"We enjoyed the boat ride at Tam Coc. It was very scenic. There was this photo vendor who followed us around, offering to take photos at 1USD per photo. We declined as we were already taking many photos ourselves. He offered 20 photos at S$20. We thought we'll see if they turn out nice. Our boatman was our "professional photographer", kept offering to take photos for us using our camera, whenever we past by a scenic spot. He tried to say simple Mandarin to us. It turned out there he was rather skilful in photo-taking. It was a bonus! The photos taken by the photo vendor turned out awesome too, and we ended up paying S15 for 20 photos, came with a photo album."
One of the caves
Ninh Binh - is famous for the nearby karst scenery around the village of Tam Coc. There is nothing to do in Ninh Binh itself apart from drinking beer with the locals; the city is more useful as a base for the surrounding countryside. Near Ninh Binh are the famous karst mountains: Tam Coc. Between the mountains wind the Ngo Dong River. This has broken through the limestone rocks in different places, so caves and tunnels formed by the mountains.
Tam Coc is called because of the rock formations "Halong Bay on land". In a small boat, which they call sampan, female rowers are rowing the visitors along the karst mountains and between rice paddies. Interestingly, the female rowers are not rowing with their arms, but with their legs. After leaving the village of Van Lam they sail directly between the limestone mountains.
Tam Coc means "three caves" and that's exactly what's going to happen. You'll sail through three caves.
Try as soon as possible to go to the boat in the morning. Before the tour groups come from Hanoi. Otherwise, you must go in the late afternoon, after the groups have left. The last boats leave at 17:30 in summer and 16:30 in winter.
The Vietnamese women's rowing with your hands and feet through the idyllic and delightful scenery of Tam Coc. You'll travel through a crystal clear river, where you can look down to the bottom. You sail under natural tunnels and along the many rice fields.
There are also floating beverage vendors, which can be very persistent. Most will ask you whether you want to buy a drink for the female rower. When you do this, this drink is usually immediately sold back for half the price. Some boats have loaded boxes upon departure. They are filled with handicrafts (you can check this), and it is intended that you buy something from them. The female rowers are poorly paid with a minimum wage. They do have the right to make a few tours a week for themselves. So buy something handmade, famous Tam Coc embroideries. It is the main income for the local population.
You are not obligated to buy anything, but you have give the female rowers a good tip. But do not expect any thanks. Usually they complain that it is not enough money, no matter what amount you give them.
Note also the guys who take pictures of you, when you're in the boat, often they ask a price for the photo, which is too high.
Lam is a small town, known for the handicraft. They sell towels, tablecloths, pillowcases and clothing.
From a travelogue:
"There were many pushy vendors selling drinks and snacks along the journey. When we declined, they tried to persuade by telling us to buy for the boatman, saying he was tired and needed a drink. We had to insist our stand. We rather tipped the boatman directly. It was really not an easy job, as he had to peddle almost 2 hours. We ended giving him a generous tip, since he doubled up as our photographer."