Vietnam is surprising “easy” to travel in. Perhaps too easy! There are so many organised tours and buses, that if not careful, your whole time here could potentially turn into one big, extended tour! Tam Coc, although only a couple of hours south of Hanoi, is no exception, and is definitely a popular day trip from Hanoi. Not to be deterred, the aim was to do it ourselves!
The next day, we hired some bicycles and cycled the 10 kilometres out to Tam Coc, which was, expectedly, absolutely full of tourists. After purchasing our tickets, we proceeded to the dock, from where either one or two people take you out in a small boat, down a gorgeous river, culminating in some spectacular caves. As we looked around, whilst breathtaking, we could also see the work going on to make it look……well, more like Disneyland! Shouldn’t be long now folks! The essential Tam Coc experience is to sit back and be rowed through the Ngo Dong River, culminating in three caves, and a hard sell to rival the Mormons! Whilst, yes, it was spectacular, and watching the karst peaks jut out of rice paddies whilst riding along a serpentine river did not fail to impress, it’s the part at the end that I found most “enjoyable”. Lonely Planet refers to the scam as the “Tam Coc Tango”. We knew it was coming, as we had heard about it and were prepared for it! Read on! It begins with boat vendors following you and urging you to “buy drink for madame” (after paying a ridiculous price for the drink, and offering it to the”madame” who is rowing your boat, “Madame” then sells it back to the vendor and makes a nice little sum). Despite being asked several times, we stood firm, and said no! (whilst watching the multitude of other tourists buying their rowers both drinks and snacks). As the others bought copiously, and our rowers could see that we were not going to buy, we started to make our way back to the starting point. Time for hard sell number two! A mystery chest seemed to appear out of nowhere, and out they came a-rolling…..t-shirts, embroidered tablecloths, hats and a number of other things. We continued to say no politely several more times. Whilst firm in our resolve, it did distract from the surroundings around us! Option two fatigued, they went for the jugular, a manoeuvre they hoped would work, as by this point we were over it…….”tip please”! We had considered it, but they blew it when they asked, and asked, and asked, and asked! I think perhaps the Mormons would have been more lenient!
The next day, we took a couple of bikes again and decided to cycle around the countryside. It proved to be one of our favourite days in Vietnam. We cycled along rivers that were at times wide, and at others thin. We cycled far enough that we were without a doubt the only foreigners in sight. We cycled on roads, we cycled on dirt tracks, and at times we cycled on tracks so narrow that they were more like railings! Again, mind blowing scenery coupled with the locals living their lives continued to present us with the lessons one learns from the University of Life. We seem to complain about such trivial things when these people do it hard! Really hard! The women, despite their small stature, haul everything from bags of rice to barrels of water. The kids aren’t doing a bad job either! Child labour? No! Kids helping the family in order to eke out a very, very, very humble living!
On our ride we passed Hoa Lu, which was the capital of Vietnam during the Dinh (968-80) and early Le (980-1009) dynasties, and whilst no Angkor Wat, it was pleasant enough to stroll through. The trip towards Kenh Ga was the truly mesmerising part, possibly because it’s the best place outside of the Mekong Delta to see river life….but the package comes without the hordes of tourists! It truly was one of those magic afternoons, as we saw the karst peaks, in all their glory, as a backdrop to a people who call this their home. We cycled through places that were so narrow that the only form of transportation was bicycles and motorbikes, as nothing larger could fit through. Again, we saw women husking rice, men fishing and children playing, who were as mesmerised by us as we by them. Alex stopped to play with them, and although shy at first, they were soon full of laughter and smiles. This was food for my soul! As I stood back and watched Alex, as he really is a kid magnet, out of the corner of my eye,I saw a young man in a wheelchair, who was with his mother. As our eyes connected, he waved me down, expressing wanting us to have a photo taken together. I obliged! As I put my arm around his shoulders and smiled for Alex’s (forever “snapping”) camera, he too gave me a smile from ear to ear, and so did his mother. But they were two very different smiles. The young men was because I had clearly made his day by making the effort to communicate with him, and his mother’s expressed total and absolute thanks! And then there was my smile, which lifted my heart and appeased my soul!
Time to jump on the bus! I do not think it’s appropriate here to mention my exact parting words, but I proudly and defiantly gave him the one finger salute! And with my hand high in the air, the doors closed and the bus took off! It was dark, but I could see his red and angry face! My system was pumping with adrenaline, as it had been a long day (as we had cycled some 40 kilometres), and an even longer night. The sleeper bus could not have been any more inviting! Luckily, here in Vietnam, the sleeper buses are a little wider, longer and more comfortable than their Chinese counterparts. We settled in, and we were soon asleep…..physical and mental exhaustion!
NOTE: I have decided that there is actually something that I loathe more than arrogance and rudeness (I despise both equally), and it’s called complacency! HOW does the world change if we all sit back and watch without doing anything! I will not shut-up, and I will not be silenced and my voice WILL be heard!
I shared our little kung-fu adventure with a very special and dear friend, Annie Whitlocke, a few weeks back, just after the event occurred, and this is what she had to say:
“I agree 100%, the worst thing we can do is nothing. By not voicing our opinions we accept injustice not just for ourselves but for others. Many do not have the opportunity to voice their feelings, it is up to people like you to be courageous and yell until they are heard. I also know that if it was a popularity contest, we would be in the back seats by now!
Many times people have told me to shut up and mind my own business, but the reason I speak out is to address a deep gut ache. It goes beyond words.
Complacency is like a disease, once it sets in it affects every aspect of our lives and I believe it also affects our physiological body and organs.
I love your passion….as does Alex no doubt ( :
All my love
Never stop screaming
Thanks, Annie. We love you too! And I promise that I will NEVER stop screaming!
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” – Anais Nin (1903 – 1977).
(Photos:1.-Cycling around Tam Coc……oh, that’s not one of our bikes by the way! 2.- I’ll have half a kilo of Rover, thanks! 3.- Stroke, stroke, stroke…with your feet! That’s our oarsman taking us to visit the caves of Tam Coc. 4.- A mini floating-market, Ngo Dong River, Tam Coc. 5.- Husking rice! Work goes on as usual for the locals of Ninh Binh, despite me cycling over their rice! 6.- Karst peak, on the way to Kenh Ga. 7.- Kids having some fun, on the way to Kenh Ga. 8.- Food for the soul! Making somebody happy! 9.- Sunset in the Kenh Ga area. 10.- Contemplation! Little boy in Hoa Lu. 11.- Vietnamese dong (their currency) as an offering in a temple.)
Check out our interactive map on our Start Here page to see where we are now and where we’ve been? There are still so many countries that are still on our to-do list. What would you recommend? Where would you like to go?
You can also check out our Travel Resources page for some great advice, ideas, tips and travel hacks.