Tam Coc-Bich Dong, “South second nicest grotto”
Tam Coc – Bich Dong is also called “A terrestrial Ha Long Bay”, or the “Vietnam’s second nicest grotto” (to Huong Tich) for its poetic and inspirational natural scenery
Located in the Ngu Nhac Son Mountains, Hoa Lu District, Ninh Binh Province, it is a grandiose complex of Bich Dong pagoda and Tam Coc grotto which is one among the 21 crucial tourism destinations of Vietnam. The zone is featured with a tropical climate, with 2 seasons. The cold and rainy season lasts from May to October, and the dry and hot season from Novermber to April. Its annual average temperature is 23.5oC. As situated at the base side of the Red River Delta Triangle, it is a half-mountain half-plain area, with a coastline of 18 kilometers.
King Le Canh Hung ever said: “This is Vietnam’s second nicest grotto, after the Huong Tich Grotto in Ha Tay province”. Its pristine natural beauty together with a simple but nice countryside landscape, and a sacred spiritual life have converged into a fascinating and attractive Tam Coc-Bich Dong to numerous tourists.
These days, more and more people in the world have been coming here in various types of tours: ecological tours, culture, history, and festival tours. No one could deny that Tam Coc-Bich Dong has become a legend of rivers and mountains, a green, pure, and safe destination for every traveler.
Bich Dong is a beautiful pagoda on the nearby Ngu Nhac Mountain dated to 1428 under the Le Dynasty, comprising three structures: Ha, Trung, and Thuong Pagodas, in ascending order. In 1773, Mr. Nguyen Nghiem (the father of the great writer Nguyen Du) visited this cave. He was much impressed by the whole magnificent scenery of mountains, waterways, fields, and sky covered in green mist. Thus he gave it a very beautiful and romantic name, Bich Dong, which literally means “Green Pearl Grotto”. This picturesque landscape is added by Tam Coc portion. It derives its name from its consisting of 3 caves (Hang Ca, Hang Hai, and Hang Ba); “Tam” means 3, “Coc” means cave. Tam Coc or “Three Caves” portion is of great enchanting charm and mystery, inviting tourists to come and explore!
Join a round trip!
Tam Coc Wharf – starting point of journeys
To begin the journey, tourists have to queue at Tam Coc Wharf to take a boat to travel along rivers. The pier is crowded with tourists from morning till afternoon. People coming here share the same pleasant feeling about such a nice picture with the classical communal house, ancient banian tree, mossgrown well, marble rock, and friendly locals.
Tam Coc – a mysterious grotto
Visiting Tam Coc Grotto, tourists may feel like they had just disappeared from the real world to get lost in such a hidden fairy site, which is located approximately 2km from the pagoda. Tam Coc is 3 kilometers from Van Lam Wharf. Now just take a boat from Van Lam Wharf to reach the Tam Coc Grotto, which consists of the Hang Ca, Hang Hai and Hang Ba caves. This might take you three hours on your small boat along the Ngo Dong river, beginning at the village of Van Lam and proceeding through a scenic landscape dominated by rice fields and karst towers. The largest of the grotto is 125m long with its ceiling about 2m high above the water. This grotto is adorned with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites of different shapes and colours that sparkle like gemstones. Now when drifting along the gentle Ngo Dong River under the Grotto, you can feel the deeply pure atmosphere with special smell of fresh rivers water and cool air from karst mountains when reaching each of the 3 caves in turns.
Among the three caves, Hang Ca is considered the most picturesque one since it is the longest and contains most fascinating natural arts deep inside. It is around 127m long, with a cave mouth of 20m wide. When leaving Hang Ca, just turn back to see it once again, you will feel that it were like a very old white-haired man sitting down for fishing. A Vietnamese legendary tells that this was a Heaven Land where that fishing man – a considered fairy one – lived, and flying above within the Heaven was a flock of fairies in graceful white dresses! You may be so much seduced by the beautiful fairy landscape that you do not even think of coming back at that time!
Hang Hai is nearly 1 kilometers far from Hang Ca. This is the second stop-over on your waterway journey, where can be found a series of colorful sparkling stalactites falling from the cave ceiling. This cave is about 60m long. The last but not least cave is Hang Ba, just nearby, is about 50m long, with lower ceiling than the above two, looking like a plutonic cupola.
Now getting out the whole grotto, looking out the vast landscape, you can see that a mighty mountainous and waterways are covering the limitless land. If moving further 4 kilometers, there comes “Fairy Stream”, a pure mirror-like stream where you can even see through to the stream-bed to contemplate flocks of fish swimming and looming in the moss layers. It is said in a fairy tale that fairies used to land on here to swim, thus it was named “Fairy Stream”.
Now turning in the opposite position, you will soon reach Bich Dong pagoda, which is situated at the grandiose Ngu Nhac Mountain. The Pagoda is divided into three levels: Ha Pagoda (lower pagoda), Trung Pagoda (middle pagoda), and Thuong Pagoda (upper pagoda). On the mountain peak stands the statue of a scholar Mandarin looking at the horizon with the hope of viewing the spectacular landscapes of Hoa Lu. Visiting Bich Dong grotto, tourists have a great chance to turn back to the Post Le Dynasty’s legends.
From the upper pagoda, one has the most magnificent view of Bich Dong, which is romantically charming in terms of architecture and history. The location for this pagoda was chosen in 1428 after two monks were charmed by the view of the river and the mountains. Later, King Le Canh Hung wrote a poem in honour of the beautiful pagoda and landscape.
Bich Dong means “Green Grotto” or “Pearl Grotto”, which reveals its magnificient natural beauties. Colors, shapes, and sounds of the shining stalactites converges in such a captivating miracle that no one could refuse to touch, knock and contemplate them in deed. Honorably, amongst the most fascinating caves in Vietnam, “Fairy Grotto”, part of Bich Dong, is regarded as an “Elysium on Earth”.
"Surrounding mountains full of water during 4 seasons,
Rattan boat lightly drifting,
Covered with mist and clouds, is Pagoda landscape”
are beautiful lines of verse offered to Bich Dong pagoda grotto, a rare natural work of Art.
”Sun Valley” – attractive ecological tourism
Here comes the final destination in your meaningful waterway journey – “Sun Valley” (Thung Nắng), an ideal ecological tourism spot for lovers of nature. Inside the valley, there is an ancient limestone temple with rock-style architecture shown in delicate carvings. Visiting this valley, you can relax in your small boat, with sun-bathing and sun playing in a quiet and pure atmosphere.
“Marvellous landscape, considerate service!”, said Ms Mery Luit, a German tourist, “if possible, I will soon come back to Tam Coc-Bich Dong”.
- Taking a boat journey to: Tam Coc (from Van Lam Wharf on Ngo Dong River), Crossing Thuy Dong (through Ngu Nhac Sown Mountain range), Thach Bich-Thung Nang, Thung Nham-Vuon Chim, Linh Coc-Hai Nham, etc.
- Walking and mountain climbing: Bich Dong Mount and Pagoda, Tien Grotto, Thien Huong Grotto, Co Vien Lau ancient houses