Vietnam’s first capital was Hoa Lu. Visit the temples dedicated to Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang of the Dinh Dynasty (968-80), and Emperor Le Dai Hanh of the Le Dynasty (980-1009). The ancient Hoa Lu Citadel – most of which has since been destroyed – once covered an area of three square kilometers. If time permits after visiting Hoa Lu (for the fit and healthy), take a half-hour walk up one of the surrounding limestone karst hills, the climb is rewarding with spectacular views.
In the late morning depart for Tam Coc Town for a Vietnamese lunch, along the way stop where you wish to take pictures of local villages and the stunning landscape. After lunch board your private sampan, as the boat gently slices through the water, enormous limestone karsts jut out from the green rice fields giving rise to the regions alternative name: ‘Halong on Land‘.
Alternatively, situated near Tam Coc is Trang An – a nature reserve similar to Tam Coc however less visited. Limestone hills surround a peaceful river which passes through a series of caves (one which takes 15-minutes to pass through in darkness). An ‘eco tourism’ area, the only interruptions here are the sound of birds and the gentle paddle of the oar upon the crystal clear river.