Day 119 , Wednesday 02 May, 2012, Tam Coc.
I was put in a new room last night, pretty crap really, TV doesn’t work, bed squeaks really badly and internet is painfully slow, if I can connect at all. There is also no window, reasonably common in some places, but first one time in Vietnam.
I awoke with some trepidation as today I am going to do another tour and after the disappointment of Ha Long Bay I am worried it is going to be another long and tiresome day, at least it is only the one day.
I was picked up late, which is never a great start for me, and I will say pretty unusual for Vietnam, in my experience things generally happen on time. I jumped on the mini-bus to find I was the only westerner and my immediate thought was Oh shit, here we go again ! we did pick up an American girl at another hotel, and once full we were off.
The tour goes to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc. Hoa Lu was the first capital of Vietnam under the Dinh dynasty from 968 – 980 and the Li dynasties from 980 – 1009. The capital was then moved to Hanoi. Tam Coc is known as Ha Long Bay on rice paddies. Both sounded interesting.
Level crossing Hanoi styles, spot the odd person out !
First stop, of course, was a cafe/souvenir shop half way along the four hour drive to Hoa Lu. I started talking cameras with the guy next to me in the cafe and he was in a group of three couples from Miri in Malaysian Borneo (and I place I much enoyed !), like many Malay Chinese they all had great English and were interested to know I had been to their home town. I hung with them for the rest of the day, so yay – I had some tour buddies ! This is obviously no fake !
All along the highway outside of Hanoi there are miles of paddy fields, the area between the Red River and the sea is very productive. A lot of communities and families have rice paddies, vegetable gardens and often a large pond full of fish and ducks, they can be quite self sufficient. Many of the rice paddies will have burial sites in the middle, some quite large and others with just a single grave. Unfortunately I really didn’t get a chance to capture one properly from the bus.
The limestone hills are not going to last long !
Hoa Lu has been pretty much destroyed over the years and there are two key sites left which are the temple sites to the two dynasties, we visited King Dinh first.
Number one son
Next stop was King Li’s temple, though my picture of Mr Li sucked, so it is not here.
I was going to do a bike ride from Hoa Lu to Tam Coc, it is only 12km, but I was the only one who had registered for it, and it was 41.5 degrees outside, yep it sure as hell was hot! I decided to take the bus with the others. Later that night I met some Canadians who had done it the day before (it was only 39 then) and they said the first 500 metres was Ok, then it was gruelling – and the last 7kms were through houses and very dull – he also got sun stroke, so I am glad I chose not to do it.
We had a buffet lunch in Tam Coc, this was the best feed I have had a tour – great variety of foods, and eating with the Malaysians I got to experiment a bit, the goat kebabs were charcoaled though and uneatable – or maybe the goat was tough, not sure. The restaurant sold hats – and believe me, you needed one, it was scorching.
Token bicycle shot…
The afternoons activity was a two hour boat ride through the rice paddies on the Ngo Dong river, we were rowed by a local woman.
As “The Guide” says, it turns into a surreal sales experience, sadly they also demand a tip, which is embarrassing for all. However, the trip was great, quiet and gentle for the most part, there are a huge number of boats, and I can assure you the Vietnamese drive these like they ride motorbikes, no one gives way until the yelling is over…
The river gently meanders through rice paddies, surrounded by magnificent limestone bluffs, with the occasional temple and house along the way. On three occasions we passed through low caves in the lime stone bluffs.
A lot of the men and women row with their feet, which is just amazing to watch, their are also a large number of local photographers, who snap your photo, whether you want it or not and then try to flog you an appalling printed image at the end. This woman was rowing and snapping at the same time, awesome !
After the river we were back on the bus for the ride back to Hanoi. As we were dropping off some of the other guests I recognised the street where my favourite cafe was, so I got dropped off. I found Moom on the first night in Hanoi, and have been unable to find it since, and not through a lack of trying either ! I had a couple of beers and a small pizza with a Canadian couple and a young English t guy, and at nine I wandered back to my hotel for some sleep – the bestest sleep ever !!