Ninh Binh / Tam Coc : Boating on the 'Ha Long Bay of the Rice Paddies'

Ninh Binh Travel Blog

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The plethora of rowboats ready to take happy tourists down the Ngo Dong river in Tam Coc.

Back in Hanoi and several days to while away.  Twiddling my thumbs until I finally get my hands on a Chinese visa [ see note on upcoming Hanoi entry].  Mike’s off to Sapa.  I won’t head that way until aforementioned visa’s in my possession so once again, and really for the first time in almost a month I will be left for a number of days to my own devices.  And pretty much from here on in out.  It’s been a great, great pleasure to have the fluctuating pattern of the same few good friends to travel with in these parts since hitting southern Laos.  I have again been very lucky in Providence’s pick of pals for my travels.

"Row row row your boat gently down the stream..." :)
  But everyone, I mean really, nearly every single person I meet on the trail seems a real diamond so far.  Good times.

I have planned at least one day trip away from Hanoi.  This is doubling back about 100 kilometres south of Hanoi to the province of Ninh Binh.  As with Ha Long Bay this is a much Guide Book waffled, Tour Company touted trip so you will have worries getting there and back in a day if you so choose.  This is what I will do.  These last days in Hanoi and Vietnam I’m getting a little lazy in my budget bargaining ethos and just pay $15 to my hotel to get me on the trip.

  I’ve no doubt with research and a will to haggle this could be had a lot cheaper.  But I’m not rightly fussed today.

Departure straight from the breakfast table and a mini-van south for a couple of hours after the usual 45 minute crawl around town picking up everyone else from their respective hotels.  Ahead of lunch in the town of Tam Coc the first ports of call are a couple of old, revered Chinese style Buddhist pagoda temples.  Didn’t realise this was in the days itinerary, but to be fair, I was so lazy I didn’t even read it through.  “Ah, who cares!”.  I feeling pretty drifty today.  “Two more flippin’ temples. Whoop-ti-do!”.  That’s about what I feel about temples right about now in my travels.

"Keep those knees together girls!" ;D
  Angkor took all the trophies for my attention to temples on offer in 2009.  Come back next year all you pretenders to the throne!

Lunch is partaken of all seated congenially around a round table trying to strike that difficult but necessary balance between wanting to share out the communal foods in an egalitarian manner between all comers, and a food filching grab-fest predicated on and motivated by the fact that you’re ostensibly with a group of strangers you don’t yet know and give a f**k about even less “so it’s every man and his ravenous backpacker-starved stomach for himself!”.

Following that it’s time for the days highlight and the reason why I’m really here.  The beautiful river ride down the Ngo Dong River.  A beautiful, shallow water way that wends its way very sedately through the fantastic scenery of the Tam Coc area.

Stickin' me oar in as usual! (sorry!)
  As in Ha Long Bay the main geological feature that puts this place on the map are the large stone eruptions or karsts that litter the landscape like so many petrified mushrooms.  Rocky, upturned giants’ teeth stuck into the ground.  The visual similarity has earned Tam Coc the name of ‘The Ha Long Bay of the Rice Paddies’.  A justified name.

Stepping down the embankment at Tam Coc, amidst a large throng of tourists on the same trip as everyone else, you are siphoned onto small rowboats manned predominantly by pairs of women.  Sometimes two guests to a boat.  Sometimes three as with Vincent and Rozanna (from Kuala Lumpur) and I.  Sometimes more.  There are many, many of these boats and they all set off and follow in a paddling gentle procession down the Ngo Dong.

You go through 3 fab, darkened cave tunnels on the trip down and back up the river.
  One lady takes the main oars the boats rear whilst her companion with a metal tipped oar offers assistance and a certain level of steering from one side.  On our boat we have the skills and company of Vai and Fweng ( pronounced as such if not spelt correctly).  A friendly pair they are two.  Vai and I exchange what pleasantries and small talk the obvious language barrier allows and I jest with body language as much as my imagination permits.  From the boats bowels a second metal-tipped oar is produced and I am co-opted into being third oarsman for the day.

These are tough sun hardened ladies.  Lord knows how many times they make this strenuous return trip of near two hours solid rowing in duration, but Fweng at 35 and Vai at 45 show little signs of their respective ages and flag not.

Worker in the waterways and emerald carpets of Tam Cocs rice paddies.
  Two more fine examples of the sheer iron-hard industriousness and resilience of Vietnamese women that I find so constantly admirable in this nation.  Fweng as with many of her co-rowers even manages to pull of the incredible trick - utilised to give her arms a break from time to time - of rowing the boat with great ease with her feet!  Seriously!  It’s quite a party trick.  Leaning backwards and legs akimbo and pulling and pushing it’s what my mother probably would have called “a most unladylike thing to do” but impressive nonetheless.  There is though undoubted leg-crossing bashfulness and modesty hinted at when we all inevitably ask to take a snap.

I really, really enjoy this boat ride.  I’d have paid 15 bucks for this alone.  Quite unique in my travel experience so far.

Wow! How cool is that! :)
  The mud brown waters gentle flow.  The emerald green blades of the rice plants that form the fields and banks that flank the river; that become a part of a river.  The cliffs framing all this beautiful composition of nature.  If you look carefully high above, you may spot white mountain goats that have gotten themselves into seemingly impossible positions on inaccessible rock faces high above.  They’ll do anything; risk anything for that next nibble it seems!  (precisely what I felt when I whipped in with my chopsticks for that unforgivably anti-social third, and the plate’s final spring roll at lunch today!).

So yeeeeet another scenic scene drawn to a close my friends. Are you as tired of reading about them in the same tired old language as I am tired of crafting them in the same tired old language?  You’re not?!!  That’s great.

  How kind of you to lie so convincingly.  I jest…

… because people, friends and buddies alike.  Brace yourselves.  Are you seated.  Can it be true?  Pinch me am I dreaming?  It really can’t be happening can it?!  I can’t believe me eyes, nor my Internet Service Provider and other vital organs and senses… after 7 months and then some of constant lag and writing fatigue this monstrous, monolithic, laborious and sleep-inducing blog is finally, incredibly unbelievably (and probably only for one nano-second) BROUGHT UP TO DATE!  Yes it’s true. Trrrrrue I tell you.  It’s the 8th April 2009.  It’s 23.36pm Hanoi Time.  I‘m here.  Live and exclusive.  You‘re there reading right now maybe.  It‘s late “An’ I’m tired an’ I wanna go to bed, I had a little drink about an hour ago, and it went straight to my head”.  But Mike just returned from Sapa with beers so I think I’ll have another little drink to celebrate.  Oh yes.  Ladies and germs you have been listening to The Midnight Scrawler.  “Good night World, wherever you are.”

Stevie_Wes says:
LOL "yey!" No blog to write...oooo I almost don't know what ta do with m'self :) But of course Time and the adventure keep on passing by, so "my work is never done" :)
Posted on: Apr 10, 2009
keeweeset says:
Yay! Well done for doing your live broadcast. =)
Posted on: Apr 10, 2009
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The plethora of rowboats ready to …
The plethora of rowboats ready to…
Row row row your boat gently down…
"Row row row your boat gently dow…
Keep those knees together girls!…
"Keep those knees together girls!…
Stickin me oar in as usual!  (sor…
Stickin' me oar in as usual! (so…
You go through 3 fab, darkened cav…
You go through 3 fab, darkened ca…
Worker in the waterways and emeral…
Worker in the waterways and emera…
Wow!  How cool is that! :)
Wow! How cool is that! :)
A prize to anyone who can spot the…
A prize to anyone who can spot th…
Portrait of Rozanna (her umbrella)
Portrait of Rozanna (her umbrella)
Portrait of Vincent (his shirt)
Portrait of Vincent (his shirt)
Ninh Binh
photo by: Reephboy