Floating around at Tam Coc

Trip Start Feb 16, 2010
Trip End Mar 09, 2010

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Flag of Vietnam  , Ninh Bình,
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Arrived at Hanoi Railway station at 5am in a state of dreamlike confusion. Cab drivers were actually within the station compound, touting for passengers. I managed to get out and bargained for a motorbike ride to Old Quarters for vnd 30 000. He asked for vnd 60 000 - cunning bugger.
530am at OQ was eerily quiet as i sat outside of Prince 1 Hotel waiting for daybreak. The air was dusted in mist and slowly the streets awaken from its slumber and the bustle of Hanoi once again put in its place. My bus to Tam Coc leaves at 8am, so from 630 - 8am i had a chance to wash up (at Sinh Tourist office), pack my bags abit, bring my laundry to the fake Sinh Cafe next door and a quick stroll to the west side of OQ for a noodle soup breakfast. Left my clothes bag at Sinh Tourist and off I went to Tam Coc on bus.
Our group of 10 consisted of 2 french blokes, a french father and his 7 yr old daughter, 3 vietnamese elderlies and a retired bald singaporean who claimed to be a certified alcoholic. He only had a windbreaker and a plastic bottle of red wine. Anyway, the weather was surprisingly hot at 30 C in the arvo. Visited Hoa Lu which was Vietnam's ancient capital city thousand of years ago. The only remnants left were 2 temples which we visited. Finally saw the original vietnamese flag - full of colours and hints of chinese influences in decorations.
We arrived at Tam Coc at 1130am for lunch. Along the way, we already sighted many limestone formations on land - similar to Halong Bay. With only a hat, bermudas and tee shirt, I braved the heat at 30 C ++ which ironically was welcomed by many since we had not seen the sun for the past week. The highlight of this trip was the boat ride meandering through limestone formations and under 3 caves. I sat with K.K. (the singaporean) in one boat with a boat captain and his lady assistant. The part through under the caves were fantastic especially the first cave which is the longest and could not see the light from the other end of tunnel. It was pitch black in the middle of the cave. At the end of the river was a rest stop with many boat stalls selling drinks and fruits. We were pestered to buy a can of drinks each for the locals and fruits like guava and mango. K.K. bought it all together with his 3 cans of beer. On the way back, the auntie started showing us T-shirts, bags and stuffs, asking us to buy. Realising that we were tightarses, they decisively rowed back faster. This supposedly 2.5 hour boat ride took us just 1 hour. The french blokes however bought almost everything of a kind in sight.
On the bus trip back, I had a chance to ask Cham (our guide) some questions on Vietnam. Interesting facts - Vietnam has 87 million people in population. There are only 2 harvests for rice per year. A paddy field of approximately 60msq can produce 500kg of rice per harvest.
Got to Hanoi at 4pm and the streets were busier than ever. After a quick shower, I walked my way down to that Claypot rice stall about 40 mins away. Had the same dish and also tried the chicken feet. The dip for chicken feet was lime juice, herbs and a spoonful of msg. The locals use their msg like we use our salt. Decided to walk down south to VinCom - a modern shopping mall and an office tower. VinCom looked almost like downtown Bangkok except much smaller. All the young vietnameses chill out here with the attractions of shopping, cafes and many karaoke clubs surrounding VinCom.
One thing I couldnt find was the protection face mask that the locals are wearing. I asked so many shops but to no avail. By 1030pm I was back at OQ, having a vnd 4000 glass of Bia Hanoi. Almost finished my beer before I realised a collection of dirt at the bottom of my glass. But we are talking about US 50 cents a glass.
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