Bich Dong Pagoda in Tam Coc, Vietnam is a gorgeous 300 year old three-tiered cave Pagoda complex. You must pass through a Dark Cave to reach the highest-tier.
We like Bich Dong Pagoda because not only is it a piece of cake to get to as well as free to enter, but the entire complex itself is absolutely stunning.
Plus, there’s a bonus area that not many people know about…
If you are planning to visit North or Central Vietnam, be sure to spend some time in Tam Coc.
Our guide features a complete walkthrough to all three sections of the Bich Dong Pagoda in Tam Coc. We will show you everything you need to know, including:
- How to get to Bich Dong Pagoda
- Parking and vehicle tips
- Bich Dong Pagoda history
- How to get to all 3 tiers of the Pagoda
- Where to stay in Tam Coc
- Tips for visiting
Now, let’s explore the Bich Dong Pagoda!
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Where Is Bich Dong Pagoda In Tam Coc?
Address: 6W99+C23, Ninh Hải, Hoa Lư, Ninh Bình 430000, Vietnam
Use our interactive map above to zoom in and get acquainted with the surrounding area. You can also click the blue arrow if you want directions from your exact location.
How To Get To Bich Dong Pagoda In Tam Coc
You have a few options when it comes to getting to the Bich Dong Pagoda.
The cheapest and easiest way to visit Bich Dong Pagoda is to hire a motorbike or bicycle and make your own way over. You can pick up a scooter for 100,000-150,000 VND (about US$ 4-6) per day.
Fuel for a full day will set you back no more than US$ 3. Alternatively, you can rent a bicycle for 50,000 VND (US$ 2) for a day. Many hotels even offer free use of bicycles in Tam Coc.
If you enjoy cycling or haven’t yet mastered the art of driving a motorbike in Vietnam, definitely go with the bicycle. Bich Dong is just a few kilometers away and the journey is extremely scenic.
We used a bicycle to get to Bich Dong and it was an amazing ride.
Alternative Transport Options To Bich Dong:
If you don’t want to rent a motorcycle or bicycle, you have a few additional transport options:
1). Grab a local taxi in Tam Coc town and be sure to negotiate a price.
2). Ask your hotel owner if they can offer a guided tour or know someone who can.
3). Day trip down from Hanoi independently or through a tour.
Bich Dong Pagoda is convenient to access by bicycle or motorbike from Tam Coc downtown or from Ninh Binh train station if you plan to take a day trip from Hanoi.
On the interactive map below, we have included directions from Tam Coc as our recommended place to set up base.
We also included the Ninh Binh train station in our transport options. As you can see, it’s just a case of driving into Tam Coc before continuing onto the Pagoda.
The roads have fairly good surfaces and you might even spot some animals along the way.
Click on the map below to zoom and move around to understand your route. Save ‘Bich Dong Pagoda‘ into Google Maps when you have Wifi before setting off just in case.
The distance to the Bich Dong Pagoda is 1.9 miles (3.0km) from Tam Coc and 5.6 miles (9.0km) from Ninh Binh station.
How To Get To Tam Coc, Vietnam
There are two ways you can get to Tam Coc:
- Independent visit
- Booking a tour
We will discuss both options below to help you decide how you want to experience this gorgeous part of Vietnam.
Getting To Ninh Binh Independently
If you plan to travel independently from Hanoi for just the day, once you arrive at Ninh Binh train station, hire a motorbike right outside for roughly 150,000 VND (US$ 6) and follow our map to Bich Dong Pagoda.
But if Ninh Binh or Tam Coc is the next stop on your Vietnam adventure, you can either bus or train to Ninh Binh. Then grab a taxi to Tam Coc or alternatively, book a direct bus to Tam Coc.
We hopped on a bus direct from Halong Bay to Tam Coc. There are no airports close by so travel by plane isn’t an option.
Use 12Go Asia here to check the best available options for travel. You will find the cheapest and quickest options are typically by bus or train.
Interested about the Vietnam Sleeper Bus? Don’t miss our legendary guide to taking the sleeper bus in Vietnam.
Best Tour Options For Bich Dong Pagoda
You can calso travel from Hanoi to Ninh Binh as part of a full day organized tour. Transport covering hotel pick up and drop off in Hanoi is of course part of these tour options.
There are many excellently valued options that include entrance fees to Bich Dong Pagoda (free), Mua Cave viewpoint, Hoa Lu ancient capital, Bai Dinh Pagoda and Trang An Boat Tour.
Here are popular tour options for visiting Bich Dong Pagoda in Ninh Binh:
- Private Day Tour From Hanoi – This private day tour will show you the highlights of the Ninh Binh Province including the panoramic view from Mua Cave, a boat ride on beautiful river and a to visit Bich Dong Pagoda as you bike through Tam Coc’s stunning surroundings.
- Ninh Binh Daily Tour – This tour features various parts of Ninh Binh such as the ancient Dinh King temple in the Hoa Lu Capital, Am Tien Cave in Tuyet Tinh Coc, a sampan boat trip on Ngo Dong River, Bich Dong Pagoda and a Vietnamese lunch.
- Thung Nham Bird Park – Bird lovers this is an option for you! This tour starts with Hoa Lu ancient capital, makes a stop at Tuyet tinh coc (a natural green lake), continues with a Sampan boat ride and ends with a visit to Bich Dong Pagoda.
Parking Can Be Tricky
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 even been known to walk in the middle of the road so you can not 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 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
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 really 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.
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.
Entrance To The Bich Dong Pagoda
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.
A narrow stone path with an arched bridge 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.
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.
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.
For now, head over the bridge and through the mysterious ancient looking gate. Remember the best part, entrance is free.
Bich Dong Tier 1: Ha Pagoda
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.
The Pagoda at ground level is known as Tier 1 and this Buddhist shrine is called Ha Pagoda. Inside you will see and smell incense.
These candles help to create a sacred atmosphere around various statues of Buddha. Candles are meant to evoke a state of impermanence or change while the light symbolizes the enlightenment of Buddha.
Ha Pagoda contains statues with 5 rooms as well as a two story roof. Take a moment to appreciate the wooden architecture with tiled roofs that have four upturned corners.
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 transformed into the three tiers were see today by two Buddhist Monks known as Tri Kien and Tri The.
We can agree they certainly picked the perfect place to build their Pagoda.
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.
Bich Dong Tier 2: Trung Pagoda
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.
Trung Pagoda is a small two story wooden temple adorned with Chinese symbols painted yellow. Behind the structure, there are more symbols carved in to the rock face.
This building has a two story roof with a forecourt as well as 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.
Inside the cave, it is 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.
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 and Van Thu Bodhisattva.
Bich Dong Tier 3: Thuong Pagoda
To get to the third and final Pagoda, you will have to pass through 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 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.
Heading to Vietnam? Be sure to read our 30 things to know about Vietnam before you visit.
Bonus Area At Tam Coc Bich Dong Pagoda
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.
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!
Descend Into The Valley
Count how many tourists you can spot down in the valley, our guess is you can count on one hand. This place was much quieter than the 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 (US$ 0.4) he will give you a 20 minute guided tour of a tiny cave just a few minutes walk from this house.
If you’re thinking whoa, that sounds a bit sketch, this is exactly what we thought too!
We probably wouldn’t have gone in, but another couple came over the ridge about 10 minutes after we did and they asked us if we knew what the guy was saying.
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…
An Unexpected Cave Tour
The entrance makes it look like we were all walking ourselves to a certain death, right?! 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.
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.
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.
Where To Stay In Tam Coc, Vietnam
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’ve scoured the area for amazing properties across budget, mid-range and luxury options and listed the best of each for you to check out.
Tam Coc Sunrise Homestay (Budget)
Located downtown close to restaurants and Tam Coc boat tour pier, this budget hotel has a swimming pool, breakfast included and an exceptional 9.6 on booking.com.
Tam Coc Wonderland Bungalow (Mid-Range)
Views over rice paddies to the front and limestone karsts directly behind from the swimming pool at Tam Coc Wonderland Bungalow make it worth staying alone.
This bungalow is located perfectly just a few minutes walk out of Tam Coc town. Meaning you get a rural setting with amenities close by.
Each bungalow faces in towards a brick courtyard and the pool as its centerpiece.
Tam Coc Garden Resort (Luxury)
Perfectly located for a luxurious and peaceful stay in Ninh Binh, close to Bich Dong Pagoda and Tam Coc. Tam Coc Garden Resort was voted 2019 travelers choice on TripAdvisor and has a 9.4 on booking.com.
The hotel is surrounded by paddy fields and looks wonderfully serene.
Where Did We Stay In Tam Coc?
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.
The owners were lovely and the hotel price included a buffet breakfast each morning.
We were able to hire bicycles and a motorbike directly at the hotel for a better price than it cost in town, which was a nice touch.
Plus, there are fantastic views from the upper balcony over nearby limestone karsts. We paid $US 10 per night when we stayed which was perfect for our budget at the time.
Tam Coc Restaurant Recommendation
On the bike journey back to Tam Coc after Bich Dong Pagoda, you have to stop at Chookies Beer Garden.
Chookies was one of our favorites restaurant from our time in Vietnam due to the relaxed and chilled vibes. There is a great atmosphere here and it can be a great spot to meet like minded people.
Our favorite dish was the incredible pizzas, done properly in a wood burning oven.
Tips For Your Visit To Bich Dong Pagoda
- There are no set opening hours for Bich Dong and you can arrive any time of the day. But try visiting early in the morning near sunrise as it will be much less crowded.
- Remember entrance to the Bich Dong Pagoda is completely free, but you will have to pay for parking.
- As we mentioned earlier, don’t let the locals take advantage and scare you while parking. Expect to pay about 10,000 VND for parking your vehicle.
- Be aware that the tour buses will begin to arrive at around 9:00am. Either arrive earlier or later in the afternoon to avoid competing for photo space. (see photo above)
- Wear sturdy footwear. We wish we had worn sturdier footwear to explore the valley in the bonus area a bit better.
- Take as much water as you can comfortably fit into your day pack. You will need it! And be careful with exhaustion in the humidity. Even if you’re fit, you will still feel it on the climbs.
FAQ’s For Bich Dong Pagoda
Let’s take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the Tam Coc Bich Dong Pagoda.
The best way to visit the Bich Dong Pagoda is through a tour group or on your own via motorcycle and bicycle.
There are plenty of hotels near the Bich Dong Pagoda in the town of Tam Coc. Popular hotels include Tam Coc Sunrise Homestay, Tam Coc Wonderland Bungalow and Tam Coc Garden Resort.
The Bich Dong Pagoda does not have official opening hours and you can visit any time of day.
Bich Dong Pagoda was originally built in 1428, but then in 1705, two Buddhist monks transformed the Pagoda into the three tiers we see today.
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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 Tam Coc in the comments below.
Mark and Kristen
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