|so peaceful and serene|
Disclaimer: This is my first ever publishing a blog post using pictures that I took with smart phone. Sadly my Canon G11 is decided to die on me after nearly 6 years working beyond its limit (from the freezing cold weather at minus 25˚C on top of mount Matterhorn to scorching hot weather at 45˚C in Bosnia & Herzegovina). Only God knows how many times I've dropped it that the lens has uncountable scratches. It happened just 2 days after I landed in Vietnam so my first reaction was panic! I can't merely rely on a camera phone (Asus Zenfone 2) and a DSLR with 50mm lens, or so I thought. But then I realised maybe the universe was trying to tell me to enjoy my birthday trip instead of focusing on taking good pictures. After all I've always thought that beautiful scenery is best seen with the lens of my eyes rather than the lens of my camera.
|sampan (traditional boat) pier in Van Lam village|
Tam Cốc-Bích Động is a popular tourist destination near the city of Ninh Bình in northern Vietnam. It's famously called the Halong Bay on land because its karst formation, caves, water and landscape. The word 'Tam Coc' itself means three caves which are Hang Ca, Hang Hai, Hang Ba. A visit to Tam Coc starts from the village of Van Lam and floats along the twists and turns of the Ngo Dong river through a scenic landscape by rice fields, karst towers and the three caves.
It takes about 2,5 hours to reach Ninh Binh from Hanoi. My original plan was to book a private day tour from Hanoi to Tam Coc. But when I did some research, most of the reviewers stated that boat ride in Tam Coc usually get really crowded around midday until afternoon. So I needed to revise my itinerary. After my 3 days cruise in Halong Bay, instead of driving back to Hanoi I bound for Ninh Binh. It took approximately 4 hours from Halong Bay to reach my hotel in Tam Coc. But the good thing is, I could do the boat ride first thing in the morning when all the group tours from Hanoi have not arrived yet. Yay! I can have the river all by myself (well sort of).
The entry ticket is 120.000VND per person and another 150.000VND for the boat. They only allow maximum 2 persons (foreigners) in the same boat. But for local they would take up to 6 persons per boat. That morning, only less than 10 visitors at sight so I gleefully jump into the sampan. What amazed me, all the rowers have the ability to row the oars with their feet! I was actually tempted to try as I thought it would be a great exercise to burn hundreds bowl of Pho I had been eating. But of course I didn't dare to risk the rower's (an old man) life so I just sit quietly and enjoying the ride.
|approaching the first cave|
At the beginning of the route, I interestingly watched the locals doing their daily activities as my boat passing by the village. Then I smell something delicious from someone's backyard. I took a curious quick glance and had the shock of my life. Some people were grilling a whole dog! I squinch my eyes and took another look. Turned out it was a small lamb. Phew! I nearly jumped from my boat, seriously! The rower must have rolled his eyes, thinking I was a crazy lady who got hysterical and nearly flipped his boat just because some people were barbecuing. Oh well!
|Halong Bay on land|
|another cave to go through|
We left the village behind and passing by some cemeteries then voila, suddenly it became quiet. My boat was the only one glide down the calm river. Various shapes and sizes of karst in front of me looked as if they were floating in the water. Green paddy fields framing the curve of the river. It was too gorgeous that I lost in words. I closed my eyes as I inhaled and exhaled a deep long breath.....and I smiled. I have found my zen. I really think the splashing sound of water against wood as the boat rows was very soothing. This beautiful planet earth makes life worth living....and so does a bowl of delicious Pho. Another reason to be grateful :)
|the last cave|
Honestly my heart skipped a beat when I saw the ceiling of the cave was pretty low and it was pitch black inside. I was wondering if I would have another panic attack after the Catacombs of Paris incident. As my boat drifting slowly inside the cave, I could feel my pulse racing. Musty smell tickled my nose. Once again I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and convinced myself that I would be just fine. I refused to let my phobia swallow me up. Surprisingly, it worked! I guess some consultation with a psychologist, hypnotherapy, yoga and kickboxing lessons that I've been doing do help me somehow. I started to relax again and went through all the caves without any issues :)
|drink and snack seller|
At the end of the third or last cave, there's a bunch of women that sell drink and snacks on their boat. And here come the tricky part. These women will ask you to buy drink for your boat rower. Once you agree, they will transfer dozens of drink to the boat rower and you are the one who will take care the hefty payment. Then after the boat trip ended, the boat rower will give all the purchased drink back to the seller and they share the money.
What I did was giving a firm "NO" to them and told my rower that I'd rather give him tips after the boat ride. They kept bugging me for a while until I played deaf and avoided eye contact with them. Luckily my boat rower was a nice man and not pushy at all. Soon after that they rowed away from my boat and tried their luck to some other boats. My rower then took me to the same route back to the pier. I felt sorry to one young family that had to fork quite amount of money because they were too nice to think their rower was thirsty *sigh*
|gambling in the boat? why not? :D|
|life is such a bliss|
Despite the touts that can be quite annoying, I really wish the boat ride would last longer than 2 hours. The beautiful surrounding and peaceful ambiance is a great getaway from the hustling bustling city of Hanoi.
I'll be back again, Tam Coc. You have my promise...
I'll be back again, Tam Coc. You have my promise...