After arriving back at our trusty Hanoi hostel we booked one more night as we decided the next step of our journey. We were enjoying some lovely tea in the hotel reception, making most of the wifi, countless maps and our Lonely Planet guide book and we were joined by an old boy from Australia. He filled us in on his whole life, showed us pictures of his daughters, grandchildren and we found out how he had ended up travelling Asia alone. He is still receiving his state pension even when out of the country so week by week he uses this to enjoy a trip with no end around Asia with his newly purchased Honda motorcycle, which he kept staring at through the window protectivly. He was so lovely and we took our time listening to his tales to which then provided us with our next destination.
Tam Coc is a small town just outside of Ninh Binh, he advised us that there was nothing to to at all in Ninh Binh and we should catch a bus to Tam Coc and stay in the same hotel that he did as he loved it and after looking at some of his pictures we asked the reception to book us a bus to leave the following morning. When that was all sorted we went off in search for some street food and ended up at a restaurant that only served fish dishes but it was delicious and after a night time stroll and people watch around the lake we were back packing the bag and getting ready to leave in the morning.
A mini bus picked us up in the morning for the four hour bus ride to Ninh Binh. Two empty seats left at the back so we got comfy, well I say comfy, we tried at least, some guy in front of Robbie had reclined his seat that far his head was basically in his crotch and it was very uncomfortable for everyone involved, after asking him to politely sit his seat up he then proceeded to stretch his arms over the aisle onto the seat opposite, again would of been fine if it wasn’t for the smell coming from his armpits, Robbie again polite as ever asked him to move his arm as we couldnt concentrate on what the guide at the front was trying to tell us. We spent the rest of the journey trying to avoid eye contact with the man and his girlfriend.
We had been booked on a bus that was an orgnaised tour group and we were just hitching a ride. We stopped at a huge ancient town, that was barely all still there but the bits that were you had to pay to go behind the old city walls to view, as we weren’t that fussed and thought it was just a toilet stop we wandered around the gardens and found some very sassy looking cows, they were beautifully brightly decorated and just stood waiting for me to arrive and shower them with my love. After taking more pictures of the cows than anything else we decided its best to use the loo before the rest of the coach ride. Now toilets in Asia are gross, bottom line disgusting most of the time, so with a deep breath of fresh air I ran in, ran out and paid the woman for what was one of the worst experiences of my life, this is something I am learning to get used too. Back on the bus we rolled into Ninh Binh, the guide asked us if we wanted to get off here and make our own way to Tam Coc or just stay on the bus and boy am I glad we stayed on that bus. Ninh Binh was literally ghost town. It looked like something terrible had happened there and everyone had fled, apparently not just happens that there is actually nothing to do there. So we carried on with the rest of the bus leaving our smelly companion and his girlfriend behind.
Tam Coc is described as the Halong Bay on the land. The town is surrounded by rock formations with two rivers running through it where you can take a boat ride with a local. It was so beautiful and quiet despite the fact it was a little rainy. The bus dropped us off and pointed us in the way of the hotel, it was starting to get dark, the rain was setting in and we were walking into what seemed like nothing, just down a road hoping to see the sign for the hotel. After twenty minuets thankfully we started to see signs of life and after the fourth one, we took a right turn down a dirt path over a little bridge and there was our hotel. The girl on reception was everything, receptionist, cleaner, cook, waitress, tour guide and she was fab. She only looked young but in the family run hotel it was clear her English was the best. We got into our huge room with the biggest bed ever and a lovely balcony with a beautiful view. After a hearty traditional feed we retired to bed.
The next morning we asked the girl if we could hire a moped to explore the area, to which her uncle lent us his and asked we returned it with fuel, with a very inaccurate hand drawn map of the town we set of for a full day exploring. I’ve never been on the back of a moped before or driven one for that matter so I was clutching on for dear life, under strict instructions not to lean or move, after a bit I was alright and calmed down enough to just hold on like a normal person. Tam Coc is such a quaint little place, that must not see many backpackers as people were staring at us and the kids were high fiving us as we drove past. We drove down roads to where there was no end but beautiful views and so many goats.
On the map ‘the 500 steps’ was highlighted so we set off to find it, after turning down so many wrong roads with my excellent navigational skills I decided to ask at a hotel reception, after some very questionable sign language for steps the couple who owned the hotel stared at me and tried to show me a room upstairs, I don’t think they totally understood what I was getting at so we decided to keep going. In Vietnam they drive on the other side of the road to us, well they drive wherever they want really so you have to be so switched on to the roads and other bikes that appear from nowhere. As we turned down one road Robbie accidentally got on the wrong side and two locals on their moped nearly crashed into us, we were saying sorry like mad while trying to turn the bike around and speed off, the two old men continued to scream at us in Vietnamese and shook their fists angrily. I was trying so hard to not laugh and we carried on tootling down the road.
We drove on through this little residential area and found a path, one we hadn’t tried so went for it and at the end was the 500 steps, yes I found it! Well it was a joint effort. After parking up the bike it was time to tackle the steps, I didn’t count but it sure felt more than 500 and some were uneven and a huge step up so it was an effort to get to the top, but worth it for the pagoda and the view of the river and land all around Tam Coc.
It was a slow and steady decent for me as I was terrified of falling the whole way down. We found a cave that was used by the Vietnamese in the war to treat injured soldiers. Tam Coc and the surrounding area was retained by the Vietnamese during the war as they knew the waterways so well, used the long grass to their advantage and managed to push back the Americans. We filled up the moped and took it back to the hotel, I think everyone was glad we got it back in one piece. The evening was spent eating outside and enjoying the peaceful vibe. The next day we had the most relaxing day just waking up and not really getting out of bed until we thought we best. Today we walked around the village, sat by the river and drank so much tea, it was still a bit chilly so it was nice to sit and watch the people of Tam Coc going about their business.
The hotel lady booked us a bus to leave that night at 9pm which would get us to Hoi an at 6.30.. Another adventure on the night buses. After we had packed up and giving our host a tip she fully deserved she arranged for her sister and father to run us into town on the back of their mopeds. Robbie took the big backpack and I the small, now I didn’t know this girl so clinging on for dear life may have been a shock to her..but as we set off I had to, this was not the normal road into the town, oh no they took a right turn and down the narrowest darkest back alleys, I mean we were turning corners at a rapid pace and I had no choice but to pray we would make it to the bus alive, in one piece and hopefully forgiven for the constant weeping noises I made in this poor girls ear, it was like something out of a film. After safely arriving at the bus stop and seeing Robbie’s face I’m guessing his getaway drive was the same as mine. As the bus pulled up it looked pretty full and our chances of getting two seats together were slim to none so I perched myself at the front and Robbie at the back, said good night and tried to sleep as was headed for Hoi An.