20 Feb 09
Arrived in the town of Ninh Binh at around 3 in the morning. I ran into a group of Vietname guys that were eating Pho on the street that couldn't speak a lick of english. I gestured that I was looking for a hotel and they pointed me in the right direction. Since the hotel was locked up, I had to buzz the ringer, and luckily I broke a deal with the lady to sleep in a room till 8AM for just $5 then switch to a $15 room.
This morning was overcast with rain off and on. I opted for hiring a motorbke and driver through the hotel to take me through the countryside and to Tam Coc, otherwise known as the "Halong Bay of rice paddies". The countryside was gorgeous. Filled with endless rice paddies and workers. When I arrived in Tam Coc I had to pay 60,000 dong for a spot on a 2 hour boat ride that felt a bit like It's A Small World After all. The guys rowing the boats do it mainly with their feet and there is also an older woman sitting next to you with a small oar. Again, the scenery was incredible, with lush, green rice paddies surrounds by karst limestone mountains. You were even able to see a few goats on the ledges. After Tam Coc my motobike driver took me to the Mua Cave and mountain. It was raining again at this point, but I didn't let it stop me from hiking up the 500 or so steps. Since it was raining we weren't able to go everywhere, but driving back through the countryside we still incredible. This is how I pictured Vietnam and my expectations to the area have been met. I can only imagine how great it must be whgen the weather is sunny! Definitely a recommendation if you travel to Vietnam. STOP HERE!
When I got back to the hotel, Jamie was there by mere coincidence. He had arrived earlier while I was out and had checked in. I guess it was meant to be that we were to continue traveling together, so we made up and I told him what a great day I had and that he should do it tomorrow while I see the other side of town.
Hired another motorbike and driver to take me through the other half of the countryside with a few stops. Our first stop was Hoa Lu Temple. This place was packed with locals since it was the weekend. Here I squeezed my way in to get a peak inside, then I climbed a mountain that had really slippery steps from the rain. It was still pretty cloudy so the view wasn't that great. Next stop was Kenh Ga boat village. Here you are supposed to go on a 2 hour boat ride through the village and rice paddies, but my driver(who didn't speak any english by the way) took me to this guy's house in Kenh Ga. This guy only spoke a few words, so the languege barrier and confusion was still pretty high up there on what I was doing here and what was to happen next. I ended up paying the guy at the house 70,000 dong for an expected boat ride through the village and rice paddies, but got something a bit different and unexpected.We walked down the alley behind his house to where his boat was tied up. We hopped in and rowed about 5 minutes down the river to the opposite side, tied up and jumped off.
He walked me into the Catholic Church and through parts of the village alongside the river. Along the way everyone was saying hi to this guy and looking big eyed at the tall foreigner(me) walking next to him. We stopped at this one shack where there were a group of guys hanging out, smoking, drinking and listening to the radio. The guy( forgot his name so lets call him Taksim) and I sat down inside and he oredered us 2 beers. The other local guys I was sitting next to handed me a bong(metal water pipe) which he loaded with tobaccoand I puffed away. My first tobacco since December 14th. Needless to say it got me very light headed. None of the guys spoke English, but I did show them the pictures on my camera that I took while trekking in Laos and they seemed to like them. Taksim seemed to be like the chief of the village while he was walking me along and through the village. Everyone seemed very friendly towards me and Taksim even took a few photographs for me. It felt great to be the only foreigner walking around with Taksim and saying Hello to all the different locals. The dogs in the village were very protective and looked as if they were gonna take a bite out of my ankle at any second. Even taksim jumped a few times.
After about an hour of walking alongside the village with Taksim, we hopped back on the boat and paddled 10 minutes back to where we started, went back into his house where my motobike driver was waiting, had some very strong tea and smoked a bowl of tobacco. I said my thank yous and goodbyes to Taksim and hoped back on the back of the motobike to continue to the next stop. While driving I saw 2 boats that were packed with tourists(about 12-16) and my driver pointed to see if I wanted to do the boat ride. So then it dawned on me that this was the type of boat I thought I was paying for. I told him no thanks and to keep driving. I felt my experience at the village was more unique and genuine than that crowded boat could have offered. Instead of feeling jipped I was very thankful and was smiles from ear to ear. Driving around this area of town/countryside was also phenomenal filled with more green rice paddies with farms surrounded by similar karst limestone mountains as Tam Coc had. It just felt less touristy being on a motor bike than it did on the boat. Was in complete awe of the place. (I guess you could already tell that by all the pictures I uploaded).
Next stop was Bai Dinh pagoda. This place was huge! 3 big buildings with statues and buddhas and localspraying and making offers of money and food.
Back at the hotel I met up with jamie, who did the full day circuit with a driver, minus the Kenh Ga boat village. This area being my first stop(I didn't count Vinh), Vietnam has met my expectations. Even though very touristy, Tam Coc was beautiful. Driving through the countryside was an experience I will definitely want to come back to and do myself in the future. Very happy at this moment and excited for the rest of Vietnam.