they had just disappeared from the real world to get lost in such a hidden fairy site.
Tam Coc is 3 kilometers from Van Lam Wharf. Now, take a boat from Van Lam Wharf to reach the Tam Coc Grotto, which consists of the Hang Ca, Hang Hai and Hang Ba caves. This might take you 3 hours on your small boat along the Ngo Dong river, beginning at the village of Van Lam and proceeding through a scenic landscape dominated by rice fields and karst towers.
The largest of the grotto is 125m long with its ceiling about 2m high above the water. This grotto is adorned with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites of different shapes and colours that sparkle like gemstones.
Now when drifting along the gentle Ngo Dong River under the Grotto, you can feel the deeply pure atmosphere with special smell of fresh river water and cool air from karst mountains when reaching each of the 3 caves in turns.
Among the three caves, Hang Ca is considered the most picturesque one since it is the longest and contains most fascinating natural arts deep inside. It is around 127m long, with a cave mouth of 20m wide.
When leaving Hang Ca, just turn back to see it once again, you will feel that it was like a very old white-haired man sitting down for fishing. A Vietnamese legendary tells that this was a Heaven Land where that fishing man – a considered fairy one – lived, and flying above within the Heaven was a flock of fairies in graceful white dresses! You may be so much seduced by the beautiful fairy landscape that you do not even think of coming back at that time!
Hang Hai is nearly 1 kilometers far from Hang Ca. This is the second stop-over on your waterway journey, where can be found a series of colorful sparkling stalactites falling from the cave ceiling. This cave is about 60m long. The last but not least cave is Hang Ba, just nearby, is about 50m long, with a lower ceiling than the above two, looking like a platonic cupola.
Now getting out the whole grotto, looking out the vast landscape, you can see that a mighty mountainous and waterways are covering the limitless land. If moving further 4 kilometers, there comes “Fairy Stream”, a pure mirror-like stream where you can even see through to the stream-bed to contemplate flocks of fish swimming and looming in the moss layers. It is said in a fairy tale that fairies used to land here to swim, thus it was named “Fairy Stream”.
3. Bich Dong Grotto
Now turning in the opposite position, you will soon reach Bich Dong pagoda, which is situated at the grandiose Ngu Nhac Mountain. The Pagoda is divided into three levels: Ha Pagoda (lower pagoda), Trung Pagoda (middle pagoda), and Thuong Pagoda (upper pagoda).
On the mountain peak stands the statue of a scholar Mandarin looking at the horizon with the hope of viewing the spectacular landscapes of Hoa Lu. When visiting Bich Dong grotto, tourists may have a great chance to turn back to the Post Le Dynasty’s legends.
From the upper pagoda, which has the most magnificent view of Bich Dong, is romantically charming in terms of architecture and history. The location for this pagoda was chosen in 1428 after two monks were charmed by the view of the river and the mountains. Later, King Le Canh Hung wrote a poem in honour of the beautiful pagoda and landscape.
Bich Dong means “Green Grotto” or “Pearl Grotto”, which reveals its magnificent natural beauties. Colors, shapes, and sounds of the shining stalactites converges in such a captivating miracle that no one could refuse to touch, knock and contemplate them in deed. Honorably, amongst the most fascinating caves in Vietnam, “Fairy Grotto”, part of Bich Dong, is regarded as an “Elysium on Earth”.
“Surrounding mountains full of water during 4 seasons,
Rattan boat lightly drifting,
Covered with mist and clouds, is Pagoda landscape”
These are beautiful lines of verse offered to Bich Dong pagoda grotto, a rare natural work of Art.
4. “Sun Valley” – Attractive Ecological Tourism
Here comes the final destination in your meaningful waterway journey – “Sun Valley” (Thung Nắng), an ideal ecological tourism spot for lovers of nature. Inside the valley, there is an ancient limestone temple with rock-style architecture shown in delicate carvings. Visiting this valley, you can relax in your small boat, with sun-bathing and sun playing in a quiet and pure atmosphere.
What to Eat in Tam Coc Bich Dong
Ninh Binh is not renowned for a spectacular scenery but also goat meat. Thus, once visiting Tam Coc-Bich Dong in Ninh Binh province, a must-food you should try is goat meat. The local people cook goat meat in so many attractive ways.
For example, re-goats are served with herbs like lemon, chilly, seasoning powder and ginger. Grilled goat meat is integrated with sesame and rare-goat meat is mixed with basil, coriander and fig leaves. A menu with goat meat will definitely stay long in your memory.
Moreover, Tam Coc-Bich Dong is also famous for its burned rice, eel vermicelli and wine drunk out of a jar through pipes. Almost every restaurant here serve all the aforementioned kinds of food. So you can have a chance to taste typical cuisines of this mountainous province right in one place.
Where to Stay in Tam Coc Bich Dong
Accommodation in Tam Coc-Bich Dong is widely available. Depending on your schedule, you can choose the one near the place you want to visit. Here are some suggestions:
- Ninh Binh Hidden Charm Hotel & Resort
This hotel and resort is 0.4 miles from Tam Coc and is rated as the best value of nearly 150 hotels in Ninh Binh. It takes you just a few minutes to walk from here to Tam Coc Wharf, Bird Valley, Bai Dinh Pagoda, Phat Diem Cathedral, Hoa Lu Ancient Capital and so on.
- Thanh Dat Homestay
If you have a limited budget but still want to admire all of the incredible beauty in Tam Coc-Bich Dong, this homestay is truly an ideal option for you. It is 0.3 miles from Tam Coc and the price is nearly 400,000 VND. The homestay also serves 24/7 in order to make visitors more pleasant when staying here.
- Nan House
Another great choice for your stay is Nan House. It is an authentic homestay that lies in the heart of Tam Coc-Bich Dong, Ninh Binh. It is covered with a small garden with lots of flowers, a swimming pool and a playground for children’s activities. Its design is a combination of modern and traditional style with a view to pagodas, mountains and paddle field. Thus, it is such as great place for you to relax after a tiring day.
How to Get to Tam Coc Bich Dong
From Hanoi, take a bus or train to go to Ninh Binh province in 2.5 hours. Then, drive about 5 km from the center of Ninh Binh to reach Tam Coc-Bich Dong. Here, if you want to enjoy other activities, you need to take on a boat tour along with the local people.
Best Time to Visit
Tam Coc-Bich Dong remains its own beauty throughout the year. However, the best time for you to visit is in spring, when the sky is blue, the temperature is comfortable and the vast fields are green. It is also the time when Vietnamese people organize a lot of festivals for the Tet holiday so the vibe is really great.
Why are you still hesitating to go to Tam Coc-Bich Dong? It is truly a legend of rivers and mountains, a pure and safe destination for every traveller.