So, where to start? Last time Tom wrote we had arrived in Ninh Binh on a very "cozy" sleeper bus. We checked into our hotel and found that the room that we wanted was unavailable so we agreed to stay in a standard room that was so small and poky we had to edge past one another and strategically manoevre to exit the room. It wasn't as nice as other places we've stayed but we were only sleeping there one night. The owners were so friendly and helpful that it made up for what our room lacked. They not only greeted us warmly and allowed us to check in at around 5am, they organised and collected our train ticket to Hanoi and organised a private tour to Tam Coc and Hoa Lu.
We spent our first day in Ninh Binh exploring nearby streets (where we were still quite the novelty) and recovering from our bus trip
. The following morning at 8:30am we left the hotel on the pre-booked tour with our driver and guide whose names I can't pronounce let alone spell. Firstly, we drove to Tam Coc where we boarded the row-boat to venture into Tam Coc, described as "the Halong Bay of the land". Our boat was rowed by two Vietnamese ladies, one at the rear rowing two oars with her feet (interesting method) and the other next to me with a paddle. The scenery at Tam Coc was absolutely amazing, I have attached some photos but unfortunately they don't really do it justice. On our 2 hour trip we rowed past many people, some harvesting rice, others fishing, goats wandering and families making their way back to town. The people here are so friendly and we were constantly being waved at, yelled "hello!" to (followed by giggles) and having our photos taken. We must look really weird!
After leaving Tam Coc we took a walk to a temple in the rice paddies where we were welcomed warmly by the temple caretaker (who looked a lot like Mr Miyagi). Our guide explained what each altar meant in the temple and the different people that were prayed to there. This particular temple was dedicated to a General who, according to our guide, was one of the top 10 generals in the world at that time (10th Century). We're not sure who was in charge of creating the "Top 10" list of generals...perhaps Time magazine? Anyway, the temple was extremely old and apparently a King and his son had taken refuge there when Mongolia invaded Vietnam
. There were a lot of people at the temple and plenty of offerings to the King left at the temple door including paper horses and fake USD bills (answering our question of why fake currency was sold at the markets). The guide explained to me that if your family has bad luck you must bring offerings to the King to change your luck. It was really nice to have an English speaking guide who could answer all my questions. We then head off to a pagoda that involved walking through a very dark cave in the mountain to reach the top. There were a lot of Chinese tourists at the pagoda and one was nice enough to translate the writing on the pagoda for us. However there was some tension when he proudly told us that the reason that it was in Chinese was that the Chinese had ruled Vietnam for 1000 years whilst our Vietnamese guide insisted on the fact that it was only 800 years. He also explained that the Chinese killed all the Vietnamese men when they invaded and as a result all Vietnamese people have part-Chinese blood.
After we stopped for a massive and yummy lunch we drove to Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam. We visited another couple of temples and some pagodas. At one of the pagodas we climbed up 265 steps to get to the King's tomb at the top of the mountain. It's safe to say that we were exhausted when we were just half-way up (a nice old Vietnamese lady chasing us with coca-cola and fans told me that we were only half-way)
. We finally made it to the top and I started to regret not taking her up on her fan. At the top Tom stood on the edge of the mountain and I stayed safely back from the edge to take pictures. Everyone else took photos of the strange white man cheating death too. Near the tomb we stopped in the shade and some Vietnamese students from the local university struck up a conversation. It turned out that they were majoring in English and were excited to meet us. So excited in fact that we then had to pose for photos with each girl one-by-one until they each had a photo with us, we felt like quite the celebrities even if we were absolutely drenched with sweat and looking particularly attractive. Following that we made a donation which we didn't realise actually bought us some incense to leave at the tomb. The nice lady at the tomb showed us what we had to do and I think we prayed to the King?? After Hoa Lu we returned to the hotel where they made me a cup of tea and let me use their shower before heading to the train station for our trip to Hanoi.
Our train trip to Hanoi was fairly fast taking just over 2 hours. We shared our four berth sleeper (no idea why we were in a sleeper) with two old Vietnamese men who decided mid journey to shut the door and smoke a joint. After that everything seemed a tad funny (I wonder why?) and we laughed at the English translation of a message saying that we had arrived in Hanoi (hence the title to this blog)
. When we arrived in Hanoi we got in a taxi whose driver told us that the meter was broken after loading us and our luggage in. After some negotiating we still got ripped off but just couldn't be bothered to argue over $3. We safely arrived at our hotel despite the pre-warning about scams where taxi drivers drop you at the wrong hotel and insist that it is just the "other" site of your hotel. We then collapsed into our room (which seems massive in comparison to the last one) and have now spent a day in Hanoi exploring but I will let Tom cover all that with the next blog.
I hope you are all well, thanks to those of you commenting back it's great to hear from you all!
Gxx (and Tom)