Old Capital by Land Locked Limestone Hills

Trip Start Feb 19, 2010
Trip End Jan 31, 2012

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Where I stayed
Rendezvous Hotel

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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Day 3 - Old Quarter, Kiem Hoan Lake, Museum Ethnology
Decided should actually do something in town today besides chasing things up for a new passport. This included looking for a tour to Halong bay but unfortunately found that nothing would be going out for the next couple of days due to the weather.

Started out by just wandering the streets of the old quarter. Lots of people, lots of bikes always hectic.  All along the streets were people selling fruit. This was from either baskets being carried from a stick on their shoulder or from baskets attached to a bike. Found it interesting to see just how much people can load a bike up with stuff. This was especially true of the bike that I saw loaded up with hats.

Walking the streets also once again saw lots of little food vendors selling meals and had people seated on stools by the side of the road.

As I said lots and lots of bikes. Guess the main reason for this is that they are more affordable than cars. Aslo given the narrow streets and traffic on the road I guess they are a lot easier to manouveour round. Cant really drive a car on the sidewalk now can you. Should note though that the riding on a sidewalk is pretty hard to do in most places since the sidewalks are basically parking spots for motor bike. Cant image what the city would be like in the future (for parking and traffic) if everyone could suddenly afford a car.

Wandered the streets for a couple of hours with many people coming up to try and sell me stuff though for the most part this was in a good natured rather than pushy way. Also had many cries of moto, moto or people trying to give me a ride in their rickshaw. Seems like almost every corner in the old quarter had someone trying to get you to take a ride with them.

Eventually made my way towards the lake and picked up a city map from the info center. Made my way around the lake and looked for a motor bike which didnt take to long. Reason for the motor bike rather than a taxi was that while I had to agree on a price with the driver of the moto and the taxi had a meter, the meters of most Hanoi taxis are famous for being dodgey. That is they seem to have the magical property of compressing space and so click over faster than is physically possible.

Managed to get the moto for 50,000 which is cheaper than a taxi would have been for the distance even with a proper meter, and made my way to the museum of enthnology. Found the museum to be interesting enough with its displays of the local cultural identity of different ethnic minorities found around the country. One such displayed showed just how much you can attach to a bicycle.

After wandering around the inside of the museum went outside to it open air display. Out here I found building that were representative of different areas of vietnam.

After that found another motor bike and eventually got him to agree to 50,000VDN to take me back to the old quarter and the hotel. Hung out here for a while and after dark went out to wander the streets once more to get something to eat and visit the water puppet show. Unfortunately when I arrived at the theatre I found that the show was sold out and I wouldnt be able to go in so grabbed a ticket for the following nights show.

Day 4 - Old Quarter, Water Puppets
Since it was such a wet and rainy day, which is why I guess no tour was going out to Halong Bay, decided to have yet another quite day. Have a feeling I'll be spending a lot of time in Hanoi anyway and while its interesting to wander the streets there really arent that many sites of particular interest to see. Not like some of the other cities I have visited.

Ended up heading out to the street only once during the day when I went out to get some lunch. Wandered the streets for an hour or two to amuse myself. Along the way also managed to find a couple of small temples to visit and hide in from the rain for a while. For the most part though spent the day in the hotel common area on the laptop considering what I needed to do to get my passport and what my options were if I ended up getting the emergency one.

Also had a ticket to see the water puppets night time show. Found that while the show had been booked out the night before this wasnt the case for tonights show. Can only guess that the main cause for this is the terrible weather we were having.

Once at the theatre headed inside to find that someone was already sitting in my seat. After a short wait was shown to another seat which was certainly better then the one I had since I ended up in the front row right in the middle of it.

Show started with some traditional vietnemese music which was nice to listen to. In particular the one string instrument that had a movable stick connected to one end of the string. By moving the stick the pitch of the sound was changed with the sound of this string being very similar to that of a voice singing (as you can hopefully hear in the attached video).

Next came the puppets which are basically connected to a stick (underwater) that is used to move the puppets around to the music. In this show the puppeters are hidden behind a scene, which is in the form of a castle. Also had one scene where the puppets moved away and back to the castle and in this case were being pulled by a string.

This show ended up showing scenes from daily vietnemese life such as plowing the fields as well as a fire dance and couple courting. Most interesting scence though was the birth of a dragon which ended up in the dragon leaving the water and entering the sky via a string line.  The show then ended with the puppeters coming out in front of the scene and having a dragon flying through the air overhead.

After the show headed back to the hotel and pretty much called it a night.

Day 5 -  Hoa Lu & Tam Coc
Tour left around 8am for a two or so hour drive to Hoa Lu. Along the way had one driver/toilet break which of course was at a souvineer place.

Made it to out first stop which was Hoa Lu. This was basically the site of one of Vietnams capitals even if it was only the capital for 41 years. Found the area in which the ruins were to be very scenic with all the water and limestone paeks around the place. Would of actually have been nice if I had had the time to wander around the country side near the ruins and not just through the ruins themselves.

Spent some time here wandering around the ruins with the guide getting a bit of a history lession which Ive already forgotten) and pushing our way through a couple of large chinese tour groups. Main thing I remeber though is that the main reason for moving the capital was that Hanoi would be a better area for producing rice and feeding the local population.

Continued onto Tam Coc from here were we had lunch at a nearby restaurant first before heading to the boat that would take us two by two along the Ngo Dong river through three limestone caves. Should be noted here that Tam Coc is known as the Halong Bay of the rice fields due to all the limestone peaks sticking out of the ground.

Had a nice enough boat trip that lasted about two hours. As can be seem in the video it seems that rowing with the hands is to much work and so people here seem to for the most part use their feet to move the oars one by one and propell the boat forward.

Had some nice views of limestone cliffs faces by the river side and of the limestone caves we paddled through as we followed the stream of boats along the river. Only bad part of the trip was that when we reached the turn around point we had to sit there for a while while people in other boats tried to sell us some stuff. From the end point we headed back to the start point and at the first cave back stopped one more time so our paddler could try to sell us something. Had decided to give a tip when the tour guide mentioned it but halved the amount after this experience.

Eventually made our way back and were reminded a few times about a tip from our guide as we started to near the end. Was tempted from this to not give any tip giving she was being so pushy but in the end gave the very small tip I  had planned to anywhere. Got a Oh la la for my efforts which I am gussing she was not impressed with the tiny amount she got. Have a feeling I would have been better off having giving her nothing.

After the boat ride a couple of us chose to take the bike option with the guide the other four didnt. Ended up doing a short ride through the rice paddies with some views of the limestone hills sticking out of the fields and local community life. Given the guide was with us I wasnt able to pedal very fast and didnt get to explore as far as I might otherwise have gotten in the hour I had. Upon getting back from the ride found a small market in the car park near the bus stop.

Since this was our final activity for the day, jumped back on the bus and headed back to town where I vegged a while in the hotel. After a little while though, wandered out onto the street for dinner at a street side barbeque place. Nice and tasty food but am pretty sure I was over charged for my meal. Guess thats the problem with pointing at food rather than being able to order it from a menu.

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