I took the bus 90 kilometers south of Hanoi to the province of Ninh Binh, which is divided into one city (Ninh Binh), one town (Tam Diep) and six districts and lies in the Red River Delta. Ninh Bình has a short coastline abutting the Gulf of Tonkin.
It was a long bumpy ride through the afternoon and evening, with construction going on everywhere along the highway south as there's a building boom in Vietnam. Once on the outskirts of Hanoi, the city becomes drab and gray and dusty and the dust turns to mud once it's drizzling with rain like the day I traveled. The landscape is like Taiwan with its pitted roads lined with dull, gray buildings and the ubiquitous scooters darting amongst the potholes on the congested roads. Earth-moving machines clawed through pyramids of sand, rock and bricks stood beside the road in tall piles and protective green netting for scaffolding was wrapped around every building. Women with bamboo rods across their n-shaped backs mechanically traipsed back and forth like ants over planks stretched out over ditches, heavy buckets of cement dangling and swinging at each end of their rods. Everybody was at work shoveling, digging, or hammering. I dozed off and dreamed I woke up in a ditch half-filled with water.
I checked into a hotel in Tam Coc (I was the only one there) and got some lunch. It's a small town and very few tourists stayed there. Most travelers make it a day trip to see the caves and then return to Hanoi. I was in luck because the local townspeople were preparing for a variety show that night.
It was noisy and colorful. Plastic stools were placed all over the park in front of the bay and food vendors set up and started cooking. Smoke hung over everything. When the kids arrived they were all dressed up in colorful silks for their parts in a play. The old people fascinated me, they were so unbelievably wrinkled; work and war are carved deeply into their faces. I kept thinking about the war and all they had to endure. One old woman with white hair and shriveled face was perpendicular to her legs as she crept over to a stool and sat down, unable to look up without breaking her neck. Most of the elders had no teeth, and if there were any, they were black stumps that struck out at odd angles from their gums.
The variety show was comical and everyone clapped and cheered. I hadn't a clue what was going on but everybody enjoyed themselves, but the play was followed by such ear-shattering music I had to walk around with my hands over my ears. Fortunately, I always travel with ear plugs. Unfortunately, I always forget to bring them. It was so deafening I had to leave, not that I could get away from it anywhere in town, but at least I could close a door and muffle the sound, but after a while I felt like I was at a Chinese work camp. By 10:30 it was all over and the stools were gathered up and the families wandered off. Once the circus lights went off and the clowns went home it was very, very, dark, because there are no street lights in Tam Coc, just the moon and the stars and the howling dogs and the waves lapping at the wooden boats tied up to the docks.
The food market in the village. It's fantastic here, there were NO supermarkets to screw up the landscape because their diet mainly consists of fresh veggies and fish (and dogs but we'll get to that story later).
Tam Coc translates to "Three Caves" and that's one of the reasons why I went to Tam Coc Caves, to experience the inland Halong Bay. You get into one of the little wooden boats and row through the canals, past rice paddies, farmers, buffaloes,fishermen, and ruined temples. It's a ride through the land of enchantment. Vietnam is truly unique.
These high school students were on holiday for Tet and they crowded around while I ate my lunch, wanting to speak English with a foreigner and asking me a gazillion questions. A crowd can sometimes gather if you go to the more obscure places because they seldom see foreigners. I love this part of traveling, it makes me feel more connected. I lived in a small town on the west coast of Canada for fifteen years and most of my neighbors didn't have the whatnot to even say hello, or they were at odds with each other, or just plain stupid. But then, half of them were either married to their cousins or had given birth to their father's children. Amazing how many more friends and quality people I've met traveling in other parts of the world. So much better here!
Vietnamese women are the most beautiful women I've ever seen. Check out the dreamy eyes on the sweetie in orange, bottom left.
Of course I have to throw in a few pictures of the adorable children in Vietnam.
As far as transportation,the Vietnamese are quickly moving into the twentieth century.