Earlier in the day, we cycled to the Mua Cave and walked up the hill to get a view of Tam Coc.
We had planned to go there later in the day as it was fairly close to the cave. We had hired bikes for the day so the distances between that places are not that far.
On the day cycling, you pass a lot of small farms with water buffalo lazing around. There’s plenty of cows too. There’s rice fields and other fields used for growing various vegetables.
In most of the fields, there’s local farmers with their cone shaped hats going about their day. When you look at pictures of Vietnam and China, this is the sort of things you will often see.
We cycled through various villages that were not on our maps. Most of the times, when unsure on where to go, a local person would look up and point. They must be used to tourists with bad maps cycling through their village.
In some parts, they don’t really see many tourists at all though. We stopped for a drink at one point, a guy appeared on a motorbike, stopped dead, looked us up and down for a few seconds with a confused look on his face and then smiled and said hello.
I think he was thinking that he’d only one of those people on TV before but hadn’t saw many of us close up. He seemed friendly enough though.
We made our way towards Tam Coc and it was obvious when you were near it. Not because there was a sign to tell you but because there was a lot of shops and restaraunts that suddenly appeared.
The owners of these places were standing outside and waving for you to stop while shouting hello, telling you to come in and buy something or letting you know that you could get something to eat or drink.
We passed by here and parked our bikes up. Like the caves, there was someone there willing to look after your bike for a small fee. The fee varied and people always say that you should bargain to get a cheaper price.
However, the difference would be that you’d be paying maybe 50p instead of 30p for someone to look after the bikes. I don’t see the point in spending time bargaining over what, to us, is a small amount of money.
The guide books and websites for the area suggest that you can turn up, find a boat, agree a price and pay for them to take you round.
Not any more, instead, you have to buy a ticket for the boat which is a set price.
First, you have to pay to enter the area and then you have to pay to get on the boat. The price, by local standards, was quite expensive. All in, it was about £12 to go on the boat.
That was massively higher than the books and various websites had suggested so we didn’t bother.
Instead, we agreed to cycle to Trang An and see what the prices were like there. Some guides seemed to suggest that Tran An was a better boat trip and it wasn’t as busy.
We had plenty of time so decided to go and see both places before we decided which of the two we wanted to go to.
At Trang An, there was also a set price to go on the boat but it wasn’t as expensive so when there, we decided to go on.
The boats are rowed by local woman and they must have amazing strength as there was the two of us plus another two Vietnamese guys on our boat.
At a guess, I probaly weighed about double what the woman rowing the boat did. There were another two oars though and we all took a bit of time to help out. Not that it was needed, the woman seemed more then capable of rowing without our help.
The boat takes you through a large number of caves, I think about 7 or 8, the longest of which was 320m long. The Tam Coc boat goes through 3 caves so I think we made the correct choice.
Although there are other boats on the water, you don’t see that many of them. The river is far enough away from the road for you not to be able to hear any cars so apart from the sound of the oars in the water, it’s quiet.
The scenery is amazing. I commented that if a new Lord of the Rings movie was being made, part of this area would be perfect for it.
At one point, a few of the other boat operators clearly got tired of using their hands to row the boats. Instead of stopping for a break or letting the passngers take over, they just used their feet.
We thought one had dropped an oar as it fell away from her feet. She didn’t, she had let it go in order to turn the boat and promptly picked it up with her foot again.
Seeing someone grip an oar with their feet was impressive enough but to then see them manouvere a rowing boat with their feet really was something else.
There’s been so many amazing things to see in this trip and we’re only a short time into it.
We were unsure what to expect from Vietnam but along with Halong Bay, this was a highlight so far.