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Most people head to Ninh Binh to visit Tam Coc. After reading a number of reviews we decided to skip Tam Coc and go to the Trang An Grottoes instead. Good thing we did! This was one of our favourite days on the whole trip.
Our driver picked us up and took us on a scenic country drive to the dock. He arranged our tickets and we hopped into a little wooden boat with another couple. It was a grey day, mid-week and there was only a few boats out when we left. There was still a few dozen boats tied up however, giving a glimpse of how busy it can get on the weekends.
This area is referred to as “inland Ha Long Bay” because it has the same limestone formations. It comes by this name honestly! The two are very different, but at the same time similar in many ways.
We really didn’t know what to expect, other than a few caves. I imagined large caves, similar to the one we visited in Ha Long Bay. Not so much! Some of the caves were so low that even I had to duck to not hit my head on the top (and I’m barely 5′ tall). Our driver was very good at telling us to lean, and in which direction, in order to avoid gashing our heads!
Once we got into the caves I was worried that the girls might get scared, but they loved it. In the areas where it would otherwise be pitch black there are lights so that you can still see the cave around you. It detracts from the ambiance a bit, but it would be total darkness otherwise. And then I guess there would be no ambiance!
Like the Perfume Pagoda, I can’t believe that we rode on these boats with our two little girls and no life jackets!! It seemed like a good idea at the time, and I would probably do it again because it was such a spectacular trip. When I worry about the boat that we were in, I just look at the “boats” the locals use. Ours looks like a jet boat in comparison!
We had a phenomenal morning at Trang An Grottoes and highly recommend adding it to your list if you go to Vietnam.
Tips for visiting Trang An Grottoes with kids:
1. Bring a lifejacket. At the Perfume Pagoda we could always see the riverbank so I felt pretty secure not have anything for the kids. This was a different story. Some of the caves are long and I would have a tough time swimming out, with a child, and then to the riverbank!
2. Arrive early. If you are staying in the area it’s best to arrive before the day-trippers from Hanoi. This will make for a more peaceful and serene experience.
3. Tip your rower. The rowers do not make much money, and as I understand are not entitled to many trips per week. The cost of the tour is minimal. Make up for it with a tip!
4. Wear sun protection. You are in and out of the caves so it’s easy to not heat up too much. This makes it easy to forget that the rest of the time you are on the water and that UV is reflecting right back at you. Sunglasses and sunscreen are a must for the kids and yourself. Hats are important too (I swear the girls usually wore hats!).