I visited both Tam Coc and Trang An on the same day, so I could do a good comparison between the two. If you do not have the luxury of time and do have to make a decision, choose Trang An. Plus, if you are doing a day-trip from Hanoi, it is closer - right?
Trang An was extremely beautiful. A great sight, blissful and pretty much undisturbed by tourists. The pictures can do the rest of the talking.
I visited Trang An at 3pm, where there were little tourists around, so that could be one of the reasons why I preferred it so much more than Tam Coc, which I visited in the morning. It was a 3.5-hour long boat ride, where the boat lady dropped us off at several sites for temple visits etc. throughout the entire area voluntarily. The entire boat ride was extremely peaceful and we saw only about half a dozen other boats throughout the entire ride. There were no tourist traps around, the lady who sailed our boat was extremely polite and did not even ask for a tip at the end of the ride - though of course, you'd be more than happy to tip her at the end of it.
The only "minus point" for this trip was that they require the boat to be filled to the capacity of 6 before sailing off, so the two of us were joined by 4 other domestic Vietnamese tourists. We weren't able to communicate with them but they were polite enough to not be rowdy or too loud so the entire journey was still extremely pleasant.
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