The sleeper bus delivered us to the deserted streets of Hanoi early in the morning. We made our way to the train station and sat being watched by a few early birds also waiting for the trains to start running. A couple of hours on the train to Ninh Binh followed by a cab ride and we finally arrived at in the searing early afternoon heat of Tam Coc, a stark contrast to the cooler climes of Sapa where we had been less than 24 hours earlier.
There wasn’t much in Tam Coc itself, but the surrounding countryside was breathtaking. Months before coming to Vietnam we had watched a youtube video of another travelling family cruising around the rice paddy fields of Tam Coc on bikes, and now finally we were able to do it ourselves.
It was great to have freedom on two wheels and we duly explored the area via bicycles and scooters. There were a couple of incidents of note: the first being Tiana getting up close and personal with a rice paddy after getting a bit over confident on her bike and falling sideways straight into one. Becky, Rico and I attempted to hide our laughter but it exasperated the situation! Aside from a bruised ego and muddy hair she was unscathed. The second was a bit more serious. Whilst riding on a scooter with T on the back, I saw something pretty big out the corner of my eye fly towards me and get caught in my scooter helmet. Fortunately I managed to pull over immediately. I had been stung on the side of my head and it was pretty damn painful. Having had a couple of allergic reactions to bee stings over the years I was a bit concerned, and thankfully we had some antihistamine with us. An hour later I asked Becky to check my back as it was itchy – I was covered in welts and felt my whole body starting to itch. We managed to ride back to town and get to a chemist who then prescribed a stronger antihistamine, but by this time I was totally covered in welts and started to shiver. I crawled into bed and let the meds kick in – sleeping for 15 hours. Thankfully by the morning the welts had subsided, but my face looked like I’d been in a dust up!
Our time in Tam Coc included a trip to the stunning Trang An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We rode there on our scooters and arrived early to avoid the masses. It is a truly beautiful place, and 3 blissful hours were spent gliding through the valleys on our narrowboat, being expertly manoeuvred by our oarswomen, stopping off at a temples along the way. The experience was only slightly tainted by the ridiculously loud Chinese tour group we kept bumping into. The rich green tapestry woven into the majestic limestone karst peaks was a sight to behold. The area had been used as a backdrop for the movie Kong: Skull Island and there were a few film props dotted about on some of the small ‘islands’ we stopped at.
Our next destination was Hué which was an 11 hour train ride away. Cleanliness wasn’t at the top of the agenda inside the train, which didnt bother us, and the vista outside made up for it, as did the food cart. Every so often the rickety trolley would appear down the isle with an array of weird and wonderful meals, snacks and drinks. The ‘inflight’ entertainment was provided courtesy of the comings and goings of the commuters and watching them eat, sleep and sing. The time passed quickly and after a short cab ride we were warmly welcomed by our new hosts for the ensuing 3 days in Hué.
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