How To Visit Bich Dong Pagoda In Tam Coc


Where Are Those Morgans Bich Dong Pagoda

The Bich Dong Pagoda is a 500 year old three-tiered cave complex in Tam Coc, Vietnam. It’s interesting to visit because you must pass through a dark cave in order to reach the highest-tier of the pagoda.

In this guide, we are going to show you everything you need to know about the Bich Dong Pagoda.

Our Bich Dong Experience

Man on a bike in a field surrounded by limestone karsts
Mark making his way to Bich Dong Pagoda on a bicycle

We spent 27 days traveling through Vietnam in October 2018 as part of our 18 month trip around the world. During this trip, we stayed for three nights in the Ninh Binh region and explored the Bich Dong Pagoda. Read more about us.

To make planning easy for you, we’re going to walk you through how to get to Bich Dong Pagoda, what to see in each of the three tiers and tips for visit based on our own personal experiences.

How To Get To Bich Dong Pagoda

Use the map below for directions to Bich Dong Pagoda from Tam Coc and Ninh Binh.

  • Address: 6W99+C23, Ninh Hải, Hoa Lư, Ninh Bình 430000, Vietnam
  • Location: Google Maps

The Bich Dong Pagoda is located within the Ninh Binh Province of Vietnam just 2 miles from the quaint rural town of Tam Coc, which makes it easily accessible by bicycle or motorbike. It’s also within 6 miles of Ninh Binh train station if you plan to take a day trip from Hanoi. We cycled our bikes from Tam Coc to Bich Dong because it was so close.

Tam Coc is a wonderful rural town with plenty of things to do including visiting Bich Dong as well as experiencing a Trang An Boat Tour and our personal favorite, the Mua Cave Viewpoint.

You can pick up a scooter for 100,000-150,000 VND ($ 4-6) per day. Fuel for a full day will set you back no more than $3. Alternatively, you can rent a bicycle for 50,000 VND ($2) for a day. Many hotels even offer free use of bicycles in Tam Coc.

Getting To Ninh Binh Independently

Woman cycling to Bich Dong Pagoda along a quiet road
Kristen peddling her way to Bich Dong Pagoda

Are you planning to travel independently to Ninh Binh? Once you arrive at Ninh Binh train station, hire a motorbike right outside for roughly 150,000 VND ($6) and follow our map to Bich Dong Pagoda.

There are no airports close by so travel by plane isn’t an option. But you can take a bus from Hanoi and many other popular spots on the typical Vietnam tourist trail. We took a bus directly from Halong Bay to Tam Coc.

Use 12Go Asia to check the best available options for travel. You’ll find the cheapest and quickest options are typically by bus or train.

Further Reading: Vietnam Sleeper Bus survival guide

Best Tours From Hanoi

Views of limestone rocks and a green lake near Tam Coc
Stunning scenery on our way to Bich Dong Pagoda in Tam Coc

You can also travel from Hanoi to Ninh Binh as part of a full day organized tour. Transport with hotel pick up and drop off in Hanoi is included in these tour options.

Depending on the tour you choose, entrance fees to Bich Dong Pagoda, Mua Cave viewpoint, Hoa Lu ancient capital, Bai Dinh Pagoda and Trang An Boat tour may already be included.

Here are top rated tours from Hanoi to Bich Dong:

  • Ninh Binh Daily Tour – This tour features the ancient Hoa Lu Capital, Am Tien Cave, a sampan boat trip on Ngo Dong River, Tuyet Tinh Coc, Bich Dong Pagoda and a Vietnamese lunch.
  • Cycling Day Tour – Discover a stunning world heritage area on this cycling tour to Bich Dong Pagoda and the Trang An Grottoes.
  • Luxury 1 day tour – After being picked up in the Old Quarter, you will travel to the stunning Ninh Binh Province including Mua Caves, Tam Coc and Bich Dong Pagoda.

Or check out these combination tours:

Travel Tip: Be sure to read the full descriptions and reviews of each tour to make sure it includes everything you want to see.

Parking Scams

The bike parking area at Bich Dong Pagoda in Tam Coc
Parking area at Bich Dong Pagoda

When you travel to Vietnam, you are going to be on the receiving end of some attempted scams. Unfortunately, as tourism grows in this country, so do the hustlers. 

In Tam Coc or Ninh Binh, one of the common scams is to coerce you into paying over the odds for parking your bicycle or motorbike.

As you approach the parking area in front of the bridge, locals will demand that you pay to park your vehicle. They might even be dressed in what looks like police uniforms and blowing loud whistles at you. They have also been known to walk in the middle of the road so you can’t drive past.

This can be a little overwhelming at first. It will seem like such an unnecessary dramatic production. The good news is you will get used to it the longer you stay in Vietnam. But at Bich Dong Pagoda, don’t let them swindle you. You should pay about 10,000 VND ($0.41) to park your bike or moped.

The problem here isn’t the amount of money they demand you to pay, it’s the hostile environment created. If the locals don’t agree with how much money you paid, there might be consequences.

Take A Few Precautions

Two bikes parked in a shed at the entrance to Bich Dong pagoda
Our bicycles parked and locked at the Bich Dong Pagoda

Although it didn’t happen to us, we ran into others who had their bikes or mopeds tampered with. For example, one couple had their moped tires punctured and another group had their bikes scratched quite badly.

Our advice here is to trust your gut. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving your bike or moped, please listen to your instinct. We don’t want to scare you, but we do want you to be prepared.

The poor couple who had their tires popped, ended up missing their bus later that day so our goal is to help you avoid a bad situation. Have a look at the latest comments on Tripadvisor to gauge the current situation.

It’s also important to note, you can enter the Bich Dong Pagoda for free so don’t let anyone try to tell you that you have to pay for a ticket.

Travel Tip: Take a photo of your bike or motorcycle once you have parked. This way you will have proof if anything happens to your vehicle in the parking lot.

6 Best Things To Do At Bich Dong Pagoda

Two motorbikes parked in front of trees in Tam Coc vietnam
Our motorbike parked along the street in Tam Coc, Vietnam

Now that the drama is out of the way, let’s move on to the reason you are here.

Bich Dong Pagoda has a beautiful entrance with 3 main tiers known as Ha, Trung, and Thuong. Even if you are short on time, you should prioritize visiting all three tiers of the complex.

There is a lot to see which is why we wanted to break down the main highlights for you. This way you won’t miss anything during your visit. We’ve also included numerous photos to help you understand the area prior to visiting.

1. Main Entrance

Woman sitting on the bridge in front of Bich Dong pagoda entrance Tam Coc
Kristen sitting in front of the Bich Dong Pagoda

When you first arrive, you will notice a small narrow stone path with an arched bridge that dissects a lake filled with thousands of floating lotus flowers. The bridge leads you to a stunning triple arched ancient looking entrance gate, adorned with typical Asian patterns and architecture.

Man walking into Bich Dong pagoda entrance gate in Tam Coc
Mark walking into the entrance of the Bich Dong Pagoda

If you visit in summer, you will be lucky enough to see the lotus in bloom, making the entrance spectacle even more beautiful. This is one of the most photogenic parts of the whole complex so be sure to grab some shots here. If it’s busy, wait a few moments for people to leave.

Overhanging draping tree branches at entrance to Bich Dong
A shaded section at Bich Dong Pagoda

To the left of the entrance gate, you will see a small area enveloped by needle thin branches hanging down from a huge tree. This is another excellent spot for photography. You might be tempted to walk along the lake but don’t do that just yet, we will come back to that later.

Tam Coc Bich Dong entrance gate with lotus pond
Lotus flowers surrounding the entrance to the Bich Dong Pagoda

For now, head over the bridge and through the mysterious ancient looking gate. There is no entrance fee for the Bich Dong Pagoda and all you’ll have to worry about is the small parking fee when you first arrive.

Beautiful stone statues on the grounds of Bich Dong
The beautiful ground level of the Bich Dong Pagoda

2. Ha Pagoda Tier 1

It would be easy to make a beeline straight for the stairs up to the second tier pagoda, but if you have time, relax and explore the terrace on the ground level.

Stone statue of a lion in prone position gardens of Bich Dong
Lion resting at Tier 1 of the pagoda

The pagoda at ground level is the first tier and this Buddhist shrine is known as Ha Pagoda. You will most likely find incense burning inside this structure.

Incense is meant to create a sacred atmosphere around various statues of Buddha. Candles also help to evoke a state of impermanence or change while the light symbolizes the enlightenment of Buddha.

The Ha Pagoda is quite large. It contains numerous statues spanning an impressive 5 rooms and a two story roof. Take a moment to appreciate the wooden architecture with tiled roofs that have four upturned corners.

Sign showing impolite visitors to Bich Dong pagoda are not welcome
Sign depicting appropriate behavior at the Pagoda

Bich Dong Pagoda was originally built in 1428 as a small temple right on the edge of Ngu Nhac Mountain. Then in 1705, the temple was expanded into the three tiers we now see today by two Buddhist Monks known as Tri Kien and Tri The.

We can agree the monks picked the perfect place to build their pagoda.

Stunning black butterfly on a red flower at Bich Dong Tam Coc
Butterfly on a flower at the Bich Dong Pagoda in Ninh Binh

On the ground level, take the time to escape the big groups of tourists. Wander around the garden and take in all the beautiful plants. Don’t forget to admire some of the stone statues. Hopefully, you will even grab a few photos of butterflies.

Trung Pagoda tier 2 at Bich Dong pagoda in Tam Coc buddhist shrine
Exterior views of Trung Pagoda

3. Trung Pagoda Tier 2

When you have finished at tier 1, look for a stone staircase to your immediate left. This leads up the side of the limestone karst called Ngu Nhac Mountain.

After 120 stairs you will arrive Trung Pagoda, the second of three tiers making up the Bich Dong Pagoda. There are two sections of Trung Pagoda with one located outside and the other inside the cave.

Woman stood at the side of Trung Pagoda about to enter a tight space into the cave
Kristen admiring Trung Pagoda

Trung Pagoda is a small two story wooden temple adorned with Chinese symbols painted yellow. Behind the structure, there are more symbols carved into the rock face.

This building has a two story roof with a forecourt and an upper temple with three additional rooms. Take some time to admire this unique traditional Vietnamese architecture.

Once you have looked inside, move around to the left side of the building as you face it. There is a narrow gap for you to squeeze through and enter the first part of the cave.

A large bronze bell with engravings inside Bich Dong cave
A bronze bell inside the cave near Trung Pagoda

Inside the cave, it’s quite dark but the space opens up to be bigger than you would imagine. The back of Trung Pagoda juts out into the cave creating a mysterious cavern.

You will also notice a bronze bell in a position of prominence. The bell has intricate engravings if you look closely enough.

Buddha statues with four columns and roof inside Bich Dong pagoda Tam Coc
Statues inside the Trung Pagoda

There are more stairs to climb in the cave which take you to the second part of Trung Pagoda. Look out for the three stone statues of Buddha:

  • Amitabha Buddha
  • Thi Kinh Buddha
  • Van Thu Bodhisattva
View of the lake and limestone mountains in the third tier of Bich Dong
Stunning scenery awaits you at the top

4. Thuong Pagoda Tier 3

To get to the third and final pagoda, you will have to pass through a dark cave and summit about 40 additional steps.

When you come out of the cave, you will be welcomed with a lovely view over part of the entrance and more limestone karsts. This is the perfect place to shoot a few more photos and take a breather.

Just a few more steps will take you to the summit and final third tier called Thuong Pagoda. There are two shrines on either side of the pagoda, but the views are no better than they were just as you left the cave.

You will enter two vertical rooms designed to look like a house as well as a forecourt. In the outer room, you will come across a stone altar and you will see a statue of Bodhisattva in the inner room.

Main entrance to Bich Dong pagoda from the right side of the lotus lake
Bich Dong Pagoda in Tam Coc, Vietnam

5. The Bonus Area

Make your way slowly back to the entrance. Visit anywhere you haven’t been yet and take any photos you may have missed. Once you arrive back to the narrow path through the lake, turn left at the end but hug the lake as though you are going to look at the lotus from a side profile.

A narrow path on the Bich Dong grounds wall with a bicycle parked to the left
Small stone path next to the Pagoda

When you turn left at the end of the lake, keep hugging the lake to your left hand side. You will see a narrow path with concrete steps and the outer perimeter walls of the pagoda grounds will still be on your left side.

Follow this path for a short time up some more stairs, we are sorry but trust us, it’s worth the extra effort. You will eventually reach a mini summit at the top of the steps. And just look at the view it opens out onto…

View of a secluded valley next to Bich Dong Pagoda
The views get even better as you explore the area

This section was much quieter than the pagoda. We only saw one other couple when we visited this section of Bich Dong.

Solitary house in valley next to Bich Dong
Solitary house near Bich Dong Pagoda

As you descend into the beautifully tranquil and deep green valley, you will notice a solitary house. Once you make a little noise around the general area, the owner of the house will appear and begin to speak to you.

Do not panic. We like to call him the unofficial cave tour guide. For 10,000 VND ($0.41) he will give you a 20 minute guided tour of a tiny cave just a few minutes walk from this house.

Man with other tourists walking through field to cave
Our group walking to the small cave for a tour

If you’re thinking whoa, that sounds a bit sketch, this is exactly what we thought too. In hindsight, we probably wouldn’t have gone in but it makes for a great travel story.

Another couple came over the ridge about 10 minutes after we did and they asked us if we knew what the guy was saying because he was only speaking Vietnamese.

Between the 4 of us, we soon worked out what he meant. A few minutes later a third couple emerged over the mini summit and so the 6 of us followed the guy to his cave.

6. An Unexpected Cave Tour

Tiny blocked off entrance to a cave off the beaten path
Entrance to the cave

The entrance makes it look like we were all walking ourselves to a certain death. On the contrary, the tour was brilliant. And so very strange. Inside, the cave was pitch black. There were no artificial lights at all, just the tour guides torch.

He began to explain various parts of the cave while throwing his torch light around, illuminating various stalactites and stalagmites.

The path leading out of a tiny entrance of the cave with a light at end of tunnel
The entrance from within the cave

Our tour was great, but he didn’t speak a single word of English. He was talking quicker than a machine gun fires. Since none of us spoke Vietnamese, we could only admire the beauty of the cave.

Looking back on it, we probably shouldn’t have entered the cave. But the guy was so enthusiastic and it sounded like he was very knowledgeable about the cave. When our personal tour was over, we all breathed a sigh of relief as we stepped into daylight.

Woman sitting on a wooden dock overlooking a green lake
Kristen taking in the beauty of rural Vietnam

Besides the questionable cave tour, there are various spots to take photos in this peaceful valley. It’s a true hidden gem. And it’s completely hidden in plain sight. Make the most of the solitude out here, sit on the wooden dock and check out the wooden red boat.

Red boat in a shallow lake surrounded by green vegetation at Bich Dong in Tam Coc
Small wooden boat near Bich Dong Pagoda

After you’ve snapped enough photos, make your way back to the main entrance. That’s the end of your visit the Bich Dong Pagoda. Keep reading for our restaurant recommendation.

Tam Coc Recommendations

View from dream hotel balcony in Tam Coc
View from our balcony in Tam Coc

If you have a few days to spend in Ninh Binh, stay in Tam Coc. Forget the big industrial city Ninh Binh, you will be massively underwhelmed. Tam Coc is a gorgeous rural town perfectly located among all the best things to do in Ninh Binh.

We stayed at a small budget place called Tam Coc Dream Homestay. It’s centrally located in Tam Coc just a few minutes walk from the strip of restaurants and Tam Coc boat dock.

>> Book Tam Coc Dream Homestay

Here are a few more top rated hotel options for the region:

On the bike journey back to Tam Coc after Bich Dong Pagoda, you have to stop at Chookies Beer Garden.

Chookies pepperoni pizza pie
Our pepperoni pizza from Chookies Beer Garden

Chookies was one of our favorite restaurants from our time in Vietnam due to the relaxed and chilled vibes. There is a great atmosphere here and it’s the perfect spot to meet like minded people.

Our favorite dish was the incredible pizzas done properly in a wood burning oven, but they also have an extensive Vietnamese menu.

Tips For Visiting Bich Dong Pagoda

Tour group from bus entering Bich Dong pagoda in Tam Coc
Long line of visitors at the Bich Dong Pagoda in Vietnam

We’ve covered everything you need to know in this Bich Dong guide, but here are a few tips to consider for your visit:

  • There are no set opening hours for Bich Dong. You can arrive any time of the day, but try to visit early in the morning close to sunrise as it won’t be as crowded.
  • Entrance to the Bich Dong Pagoda is completely free. But you will have to pay a small fee for parking.
  • Don’t let the locals scam you for admission and parking. Expect to pay about 10,000 VND for parking your vehicle and there is no fee for entry.
  • Tour buses will begin to arrive at around 9:00am. Either arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid competing for photo space.
  • Wear sturdy footwear to climb the steps inside the pagoda. Our Birkenstocks were okay, but sneakers would have been a better option.
  • Be sure to bring extra water. Don’t underestimate the heat and humidity, especially if you bike to Bich Dong.
  • Wear appropriate attire or bring a sarong. This is a place of worship and we regretted not covering up properly.

In Conclusion

Beautiful lotus flowers in lake in front of towering limestone rocks
Lotus flowers and limestone karsts in rural Vietnam

So is it worth visiting the Tam Coc Bich Dong Pagoda?

Yes! According to TripAdvisor, Bich Dong is the fifth best thing to do in Ninh Binh after Mua Caves and the Trang An Grottoes. We agree with this rating and always recommend this historical site for a Vietnam itinerary. What we enjoyed most about Bich Dong was the uniqueness of the pagodas because they are built directly into the mountain.

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We hope our guide to the Bich Dong Pagoda helps you plan your visit to Tam Coc in Vietnam!

Please let us know if you have any questions about the Bich Dong Pagoda or traveling through Vietnam in the comments below.

Happy Travels,

Mark and Kristen

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