One night in Hanoi before leaving for Ninh Binh the following morning. We came all the way to Vietnam to eat pho and listen to…Mexican ranchera music?
Claudia models the flashpacker look: big backpack on the back and smaller daypack on the front. We bought our train tickets online ahead of time, but when we got to the station, we couldn’t explain the situation to the lady behind the counter. We thought we were going to have to pay for new tickets, but then they mysteriously printed out. This train departs at 6 AM; good thing they sell Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk (the best!) on board. A plastic cupful costs 15,000 dong, or about 60 cents.
From the Ninh Binh train station, we took a taxi to the nearby town of Tam Coc, where we had booked a room at the Chez Loan Hotel, owned by a Vietnamese-French couple. I had written to them in a combination of English and French to make our reservation, so when we got there, they spoke to us in French. Claudia encouraged me to dust off my old French vocabulary, which had been stowed away in the back of my mind for some time. I was sheepish at first, but spoke to them almost exclusively in French during our stay. The hotel was pretty empty when we got there, so they upgraded us to a penthouse suite. The only problem was the shower wasn’t working properly, so we had to sneak across the hall to shower in an unoccupied room.
Room with a view indeed!
We borrowed bicycles from the hotel and cruised through the rice fields.
The main activity in this quiet town is to take a boat ride down the river. They call this area “Halong Bay on land” because of its karst landscape.
We had considered going to Halong Bay but came here instead based on the recommendation of my friend Matt. We were glad we did.
Our boat rower picked these giant lotus leaves for us to wear as hats. Almost all the rowers are women.
Duck! We paddled through a couple of caves on the route. Believe it or not, this is not the last cave you will hear about on this blog. We named our trip “Waterfalls, Caves, and Temples: Claudia and Rachel’s Adventure in Southeast Asia.”
Bich Dong pagoda. The temple is unspectacular, especially if you’ve just come through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia…yeah, pretty much anywhere. Guess what? There is a cave here, too.
That view never gets old.
The boatyard in “downtown” Tam Coc
A few minutes before I took this picture, some of the boys you see in the boat were walking past, and one said something to us in Vietnamese that was clearly obscene. I’m pretty sure it was the one diving off the end of the boat. He must think he’s the class clown. Sometimes even though you don’t speak a word of the same language, you still know exactly what the person means. I gave him a good look at my mean teacher face, which came out as an involuntary reflex.
The second day, we climbed up the 450 steps of Hang Mua. There are caves here, too, and I think one other place we went, but oy, it’s enough already. Claudia zipped along at her usual New York speed walk pace, while I dragged behind her at my usual “Bohbie Jr.” pace.
Watch your step! The goat poop is plentiful.
My version of Matt’s photo
One more boat ride on a different part of the river. If I were a rower, I’d definitely paddle with my feet. Ninh Binh is a great alternative to Halong Bay for those who don’t like crowds and want to take it easy in the countryside.