Wednesday, December 3rd, 2003 – Day 288 to Thursday, December 4th, 2003 – Day 289

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2003 – Day 288

While the bus did not come to collect me, they send a moto driver instead. We left Hanoi at 7.45am. I was in with a nice bunch of people. All five had French (Belgiums, French, Suwizs). They were all nice though and had good English.

It took three gours to get there and a free luch was ncluded. it was filling as there was only 3 of us at our table so I ate for three.

Hoa Lu

From A.D. 968 to 1010, Hoa Lu was the capital of Vietnam under the Dinh Dynasty and the first part of the Le Dynasty. It is located in a valley surrounded by awesome limestone formations, and is known as the inland Halong Bay. It is a similarly picturesque sight and much easier to reach. Most of what remains of the kingdom are ruins, but there are still temples in the valley, renovated in the 17th century.

Bich Dong Pagoda is located 11 km from Ninh Binh in Ninh Binh province and can be reached by either boat or car. Bich Dong Pagoda, built on Ngu Nhac Mountain, is divided into three levels: Ha Pagoda (lower pagoda), Trung Pagoda (middle pagoda), and Thuong Pagoda (upper pagoda). On the mountain peak stands the statue of a scholar Mandarin looking at the horizon in hope of viewing the spectacular landscapes of Hoa Lu.

From the upper pagoda, one has the most magnificent view of Bich Dong, which is romantically charming in terms of architecture and history. The location for this pagoda was chosen in 1428 after two monks were charmed by the view of the river and the mountains. Later, King Le Canh Hung wrote a poem in honour of the beautiful pagoda and landscape. He was the one who said that Bich Dong Pagoda was the second nicest pagoda in Vietnam, after the Huong Pagoda, also called Perfume Pagoda, in Ha Tay province.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Teddy Bears not having a Picnic. (03-12-2003)

The temples were fine. It was nice to ahve few tourists in the area. There was only one other small group. I was surprised they were not more. One cannot visit Bich Dong Pagoda without visiting Tam Coc Cave, located approximately 2 km from the pagoda.

Tam Coc is an awesome site of giant limestone karst formations jutting out of the rice paddies that surround the Ngo Dong River about 9km southwest of Ninh Binh, North Vietnam. It is often labelled “The Halong Bay of the rice paddies,” in reference to similiar karst formations that rise out of the South China Sea at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Halong Bay. The name Tam Coc means “Three Caves.” As you are rowed down the Ngo Dong River by the famous leg rowers of Tam Coc, you pass through three enormous caves that provide a brief respite from the intense summer sun. It takes approximately three hours to go up and down the river and along the way, you witness local fisherfolk, village life along the river and, of course, the striking limestone karst formations that Tam Coc is famous for. You can buy snacks and drinks from the local vendors who row their boats up to yours but if you are prepared (as we were), you can easily bring a couple of liters of Bia Hoi along with you for the journey.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Tam Coc – Boat Ladies (03-12-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Tam Coc – Boat Ladies (03-12-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Tam Coc – Boat Ladies (03-12-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Tam Coc – Boat Ladies (03-12-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Tam Coc – Boat Ladies (03-12-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Tam Coc – Boat Ladies (03-12-2003)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Tam Coc – Boat Ladies (03-12-2003)

This was nice. Hundreds of paddle boats were avaialble. It is the main source of income for women in this area. Two tourists and two paddlers (one to paddle each leg of the trip) can fit on the boat. They get 10,000 Dong per tourist but because so many women do it, they only get a chance to row for tourists TWICE a month. therefore they try and sell lace and tablecloth to yo on the trip. They also try for tips and food sales. It was about 40 minutes rowing each way. It was good. The rowers were good craic and the weather was good. We rowed into some caves which was nice. A far better experience than Halong Bay.

We arrived back in Hanoi at 5.15pm.

I see Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra vowed Wednesday to keep up what he calls his successful war on drugs. Thaksin, denies accusations his government condoned the killings of more than 2,000 suspected traffickers and peddlers. It is calimed most were killed by Police.

Wednesday, December 4th, 2003 – Day 289

Very little done today. I watched Snatch on the TV last night. Grat Movie. I got up at 1.o0am and walked to the Railway Station to buy a ticket to Sapa for tomorrow night. A hard sleeper Bunk was 109,000 Dong. I collect my Visa for China tomorrow. its a three month Double Entry visa. It will cost 45 USD. I was really lazy today but I really need to catch up on information and routes regarding China. So far, I am clueless.

Watched Indonesia play Vietnam in the SEA games tonight. There is great excitment around the city. They are Soccer crazy. Vietnam won 1-0. Thousands were out celebrating on there motor bikes. They fly all over town wearing headbands while the bike passengers wave massive flags. Its like the World Cup here at the moment. I was the cause of a small accident around 10.00pm. As usual they dont give a damn about red lights at traffic stops, so I was crossing the road while green but still had Honda zooming past me. One guy doing about 30 miles an hour braked (it wasa red light) and two motor bikes from behind crashed into him. Little damage was done butI could hear some heated words while I walked on. There was no point in getting involved.

I had a few beers on the road side. A beer from a stall (one large glass) will cost about 1500-3000 Dong. Nice stuff too. I watched a bit of Rambo 3 (dont ask) before heading to bed.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Sign at a Pagoda (04-12-2003)

Trouble readjusting to life back home after spending time travelling?

Here’s a few handy hints that should help you settle back in:

1) Replace your bed with two or more bunk beds, and every night invite random people in to sleep there. This will make things seem more hostel like, and will also boost your karma. Ensure at least once a week a couple gets drunk and shags on one of the top bunks all night. Remove beds one by one as symptoms improve.

2) Sleep in your sleeping bag, and forget to wash it for months.

3) Sleep in a different room each day, varying it by setting the air conditioning either too hot or too cold. Sleep behind a pot plant for that jungle effect. Cats also double as pumas with a little imagination. Put up a mosquito net, ensuring that there are plenty of holes, and it falls down at least twice during the night.

4) Enlist help of a family member to set your radio alarm randomly to go off at some time during the night, filling your room with loud talking. Works best if you can find a radio station in Hebrew.

5) Slowly remove items of clothing etc from your backpack, until you are completely using your wardrobe instead. Maybe only one item a day, but remember its one step at a time kids, one step at a time. Don’t forget to smell your clothes before wearing them, and re-introduce the use of the iron SLOWLY.

6) Buy your favourite foodstuffs, and despite living at home, write your name and when you might next be leaving the house on them. This should be the backpackers staple diet of mainly pasta,potatoes and beer.

7) Ask family member to every now or again steal one of the above foodstuffs, preferably the one you’ve most been looking forward to, or the most expensive.

8) Keep at least one item of food far too long or in a bag out in the sun, so you have to spend at least 24 hours within sprinting distance of the toilet.

9) Even if it’s a Sunday, make sure you’re out of the house by 10am, and then stand on the corner looking lost. Ask first passer-by of similar ethnic background if they’ve found anywhere good to go yet.

10) Once decided to possibly get a job, take a fully packed rucksack to work with you every day. Although it’s perfectly safe next to the coffee machine, watch it like a hawk.

11) Buy your bus, train ticket or order a taxi in a foreign language. The fact the person behind the counter won’t understand you simply adds to the authenticity. Remember to barter for everything, if the bus driver says 70p, offer 30p.

12) When sitting on public transport (the tube in London is the best) introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you, say which stop you got on, where your going to, how long you have been travelling and what university you went to. If they say they are going to Morden, say you met a guy on the central line who said it was terrible, you’ve heard Parsons Green is better, and cheaper.

13) When possible travel everywhere at break neck speeds on a moped carrying as much luggage as possible, without protection

14) Shower infrequently, ensuring that you continue to apply Deet for that true travel aroma.

These simple but effective instructions should help you fall back into normal society with the minimum of effort. Good luck!