“If you want to travel fast, use the old roads.”
– Vietnamese Proverb
A few years back I had this incredible image of a river running through intense green fields with mountains around as a desktop picture on my computer. I remember my friend Greg said “we should go there”, so for the purpose of this trip I picture-googled and found out where it was from…
This was the picture on my computer, and it was from Tam Coc. On the map the boat trip area looks positively tiny, but it doesn’t seem so when you’re actually on the boat. A definite highlight of my trip, this boat trip.
First thing’s first: I took a bus from Hue towards Ninh Binh. I had decided to stay in Tam Coc, about 5 km away from Ninh Binh, because Tam Coc is where the stuff “happens”. Not too action filled, it’s a very chilled place, but Tam Coc is where the boat ride is and there’s plenty of places to stay, eat, drink etc. You can also branch out more easily from Tam Coc with regards to hikes and getting to the pagodas etc.
The bus I took stopped in Tam Coc and fortunately I had befriended an English bloke taking the same bus, because he woke me up when we arrived in Tam Coc so I had a change of getting off. We were dropped in the centre of Tam Coc at around 5 am and my first priority was making sure I wasn’t missing any luggage. I was pretty groggy at this point and clutching my phone, wallet and my little bag where always have my passport and most important papers. As long as I have those three things I am not completely f*cked. All my stuff was finally accounted for and I discovered that Tam Coc is used to the bus dropping off loads of tourists so they had two backpackers “semi-open” – meaning the reception area and bathroom was open, with wifi(!), so you could sit comfortably and wait for the rest of Tam Coc to wake up. I got a French lady to watch my stuff while I had the most needed bathroom break of my life, before I joined Richard (the English bloke) on the sidewalk. Unfortunately, he had lost his phone 😦 It was probably still on the bus, but that had driven off 10 minutes ago, so the phone was definitely lost… So after borrowing my laptop to block his sim card and finding out where his hostel was, Richard headed off in the general direction. I hope he didn’t die, never heard from him again… 😉
I waited a couple of hours before walking to “Lys Homestay”, about 5 minutes walk from where the bus stopped. The Tam Coc boat trip leaves from just about where the bus stopped too. Tam Coc is fairly small, easy to get around the most important stuff and you can rent a scooter or, like I did, a scooter with a driver, for the rest of it. I did that for my “day out in Ninh Binh” and ended up with Lys’ husband driving me around the whole day *lol*
TAM COC BOAT RIDE
The Tam Coc boat ride cost me 270.000 Vietnamese Dong – about $12 US. It’s more expensive than the Trang An one, which surprised me because Trang An was way busier and had more boats to accommodate the absolute onslaught of people trying to get on the river. Of the two I have to say I preferred the Tam Coc one. There were less people, less boats and the scenery was easily as beautiful, if not better.
Like I said, the lake looks ridiculously small on Google Maps, it’s way bigger “in person”…
For the $12 you get your own boat (two foreigners per boat, so if there’s three of you, unless you’re really lucky, they will capitalize on that and you have to get two boats). A bit unfair when you see boats with 5 locals no problem, but thems the breaks.
I went to the little booth, paid my ticket, got a life vest planted on me and got put in a boat with an old, almost toothless sweetheart who spoke two English words (“temple” and “yes”). His name was “Hack” (I don’t know how he spells it, that’s how he pronounced it) and he proceeded to row me around for an hour and a half using his feet 90 % of the way. It was amazing.
The boat ride is not circular – you go there and then back again. After several rice fields, caves and a lot of beautiful landscape, you end up where all the hawkers have their own boats filled with stuff they want to sell you (water, fruit, soda, souvenirs). I wasn’t interested in buying anything, but was of course approached. I gave the woman a friendly, but firm “no” and she switched tactics, trying to get me to buy something for Hack “as a tip”. I said no to this too and Hack took my cue, asked if I wanted to go back and then promptly started rowing us back to start.
The trip back is in no way boring even though “you’ve just been there”. The landscape is gorgeous and I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the lake.
I had heard that the rowers will expect tip and some wrote “no matter how much you give them, it wont be enough, so just give them what you have decided and be firm”. I didn’t have this problem with Hack. I may not have bought him mangos, but I gave him a tip of about $3.5 (which he immediately counted) and he gave a big smile, waved and was pretty happy.