We booked this tour through our hotel and paid USD 35( tour guide and lunch included). The tour started at 8 AM with a 2 hour bus ride to the Ninh Binh province. We were informed by the guide that first half of the day will be spent is visiting the ancient capital of Hoa Lu then lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant followed by a 2 hour boat ride on Tam Coc.
The moment you get down at Hoa Lu, you will be attacked by the local people selling all sorts of goods and local photographers who will frame you and then sell the photograph. The sellers are very persistent but you can refuse or bargain and settle for around 1/3 rd the original price.
The Hoa Lu ancient town is set in a naturally beautiful landscape and the sprawling campus make for a good stroll visiting the ruins and ancient temples. This was once the capital of Vietnam. There are two main temples dedicated to King Dinh and King Le. Finished with Hoa Lu we proceeded for buffet lunch which was filling and plentiful.
Post lunch session was the most impressive. We all went to the boat pier which was alongside the restaurant and a boat was allotted to a group of 4 people. Since we were a family of 4 people we got a separate boat and started on a 2 hour cruise along the Tam Coc. The scenery was spectacular as the boat paddled along the winding streams of Tam Coc. Paddy fields all along the stream added to the colour and towering limestone mountains all around added to the grandeur. The boat went beneath some very low caves and some of them very quite long.
Caution Again !! once you reach the turnabout point, sellers appear again selling all kinds of drinks and other stuff. Again they are very persistent and as a last resort insist on buying drinks for your boat driver. You may or may not buy, after waiting for a while the boat starts on its return trip covering the same route. Just after a few minutes again the boat is stopped and now it is the boat driver's turn to try her selling skills. There is box full of items which will be displayed and rates quoted, we are free to buy or politely refuse. After this the boat ride is a smooth one to the pier and now the boat lady will insist on a tip. We paid USD 1 as advised by the tour guide.
The tour ended and we were transported back to the hotel by the tour bus. Overall it was a day well spent and worth every penny and it is an ideal excursion from Hanoi if you have a day to spare.