Tam Coc Caves and Hoa Luin Temple. 25th October 2016.
I need to be careful with this Blog as i Know I will get it in the neck from Jaki but if Im gonna write, I need to be honest, even at the expense of my own safety.
We decided to have few day trips and looked on the web to see what options we had.
There are a load of sites that list the top ten things to do in Hanoi or the best five day trips etc (you can just Google these) but you will soon realise they are all the same trips.
So, we discarded anything that had the words ‘Temple’ or ‘Ruin’ prominently displayed. Anything that referred to Hiking, Climbing or Diving was left in the to do box.
At the end of this exercise we were only left with two options.
There is a ‘Must Do’ from here and that is a sight seeing trip in Halon Bay.
This is best done from a boat and they come in day boats or over night boats. One night or two.
On line we found what looked like a good trip, the one night, with Kayaking, Squid fishing, Cookery class etc for $96 but the receptionist in the Hotel (who has been great and speaks perfect English) convinced us it might not be a good idea to book on line. Firstly the images shown on the particular web site we were looking at showed a lovely boat, in full sail and right across the sail it said Swan cruises which is apparently one of the most expensive tours to book with as its 5*.
When the the receptionist looked at the images she pointed out that they were from a different line and not Swan ( I e-mailed the on line company and asked which line they use and they later advised it was A Class. Our Lady suggested they were a two star Tour and the trip she was offering with galaxy was better. ( Though now we are on the boat, the A Class is moored up along side us and looks almost identical).
So we’ve booked a one night trip around Halon Bay which is where I’m currently writing up my notes as there is none of the promised Wifi in our room.
The second trip was to Tam Coc (three caves) where we would take leisurely ride on a Sampan and visit the Temples at Hoa Luin which I was assured we’re very small and wouldn’t take long to visit.
Sadly I’d been awake since 0300 when the call of nature first visited.
Our diet for the last 3 weeks has been primarily vegetarian with a small amount of meat, usually Chicken. The staples of Rice or Fred noodles is usually liberally mixed with cabbage, Morning Glory, Bean Shoots, Carrot and a range of other fresh local produce.
So when I ordered Fried Beef with Green Peppers at the Hanoi Garden Restaurant i wasn’t expecting a beef fest and I think a large portion of minced Beef cooked slightly rare was just too much of a shock for the system.
It left me feeling like I’d swallowed a bag of ball bearings that were hanging in a partially inflated Balloon.
So, when the alarm went off at 0645 on Tuesday morning I was feeling pretty ropey.
The Tour guide met us at the Hotel and walked us through the streets to where the bus was stopped. Parking a coach in Hanoi is almost impossible. In fact anything in Hanoi is almost Impossible. The Scooters park on the pavement which means all the pedestrians have to walk in the road where life and limb are in the balance.
Once on the bus we picked up from a few more Hotel’s and then set out for the 3 hour drive to Hoa Luin.
Luckily I slept most of the way even though the seating was very cramped.
The guide explained the bus was made in South Korea and its made for Asian People not Europeans, who are far bigger.
WE stopped after a couple of hours at a restaurant where we could use the toilets but you would really need to be desperate to engage with these bad boys. Plus 10 other coach loads of people were all trying to d the same.
I ate a pot of Yoghurt the Hotel kindly picked for me (they had offered to prepare a picnic breakfast but we declined) and managed to feel a little better.
Our next stop was the Temples at Hoa Luin.
We parked in a car park where the local sellers could get easy access to us in the hope we’d buy hats or souvenirs before setting off on the 10 minute walk to the Temples which were indeed small, didn’t take long to visit and if I’m brutal, weren’t worth the bother.
Our Guide (you can call me Jonny) tried his best to make it more interesting by giving us the full history of the place starting with the Big Bang and ending that morning, including every date, every Kings birthday and their eventual death date, which is apparently important.
I was relieved to get back on the bus or the short journey to the restaurant for lunch, which proved to be an exercise in mass catering Vietnamese style. IT really wasn’t very appealing and I think they went for quantity rather than quality. Drinks were of course extra.
Luckily I still felt rough so I had the Pumpkin soup ( Once i managed to salvage the serving Ladle out of the large bowl) which was very sweet and tasty.
By now it had started to rain, really rain. So hard it was impossible to have a conversation inside the dining area due in the main, to the tin roof.
WE seemed to hang around here for an inordinate amount of time and no one seemed to know why. Then, suddenly we were rounded up and herded onto the bus for the short trip to the Sampan dock.
This was very strange. There were dozens of Sampans moored up and sat on benches under cover dozens of Sampan Drivers (what is the correct name for someone who paddles a Sampan)?
They all appeared to be laughing at us. Look at those stupid Foreigners ( that is how we tourists are referred to here in Vietnam) paying good money to sit in my Sampan in the pouring ran. Suckers.
We were loaded two by two into an allocated Sampan, huddling under cheap plastic Capes of the gaudiest colours, (some of us had the good fortune to have brought umbrellas) and we set off our 3 Kilometre journey through 3 caves.
It sounded exciting.
Once the initial novelty of riding in a Sampan, being propelled by a lady who rowed with her feet wore off I was able to take stock. We were being propelled along a stretch of weed filled water through rocks that reminded me of Burrington Coombe. It was, magnificent, It was beautiful, but it was very dull.
Still, we had the three caves to look forward to.
As we entered the first one and I immediately realised this wasn’t going to be anything Like Wookey Hole or Goth’s Cave’s at Cheddar. It was grey. Where you could actually see it was very grey, the rest was pitch black and it started to get a bit eerie, a bit scary.
This might be getting good?
Till we came round a bend and there was light at the end of the tunnel.
It was at best 50 metres deep. The other two were even shorter.
They were in reality a bit of a red herring.
The we reached a point where our lady suggested we turn around and I for one was very relieved to hear it.
We were then approached by a lady in a boat who tried to sell us fruit, and soft drinks which we declined. She also suggested we buy ‘One for Madame’ meaning the lady doing the paddling.
This is apparently a ruse. You buy a can for the peddler at a ridiculous price, she takes it and then sells it on again to some one else later. They should start selling time share.
I was starting to feel like a package, I had been transported around at inconvenient times, deprived access to a clean toilet’s, soaked through and set up as an easy target for tout’s.
Even whilst we were in our sampan locals were taking our picture which they try to sell to you later. If they were good quality and not over exposed I we may have considered it but the ones we were offered had our heads in a shadow so it could have been anyone.
It felt packaged, like we were being carted from on place to another like a commodity to be exploited where ever possible. I Know these guys are poor and they’re trying to make a living the best they can but It doesn’t feel right.
I just didn’t like it. It was feeling uncomfortable, as was my bum on the hard wooden seat.
My back ached and I couldn’t stretch my legs. This was definitely not my finest hour.
On the way back the’ Madame’ suggested we might like to give her some money for a “TIP”?
I was so happy to get back I agreed.
Back on dry land we congregated at a very unappealing Cafe before setting off on our bicycle ride ‘through the rural environment where we would see village people in their natural environment.’
We were given some rickety old push bikes, which weren’t even legal. The Front wheel bearing was gone completely on mine making it almost impossible to peddle and it made an awful screeching noise that frightened off wildlife for a 100 metre radius.
I had no from Brake and by now, very little patients.
We stopped once for a photo opportunity before descending on the local market where we could watch people cutting up raw meat or barter with the locals for Tat. I didn’t stay long.
I was glad to get back on the bus and sleep the whole way back to Hanoi.
Im sorry to say, this wasn’t the highlight of my holiday and some things are best forgotten..