Hanoi is a beautiful and very entertaining city. However, there is many great places outside of it, and they are worth of visiting as well. No, no, do not think that I am talking about Hue, Danang or any other amazing Vietnamese city. I am talking about places which are not so far away.
1. Tam Coc & Hoa Lu – Ninh Binh province, is Vietnams Northern attraction with many places to see around. One of them is Tam Coc and Hoa Lu, both set just two hours ride from Hanoi. Tam Coc means “Three Caves” and it includes Hang Ca, Hang Hai and Hang Ba caves. Hoa Lu, is an ancient capital of 1oth century Vietnamese Kingdom, where you can see gems like King Dinh and King Le’s temples.
You Can get there by:
- Bus-(3$), at any time from Giap Bat Station. For comfortable trip take high quality coach- Minh Long or Hoang Long buses.
- Train-(2,5$-5$), ride will take around 2,5 hours straight to Ninh Binh city center.
- Motorbike-(7$-15$/day depending on bikes type). This is great option to get anywhere in Vietnam. If you love sightseeing, fresh air and if you have travel buddy to take pics, then you gonna be a King…or a Queen of the road! If you plan spending more time in Hanoi, is much cheaper to rent a bike per week-42$ to 60$, per month-45$ to 75$, or you can buy secondhand motorbike from any backpacker, who is about to leave the country. They usually sell them from 200$ and up, depending on the state and type of bike.
- Organised tours– For those lazy ones, or those who doesn’t have time. Prices can vary a lot, depending on how many days you want to spend there and where will you buy it. One full day can vary from 35$ to 125$. Yes, that’s a big difference, so you better check few offers around the city. Best option is to ask in your hostel/hotel, or if you think is to expensive just ask around. One day trips offer full packages, doesn’t matter the price. What’s included: Both ways shuttle bus-pick you up from your hotel (between 6.30-8.00 am), entrances to temples, lunch-usually buffet, beverages not included, boat trip through the caves, english speaking tour guide, and sometimes bicycle ride. Back to your hotel in Hanoi around 5.30-6.30 pm.
- Bicycle– This option is for sport lovers and those healthy ones, as it’s around 125km from Hanoi. You can follow exact route as motorbike enjoying stunning views, just in slower way.
- Taxi– Yes, that is as well an option. Actually, after living few months in Hanoi I realised, that here taxis can take you everywhere, if you have fat wallet…This is the most expensive way-100$ both ways, but you get 5 hours waiting time in Ninh Binh, so you could have lots of time for visiting. Food, beverages and entrances fees not included. You can go with friends, as price is per taxi not per person.
2. Mai Chau – Definitely after Sapa, my favourite place in Northern Vietnam. Four to six hours(depending on how fast you drive and getting out from Hanoi takes the most time) southwest ride from Hanoi. But, one hundred fifty kilometres of stunning views, will definitely make you fall in love with this part of Vietnam. If you have been already in Sapa, take this option into account anyways, as it’s not so touristy. Few days is recommended, if you go all by yourself- for example by motorbike. If you haven’t been in Sapa, Mai Chau can be a great optional route to get there.
You Can get there by:
- Motorbike– I would say, that is one of my favourites ways of traveling Vietnam! No kidding. Many people get scared of Vietnamese traffic, but after couple of days driving motorbike in Hanoi or Saigon, rest of the country is a piece of cake. Leave the city from the West end, just one straight road and three traffic lights. This is much better than riding hell of the traffic to Highway 6. This road will take you to Son Tay all along the Red river. Then it’s a cakewalk, just turn left at Trung Ha bridge and ride on the new road all the way to Hoa Binh. Easy peasy! Enjoy your stay there. Remember to make your homestay reservation in advance(it is small and not so touristy, there is no hostels or lots of places to sleep over). We’ve stayed in Green Valley Homestay, and it was amazing, cheap(5$/night), great food and hot showers(we have driven hours in the rain).
- Bus– If you are not convinced to drive a motorbike for few hours, take a bus. Easy and comfy way to get there. If you decide to stay in Green Valley Homestay, they offer shuttle bus from Hanoi. There are as well regular buses leaving from Hanoi to Mai Chau. Just head to My Dinh bus station in the morning and take one of the regular buses to Hoa Binh. You can also catch one of the straight buses to Mai Chau from the same bus station. Unfortunately the times of departure from Hanoi (6am and 2pm) are not very convenient.
Remember that North of Vietnam has four weather stations. Going to anywhere there in February(like we did) is not the best idea 😉 But, still it was an amazing experience!
3. Perfume Pagoda – Perfume mountain is a complex of Buddhist temples located in a national park, 65km away from Hanoi. Some would say it’s very similar to Tam Coc, but these two has nothing to do with each other. The only similar thing is a river boat trip. This huge complex of pagodas and caves could take you several days to visit it. However, the most common and easiest way to do it, is to take a tour from Hanoi.
The scenery is fabulous, surrounded by karstic mountains with whimsical shapes and lush vegetation. The temples are spectacular, however the boat trip along the river is more beautiful in Tam Coc. Finally you can get up to the mountain. There are two ways: Cable car or 4km trek by ancient steps. I think the best is to go up by cable car and get down on feet. When you decide to go all by yourself