Friday, November 13, 2009

Tam Coc

Travel a few hours south east of Hanoi and you will reach Ninh Binh. From there a 9 kilometre drive will take you to some of the most striking scenery in Northern Vietnam: the rice fields, continuously worked by the diligent locals, are surrounded by the majectic karst landscape. For everything Hanoi is it can be said Tam Coc and its surrounds are not, for the area is one of serenity, purity and overwhelming natural beauty.

You can book a ticket at the office on the main square by the river for a boat ride (120,000 Dong for two people). The best times to go are early morning or late afternoon. We boarded the boat in late afternoon and many of the tourists were finishing their trips. We both bought a conical hat, the iconic Vietnamese accessory, to protect us from the last of the day’s sun. We sat at the front of the boat with a young guy paddling at the back. He began paddling with his feet in perfect rhythm while chatting casually to the passing boats.

We slowly weaved around the river bends, under bridges and past returning boats. The afternoon sun revealed bright silver colours on the surrounding water. Many small trees dotted the base of the mountains while various plants lived on or around the water. A flock of ducks passed the boat in front of us while mountain goats navigated their way around the steep mountain cliffs. It was a picturesque setting.

Tam Coc, translated 'three caves', gives you the chance to pass through, believe it or not, three caves. The three caves are named Hang Ca, Hang Guia and Hang Cuoi and vary in distance from 40 to 127 metres. The caves are not very high and you can touch the stalagmites hanging from the cave as you pass. It got very dark and at times you could only see the light coming from the exit. Each time you exited a cave you were rewarded with a vast natural splendour on the other which seemed more remote than the last. The air was fresh and the sounds peaceful.

You would often pass ladies with their collection of goods to sell however we weren’t bothered until the last cave. We bought a drink and some fruit and enjoyed a chat with one lady as she paddled beside us on the way back. She spoke French well, as many locals did in the area, asking us the usual where are you from and why don’t you have a baby. It was a relaxing and enjoyable trip back taking the same route as we came. The hard thing to do was to put the camera down and relax as there were endless opportunities for a great shot.

We had been on the boat for close to two hours when we returned and after giving the paddler a tip we were both gratified and content. It was an amazing trip which truly shows what magnificent landscapes Vietnam has to offer. When back on our bike we followed the road around to the Bing Dong pagoda, another attraction of the area, however it was the interaction with the kids coming home from school which was the most enjoyable. As they walked or rode home playing games and having fun with their friends they were only to happy to smile and wave and say hello. Their parents were not shameful in asking us for the conical hats we had just purchased with the obvious intention of selling it back to store. We thought this was funny and gladly gave them away to beaming and appreciative smiles. Without realising it evening was fast approaching so we decided it was time to find a café and reflect on what was a great afternoon.

For more photo's of our trip see Celine's post at:

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