Ninh Binh, Northern Vietnam, is famous for its limestone karsts, vast ricefields and ambling waterways. The best way to explore the surreal landscape is by boat, departing from either Trang An or upstream at Tam Coc.
We recently visited Ninh Binh as a weekend trip from Hanoi and decided to take a boat ride through the UNESCO-protected Trang An Landscape Complex. It’s a very slick operation. Restaurants, gift shops and a huge wood-paneled waiting room great guests as they arrive at the dock. Large groups of Vietnamese tourists and foreigners queue at glass booths to buy electronic passes for the boat ride. Tickets are sold at a flat-rate of 200K Dong per person, and there’s two routes to choose from. A fleet of identical paddle boats line the dock, all fitted with life vests and matching bamboo floor mats. The boats are all painted and numbered consistently; their captains, all women, wear smart blue uniforms with ‘Trang An Ecotourism’ emblazoned on the pocket, an ID lanyard and a nón lá conical hat. After a few two-hour tours, they break for lunch on the dock, unpacking bowls of rice and vegetables from their woven plastic carry bags.
The nearby Tam Coc-Bich Dong boat dock, by contrast, is a cacophony of colours and chaos. It’s a local operation that is less regulated – there’s a ticket booth, but it’s also possible to approach a driver directly and haggle for a discount.
We decided to save the boat ride at Tam Coc for another time, but we did hang around the dock for a while, photographing the boats and bridges. Here are a few of my favourite pictures of Tam Coc dock – a wonderfully vibrant spot, even on an overcast October day.
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