Finally we found Tam Coc, the village base of the boat trip that took tourists along a river to view the limestone rock formations sprouting out of the water. Through karst caves we were paddled by quite an amusing old couple. Touted as the Halong Bay of the rice paddies, it was a very different natural phenomenon, but the drizzle and cold wind took the shine off the relaxing boat ride. The old couple however kept us entertained. When we stopped for a coffee break on one of the many fully stocked boats floating on the river, I offered them both a hot drink
. The old boy at the back turned down the coffee in favour of a beer (well, it was 10 am). In return for buying them drinks they kindly stopped by their friend's boat on the way home and said we could smoke his pipe for free! Very kind, but we refused, waiting instead while our rower got stuck in. The old guys got really chatty and the woman in our boat explained that they were saying that the smoking helped you live a long time and have lots of chickens (eventually worked out that she meant children when she said she had 3, one at university). Apparently, the proof of this was that the two men were 60 and 70 respectively - they both looked about 100 - the man with the pipe a lot like Ho Chi Minh in his mauseleum in fact. Later, the old girl then unveiled her case of tacky souvenirs. There was no running when trapped in a canoe so we had to buy some local handicrafts, much to her amusement.
Back at the hotel we met another cyclist. When he said he had being doing tours, learning the workings of organic farms around the world we lost interest and did our best to escape! In her haste, Polly managed to knock over a very large ceramic flower pot. In true Vietnamese style, the hotel receptionist saw an opportunity and came out to name her price for the replacement pot. The pot had in fact toppled due to the strong wind knocking over a row of bikes that were lined up. We made clear our disappointment
that such a welcoming hotel recommended in the guide book had actually just let themselves down. She interestingly gave up pretty quickly when I said to her that I didn’t want to hear another word from her and was very happy for her to call the police!
On the road we continued to battle with terrible traffic. Then we came across a couple more cyclists
. It was the first time we have met cyclist travelling in the same direction as us and we cycled as a four for the final 25 miles to Thanh Hoa. They were from Germany and had been away for 28 months. Interestingly the first part of their trip was in a canoe along The Danube. They were on a very different trip to us and when we reached our destination a difference in budget meant that we checked into a nice hotel as they decided to leave town and pitch a tent. It was a shame as I’m sure we had lots to talk about and share about our journeys (they too had followed the road which disappeared under water on the Chinese border), but given the choice of £8 for a good hotel room or hunting around in the rain for something cheaper, I think we would make the same decision every time!
It was a fun evening meal, we passed on the turtles in the tank and went for the safer beef dish. Maybe we will try the turtles next time, or maybe not.
The map provided by the 'very friendly and helpful' hotel (quote Lonely Planet – they are absolutely full of rubbish much of the time) was useless. We spent half an hour on our rented moped riding around paddy fields tying ourselves up in knots. It was ridiculously cold and snuggly,sensible Polly chuckled in her 2 coats as I took the full force of the wind chill dressed in shorts and flip flops.