Hội An and Tam Coc – two of our favourite places in Vietnam. Both completely different but incredibly interesting and beautiful in their own right!
Hội An (Lantern Town) comes alive at night with yes, lanterns EVERYWHERE.
The roads shut to motor vehicles in the evenings so you’re relieved from the busy traffic whizzing around you everywhere you turn. With just bikes and walkers allowed on the small streets the place becomes a peaceful buzz of people everywhere buying street food and taking photos of the lanterns.
The streets are lined with thousands of these incredible lanterns, some intricately designed and made from silk.
After a day of cycling around the Old Town myself and Claudia wandered down each evening, grabbed some street food and sat mesmerised by the twinkling colours and lights in every direction.
(Even more mesmerised after a couple of local beers…)
If you’re a Disney fan, think TANGLED – at the end of the movie when lanterns fill the skies, even floating flower lanterns on the water!
So basically Hội An = real life Disney.
Our highlight of Hội An has to be the Vietnamese cooking class we took part in – you can read about that HERE. If you ever visit Vietnam I would highly recommend taking a cooking class or two, I learnt so much about flavours and making use of fresh ingredients – simple fresh spring rolls are so easy to make but taste amazing!
After a 15 hour night train from Danang Station we arrived in Ninh Bình.
Tam Coc (just outside of Ninh Bình) is a completely different world.
A scene from Avatar or Jurassic World would have fitted in quite nicely here.
Towering limestone cliffs each with its own mini rainforest ecosystem surrounded by lakes and rice paddies – a bit like Ha Long Bay but inland, this place really doesn’t feel real.
Initially we thought the weather wasn’t on our side as it was so misty and foggy, but after seeing the view from the top of Mua Cave (over 500 steep steps up) the fog surrounding the limestone looked so magic and ethereal. I also don’t think we would have survived that climb if the sun had been beating down on us!
Dubbed as a hidden treasure on the Vietnamese East Coast I can honestly see why. And either because of that fact or the fog steering tourists away, we basically had the whole place to ourselves!
Spending time wandering and cycling around these places has really allowed us to see the environment and local life for how it actually is.
Our second day in Tam Coc consisted of a boat trip around these lakes and through caves, plus a trip to the set from Kong Island where they filmed the movie!
The sun even came out for us this day and we couldn’t have asked for anything more, the views left everyone speechless.
Tam Coc is definitely a hidden treasure and I actually preferred it to Ha Long Bay. It’s much less touristy and I don’t feel like you get as ripped off by tour operators (more on that in a final post about Vietnam…)
The main train station is Ninh Bình and only around 5km from Tam Coc. A couple of days suited us perfectly and gave us enough time to explore the various hidden pagodas and cycle hidden trails and tracks with ease.
Best things to do in Hội An and Tam Coc
1. Rent a bike – so much easier to travel and explore, plus a lot of places we were staying let us borrow them for free!
2. See Hội An by night
3. Take a cooking class
4. Climb the steps of Mua Cave
5. Tràng An boat tour
6. Explore Tam Cốc-Bích Động Pagoda (and other pagodas in the area, they are really worth admiring!)
Seeing these places CAN be done on a budget, and a lot of what we saw was done off our own backs by exploring by bike! Just make sure you don’t buy into all the tourist tours, do some research into what you want to see and stick to one or two that are worth doing.
The East Coast of Vietnam seems to keep surprising us with each new place we visit! Learning how to always keep an open mind…