It’s been a while since I wrote about Planning for Vietnam and the first entry of the UnPHOrgettable Vietnam series on Halong Bay. Sorry for the moody kind of writing these days. I used to say to myself that when I write a travel series, I need to write them in a consecutive manner or else, our readers will lose interest. It’s just been a really hectic quarter for us and coupled with a rollercoaster ride of emotions for me, it doesn’t translate well to my writing. Anyway, I’m back with the second and last installment to my Vietnam travel series. You might wonder why it only has two entries when I usually bombard you with entries when it comes to traveling to a new country. Uhmn, there’s still Cambodia to write about! And I need to finish these because we’re more than halfway 2018 and I’m still not halfway in these posts. Enough rambling, let’s go!
After our Halong Bay experience, the following day was spent traveling again to the province of Ninh Binh in the Red River Delta region of the northern part of Vietnam. By this time, I’m already getting accustomed to the bus ride and it’s looking like a bus ride to my home province in the Philippines filled with rice paddies and hills on either sides of the road. Ninh Binh province is famous for its high density of natural and cultural attractions including the Cuc Phurong National Park, Trang An, Bai Dinh Temple, Phat Diem Cathedral and Tam Coc-Bich Dong. The latter is known for its limestone outcrops and serene rice fields. We have a few Western people in our tour group that day and beside me was a Belgian woman who was traveling solo during her break from work. She told me that her parents traveled to Vietnam back in the day and she’s “following their footsteps”. That’s so heartwarming! We bantered for a while but I mostly slept during the 2-hour ride. My friends Rence and Camille were on the other side of the bus and spent the time sleeping too. I guess we got too sleepy with watching the Water Puppet Show, haha. This day trip is still part of our Vietnam package we got from the Hanoi Royal Palace Hotel.
After two hours we reached our first stop: Hoa Lu in the Truong Yen Thuong village. This was the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries. Hoa Lu is known as the “ancient capital” because of the imperial dynasties that were founded in this place. Hoa Lu covers an area of 300 hectares which includes an inner and outer citadel. However, these ancient citadels are no longer standing. We can only see the temples built in honor of the emperors Đinh Tiên Hoàng and Lê Đại Hành their sons, and Queen Dương Vân Nga, who was married first to Đinh Tiên Hoàng and then to Lê Đại Hành. Yup, there’s some complicated family affair over there. Haha. The tomb of Đinh Tiên Hoàng is located on nearby Mã Yên mountain, while the tomb of Lê Đại Hành lies at the foot of the mountain. The Ma Yen mountain can be climbed but we already have an experience on climbing in Halong and you know how that went so no, thank you very much.
Visitors need to wear clothing that covers the legs when entering the temples. There’s a booth where huge shawls can be rented out to serve as long skirts for women. The temples get really crowded during the day as schedules of tour groups going to Ninh Binh are almost the same every day. Both temples have more or less the same elements to them. ***For some reason, my photos on this leg of the trip are missing. I’ll update when I find them, or at least my memory card.***
After the temples, we proceeded to Tam Coc. I’m looking forward to this river ride because I’m hoping for a quiet, serene experience. Sometimes, we we go on trips, we go from one place to another and everything becomes a flurry of activities that at the end of the day, we ask ourselves what happened? Haha. The point of traveling is to gather as much memories and moments as we can, along with discovering ourselves, our companions and the places we’ve been to. A boat ride in Tam Coc is a moment of reflection. At least for me.
After a quick lunch, I slathered on more sunscreen on my face and prepared for a hot trip down the river. My friends and I wore the orange life vests at the river bank. OMG these vests stink and some are quite worn out. There were numerous visitors who already wore them but we can’t be maarte and choosy because wearing a life vest is mandatory and obviously, we didn’t bring one with us. (Who has a personal life vest?! Lol.) We were the first ones in our group to board the small wooden boat. A Vietnamese lady was rowing it with her feet most of the time. Yes, her feet. Haha.
There were so many tourists and so many boats with us in the river. I was doubting my “serene” river cruise by the time we reached a bend in the river but we found our pace and eventually, the noisy river bank faded into the distance.
Tam Coc is known as the “Halong Bay on Land”. It’s an opportunity to see the beauty of karst formations and green to yellow rice paddies. The stretch is all about nature and I’m just contented looking at the limestone outcrops and grass along the way. The cruise got a bit exciting when we passed through caves carved into the limestone. I can touch the cave ceiling and also touch the water. I’m like a giddy girl who haven’t seen a river or a cave all her life. But the thing is, I already saw a lot of rivers and caves in my life but I’m still amazed at Tam Coc. Meandering lazily while on a trip is something I appreciate. There’s something peaceful to it. When we were halfway through, I think I managed to drown out the voices of my friends talking behind me (they were seated in front of the woman rowing our boat), the splash of water and oar meeting, the shrieks of other visitors on nearby boats… the open air, the warm sunshine, and the karsts jutting out of the fields just hugged me and lulled me.
After a while, we reached the end of the river. We needed to make a U-turn and pass by the same side of the river to go back. There were vendors on boats and some of them were so aggressive in selling us drinks or snacks.
Some of them were suggesting we buy food for our rower but we’ve read enough travel sites to know that this is a tourist trap. Many have said that when we buy something for our rower, she doesn’t really eat of drink it but she returns it back to the vendor and they split the money. We rather give our rower a tip in cash. And so off we went again to the lazy river and slowly made our way back to the river bank. The trip took us around an hour or so.
After alighting from the boat and returning our life vests, our group huddled again the restaurant where we had our buffet lunch. Our guide told us we’re going biking along the country lanes but I couldn’t join them because I was wearing a dress. I know how to bike though even though I haven’t biked for a long time. They said it’s one of life’s skills that you can’t forget. Anyway, I stayed at the restaurant to wait for the group. It’s one activity that I’m willing to let go because the scenery that I’ll be seeing is probably the same as the ones I already saw in our province.
My friends joined the group at first but after a few minutes, they returned to the restaurant. They couldn’t bike fast enough and keep up with the group. When the group returned, we all piled back to our us for the journey back to Hanoi. Very much like Manila, Hanoi had a bad traffic situation. We were stuck in their expressway for an hour or so. Our driver decided to use another route. By 7:00 in the evening, we arrived in our hotel tired, sleepy, and hungry. We refreshed and rested a bit before venturing out again for a quick dinner. We relied mostly on the internet in finding restaurants at first BUT we stopped doing that when we couldn’t find the restaurants the app was suggesting. We go to the place, and we know it’s the right place but we see a street diner. Low seats on the streets with one woman manning a pot or something where the food is. We resorted to eating at places near our hotel. One of them had a grilling place where we choose the food on sticks and we cook them on a pot and stove brought to our table. They were delicious!
We also stumbled upon a coffee shop named Always. Yup, a Harry Potter-themed cafe in Hanoi! It was soo cute complete with a corner selling wands, robes, keychains, necklaces, etc. I badly wanted to get a wand but alas, my budget couldn’t afford it haha. We contented ourselves in drinking “Polyjuice Potion” because they ran out of “Butterbeer”. That was a bummer. The main reason why we visited the cafe is for the Butterbeer. We think they came up with a Harry Potter cafe because the owner looks like Harry Potter! I kid you not. He’s like the Boy Who Lived! So cute!
The following day, we went around Hanoi city to visit points of interest. This city tour still included in our tour package. We were again picked up by a coaster in the morning after a quick breakfast at the hotel. Our first stop was the Trấn Quốc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi, located on a small island near the southeastern shore of West Lake.
Our first stop was the Ho Chi Minh Complex where the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Ho Chi Minh Museum are. As you probably know by now, Ho Chi Minh is the most revered president of Vietnam. He was a key figure in the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945 as well as the People’s Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong during Vietnam War. Saigon was renamed in honor of Ho Chi Minh but his resting place lies in Hanoi. The Mausoleum, said to be modelled after Lenin’s mausoleum in Russia, was closed during the time we visited. It is an impressive sight with a wide square surrounding it.
We then moved on to the Ho Chi Minh Museum where the president’s life story unfolds and preserved. The yellow house looks so beautiful! The gardens around were pockets of fresh air.
The One Pillar Pagoda is also known as a unique architectural and cultural work in Vietnam. There were a lot of people in this space. Around the place were souvenir shops and snack stores.
We then went to the 54,331 sqm Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam Complex (Temple of Literature) which comprises of five walled courtyards as well as the Van Lake and Giam Garden. We just went to the first courtyard called the Nhap Dao or Entrance to the Way. It teaches students to behave respectfully as the first lesson. Acquiring knowledge and becoming virtuous and talented comes next.
After this, we had to go back to the hotel already. We couldn’t join lunch and the rest of the afternoon itinerary because we have to catch our flight that afternoon to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Our luggage were already prepared and we bid goodbye to the hotel staff. There was a car waiting for us to take us to the airport and to our next adventure. Let’s go!