If you are planing a day trip to Ninh Binh, and you only have limited time in one day, you might consider to choose visiting Tam Coc or Trang An as it features a boat trip with stunning scenery around with mountain and clear water. I sometimes also get this questions from our guests to advise which to choose for better boat trip in Tam Coc or Trang An. Frankly it’s not always easy to give the advice for this comparison, however there’s some minus advantages/disadvantages which I can bring forward to help you choose the tour.
The scenery and boat trip
Tam Coc has been known for long time ago as ‘Halong bay on land’, the scenery and the boat trip like on small Halong bay. In Trang An, the scenery is also the same but on a larger area of the river (wetland). The boat trip on Tam Coc takes about 2,5 hours and bring you go through 3 caves, going and return on the same waterway — a small river. On Trang An, you go through more caves (7–9 caves), going through caves on return different way and so time on boat is longer about 3,5 hours.
Tam Coc would be much more beautiful during rice fields season — from Mar to June, best time during the yellow rice fields from May to early June. Tourist crowds are usually around 10.00Am till 3.00pm, and so it’s recommended that you take the boat ride in early morning or later afternoon after 4.00pm for Tam Coc. There’s no rice fields in Trang An, but the ecosystem under water, look-through clear water would be a worth. I also suggest if possible you take the boat ride in early morning or late after noon to avoid the crowds. You should also avoid the time from Feb to late Mar when there are many local tourists going to Trang An on a pilgrimage trip.
I also hear some other reasons which said to choose Tam Coc instead of Trang An because Tam Coc is more natural while Trang An is artificial, but I think it’s not true at all. You might see some pagodas along the trip in Trang An, and also some caves needed to construct the way to go inside but generally it’s a natural ecosystem and all the caves are nature and more beautiful than in Tam Coc. Also some people complaint about rowing boat hawkers in Tam Coc keep asking you to buy stuff on her boats, I don’t think this is a hassle too.
You might think of taking boat trip on both Tam Coc and Trang An in 1 day from Hanoi? Yes, it’s possible in one long day trip. You need to go early in the morning and come back late in the evening.
If you want something more natural and tranquility, less of tourist crowds, I would suggest a boat ride on Van Long nature reserve instead.