One of the best experiences we had in Ninh Binh, and Vietnam in general, was taking a Tam Coc boat tour through the Vietnamese landscape. Ninh Binh is filled with beautiful limestones, and being a passenger as a local Vietnamese row down the lazy Tam Coc river is an amazing and calming experience.
Bring water and a hat and 500 000 VND or more. Get down there on your own if at all possible. Avoid the photography scam. Don’t be afraid to say no to the ladies trying to sell you things, eventually, they will give up. Tip the local that has been rowing with your feet if you were happy with her service.
We will go further into detail, so you will be prepared for your boat trip. We will also go into detail on how to avoid the many scams on the tour.
Getting to Tam Cốc-Bích Động
There are a few different ways to get to the Tam Coc river. The easiest way is to join a group tour, or simply book a taxi down there.
If you are capable (and brave enough) I would strongly recommend renting a bike or motorbike, and not only because of the freedom.
I get further into why a little further down.
The receptionist at your hotel should be able to help you out if you decide to go with one of these options.
Tam Coc Boat Tour Cost
A boat ride for two on Tam Coc will cost you 380 000 VND. These boats are designed for two passengers. If you need to hire a boat for yourself only, expect to pay around 300 000 VND.
Apart from this the only cost you should expect, is a tip for the lady rowing the boat at the end of the trip. While not mandatory, giving the local who just rowed up and down a river for you with her legs in the scotching sun probably feels appropriate.
We gave our lady 100 000 VND as atip, and she seemed very happy.
Scams to avoid on the Tam Coc river
As the Tam Coc river boat tour is part of the tourist machine in Ninh Binh, there are a few scams to watch out for.
The first one is of a lady offering to take your photographs in the boat with her DSLR camera. You will see her about 5 minutes after the boat tour starts.
If you do use her service, you will get some photographs of yourself on the river. However the scammy part is that she will sell you the photos at the agreed-upon price, and then after the money is paid, she will suddenly discover that she has taken more photos of you.
Of course, the photos she suddenly discovered are the best photos, and you will need to pay extra to get these photos as too.
Water for the Thirsty Lady Rowing Scam
The next scam you encounter will be at about the halfway point of the trip.
At this point the boat will stop after you leave the third cave, and a bunch of ladies will surround you. They are selling some water, nuts, fruit, and beers.
This can get pretty intense, check out our video around the 2 minute mark for reference.
If you are in desperate need of something to drink, you can buy it here and support the ladies, just be aware that it is pretty overpriced.
The scam part is that after they are done with you, they will try to make you buy something for the very thirsty lady rowing your boat as well. Usually some nuts, and a bottle of water.
When we went on the trip we just laughed it off, and the ladies backed off. But we have heard stories of them being pretty insistent, and for some that could be uncomfortable.
The scam part of this is that once you give your rower the food and drink, she will give it back to the saleslady. Later they will just split the profit of the overpriced water you just paid for.
Here’s a guide to Halong Bay, which also has amazing limestone mountains.
What To Bring For A Boat Tour
As it can get pretty hot, and the sun is scorching your skin, I’d recommend bringing a hat and sunglasses (or you can buy a Vietnamese hat there!). A bottle of water, and some sunscreen will also come handy.
There is plenty of space to leave your bag under the seat in the boat, so don’t worry about that. Just keep in mind that you have a local rowing you around get some extra weight in her boat.
We recommend making your way down there on your own if possible. You can rent a motorbike, or bike and make your way down on your own.
This way you don’t arrive on a group tour. The advantage to this is that you can get the Tam Coc river “for yourself” in the sense that you are not surrounded by other boats leaving the dock at the same time as you.
Enjoy the Tam Coc Boat Trip
I hope that these scams don’t deter you from taking a boat tour on the Tam Coc river. While there are a few scams, and things to watch our for the trip itself is fantastic. Apart from the viewpoint, this is probably the best way to spend 90 minutes in Ninh Binh.
There are a lot of awesome hotels in Ninh Binh for surprisingly low prices (Agoda affiliate link).
If this guide was helpful, please consider repinning to help others too!