Monday, June 30, 2014

A Different Tam Coc Waterway

 17 May 2014 (Saturday)

Again, my Garmin GPS failed to locate the satellite signals this morning. Like the day before, it was cloudy. Not wanting to get lost this time, I took the straight path with no turns.

After breakfast at a street stall, I returned to the hostel and packed everything and then checked out from the hostel. I paid VND500,000 for the two nights and left my bag at the hostel. I would be collecting it before taking the night train to Lao Cai tonight. At the same time, I booked a room for 20th May, when I would return from Lao Cai on the night train.

A girl from Khanh Sinh came to fetch me at 8:00 am. Like the previous day, the bus was waiting on the main road. Today, I was the first to be picked up and I could choose the seat I wanted. There was another guide in the bus. The bus continued to pick up more passengers from other hostels.

On the way to Ninh Binh, we were informed by the guides that there were two separate tours. One group of seven would be going to Trang An while our group of four (two Australians, a Taiwanese and myself) would be going to Tam Coc.

The bus dropped us in front of a shop, a short distant to Hoa Lu Ancient Capital while the other group continued with the minbus. A peddler there was very aggressive, "forcing" me to buy a hat from her. When I gave VND100,000 to her, she just pushed me some small change and not the full change.

The temples at Hoa Lu were quite crowded. Photography was not allowed inside the temples. There was nothing of interest here. NTHA did warn me not to waste my time here. That was on the premise that I would be going to Tam Coc on my own instead of joining a tour group.

After Hoa Lu, we were taken in a four-wheel drive to Tam Coc for lunch. The restaurant was right across the road from Tam Coc Wharf.

After lunch, we were asked whether we wanted to go on a bicycle ride. The guide told me that the bicycle ride was not included in my booking. She further said she would call her company to try to get a cheaper rate for the bicycle rental for me. However, she did not ask me to pay after making the call and I was assigned a bicycle. We rode into a village. It was not that rustic but otherwise quite serene.

We continued our cycling and rode into Bich Dong where we parked our bicycles before walking to Bich Dong Pagoda and temple.

While the guide was explaining about the temples, she mentioned that the view from the top of the hill was very beautiful. That got me excited and when I asked her where was the path to the peak, she said we would not be doing the climb then but later. She lied. We never got the chance to go to the hill-top.

From Bich Dong Pagoda, we were cycling back when the guide stopped her bicycle under a shady tree by a small river where a group of women were resting. We passed by this place earlier on the way to Bich Dong. We would start the Tam Coc boat ride here, instead of the Tam Coc Wharf.

The Tam Coc waterways that I wanted to take the boat ride would have paddlers rowing their wooden boats with their feet along the Ngo Dong River and cruising past golden or green rice fields. Instead of bringing us to the Tam Coc that I dreamt, we were brought to this quiet place. There were just the four of us. Instead of paddlers rowing their wooden boats, we have paddlers rowing newly minted steel boats painted in red. Instead of rice fields, it was mostly fields of weed. It was a disappointment.

At Tam Coc Wharf on our return, I gave the vendor of the drink stall in front of the restaurant VND100,000 to purchase a bottle of water for VND10,000. The vendor acted ignorant and when I told him that I had not received the change, he said I gave him VND10,000 only and pulled out a VND10,000 from the cashier who was holding a bundle of money. I had given him VND100,000 in order to get some small change, as I was running out of VND10,000 notes. He said foreigners could not differentiate VND100,000 from VND10,000. The fact was I deliberately pulled out a VND100,000 bill from the back of my pouch before giving it to the vendor so how could I make a mistake? I did not argue but just accepted it as another scam in Vietnam. Readers, beware! Do not make the same mistake.

From Tam Coc Wharf, we took another four-wheel drive to rendezvous with the minibus somewhere. However, on the way, it knocked into a motorcycle. Our vehicle was travelling quite fast and I thought the motorcyclist was seriously injured. It all happened because a truck was horning the motorcyclist on the slow lane. As she slowly maneuvered her motorcycle into our lane, which was the fast lane, our vehicle scratched her motorcycle and she felled. She picked herself up and she seemed alright. However, this left us stranded on the road waiting for the police to arrive. I was worried that I would miss my Lao Cai train and asked the guide to arrange an alternative transport. Just as the police cleared us to leave, the minibus arrived.

I was sweating like hell today. It was hot and humid. My t-shirts were soaked through with sweat. After I returned to Camellia Hotel to collect my bag, I asked the hostel manager's wife whether I could take a bath there. I was ready to pay for it. However, she said the cleaner had left and the room had all been tidied up. If I wanted to use the bathroom, it would cost me VND100,000. However, she said I could use the common washroom on the ground floor for free. I was very glad to hear that. I also asked her to rent me a towel but she said I could use it for free. Now, that was what I called great customer service and I could only return this favour with a recommendation of Camellia Hotel 6 to anyone visiting Hanoi.

After taking my bath, I went out for dinner of Bun Cha, then Banh Mi and takeaway of some fried dumpling.