Hoa Lu, Tam Coc, Oh Vietnam you Beauty
I knew it wouldn’t be long before we fell back in love with Vietnam and indeed it was not. Today we joined a Go Asia tour to the ancient capital of Vietnam, Hoa Lu and the stunning scenery of Tam Coc-Bich Dong, 55 miles south of Hanoi. There were nine of us on our tour and the two hour bus journey was passed amiably chatting to Peter, an American abroad, in the row in front and travelling through some beautiful scenery. There isn’t much to see in Hoa Lu, only a flat paved area where the palace used to be and temples to the Kings from the Dinh and Le dynasties, the first feudal dynasties to rule Vietnam in the ninth and tenth centuries but they are surrounded by magnificent limestone karsts making for a truly impressive vista. King Dinh Tien Hoang is buried at the top of a nearby mountain shaped like a saddle in a nod to his warrior past but we chose not to walk the 442 stairs up to his resting place.
After our brief stop in Hoa Lu we headed to a buffet lunch 10 minutes down the road in Tam Coc, known as the Ha Long of the North for its spectacular limestone karsts that sprout from the landscape. Buffets on tours can be an interesting experience but there was plenty of choice and it was all tasty enough. After lunch those of us who wanted to cycled along the road before veering off into the narrow lanes of a village. We stopped at a traditional village house where we were offered rice wine by the grinning house owner which we all politely refusing having heard just how potent it is. We cycled on through the village into the paddy fields beyond, past the cemetery filled with grazing cows surrounded by towering limestone mountains, like islands in the fields, it’s quite breathtakingly beautiful.
Following our idyllic cycle, thinking it couldn’t get much better (how wrong we were) we boarded little sampan boats on a river that runs through the landscape. The sampans are rowed by locals usually with their feet which was pretty cool to experience and with a few shared words of Vietnamese we were on our way. It is really worth learning a few phrases because the smiles that result even when you mess up the pronunciation are truly gratifying. Nam, our boat driver was fabulous, pointing out caves high up in the rock face and a flock of mountain goats clinging to a sheer edge with ease, grinning as I dug cat biscuits from my bag and threw them to an island of cats we passed. Of course I travel with cat biscuits, you don’t? 😉
The one and a half hour boat ride takes you among the limestone Goliaths, along a waterway lined with rice paddies, through three magnificent caves with ceilings just a few feet above your heads. I found the first at 125m long and pitch black in places a little bit eerie but the shorter ones were more enjoyable. I much preferred Tam Coc to Ha Long, the scenery is just as stunning but there was a tranquility and timelessness missing in Ha Long with its droves of tourist boats that was abundant here. On the return journey we stopped to watch a group of men round up the goats we’d seen earlier, nimbly making their way over the craggy rocks, agile as the goats they were after. We shared our boat with Peter and chatted up a storm the whole time before heading back to the bus for the return journey to Hanoi, pleasantly tired with smiles on our faces.
Our Go Asia tour cost us $38 each (WHY DO THEY CHARGE IN DOLLARS WE ARE IN VIETNAM) deep breath, anyway, it was an awesome tour and our guide, Nguyen Quoc Tuan aka Tony was awesome, friendly, articulate, informative and funny, one of the best tour guides we’ve had in Vietnam, wholeheartedly recommend this trip! Xx