2019, Personal, Travel

Riley Goes to Vietnam Day 14: Ninh Binh and Hanoi Friday October 4, 2019

Despite the lack of a duvet and a hard mattress – or maybe because of the hard mattress – I had perhaps my best sleep of the trip so far.

This B&B-style place didn’t have a buffet, of course, so we ordered our meals the night before. The food was simple but good. But I didn’t get enough tea. That wasn’t their fault – it’s actually a thing in Vietnam. Unless I poured the tea myself, I never received a full cup of hot tea while in Vietnam.

Tam Coc

After breakfast I headed over to Tam Coc. The price for a boat ride was quite expensive for Vietnam, about USD$10.

My boat driver was crazy fit, as she blew by everyone else. They all row with their feet as a way of showing off, but she just went faster than everyone. (My guess is she does it to get more rides in, but I didn’t mind.)

She asked me if I spoke French and we had a brief funny conversation in broken French and I realized that one of my big issues with foreign languages is pressure. When I don’t feel any pressure – such as in a boat with a Vietnamese woman whose French is almost as bad as mine – I do better. When I feel pressure – most of the time – my brain freezes up and I do a worse job.

I had debated about whether to do Tam Coc or another boat ride that required a cab but I had no regrets about this one. I’ve never had an experience like it.

Riley at Tam Coc
The cave roofs were a little low…
In a cave

I was pretty early so I was lucky it wasn’t that busy on the way out, but it was on the way back.

Boats on Tam Coc

I had read ahead of this ride that I would be beset by vendors at the turn-around point. The driver said we’re going to stop here for a few minutes and then just took off back the other way (leaving me to think she maybe didn’t understand what she said). I thought I had escaped them.

But no, instead she arranged for one of her friends to meet us on the way back. She offered me a beer. It was 10 in the morning, at the latest. Instead I bought mango and went through the ritual of “buying a drink” for my driver, who would not drink it and later sell it back to the vendor at half the price, thereby splitting the profit. I wonder if they know we know they do this.

The guidebook says this is the place where there is the most pressure to tip and the author was not wrong. The driver demanded a tip at the end. I was happy to tip her but she demanded more. I might have balked at it, but this woman had just rowed me around with her feet, at a rather incredible speed. And I wondered, how much does she get from what I paid for the ride? Clearly not enough.

After the boat ride we checked out only to discover that our host had sorted out the bus problem and had got us on a more direct “limousine bus”. The place may have lacked some amenities – relative to our hotels – but she was wonderful.

Before it picked us up, we went into town to have a drink. I had a smoothie but Jenn found yogurt coffee, which fast became her favourite thing.

Next, we discovered that “limousine bus” just means large van, but they are more comfortable than a bus, despite being considerably more expensive (but still cheap for us).

When we got to Hanoi, the van tried to drop us off at what we thought was the wrong hotel. We told them the other location and they took us there. At check in the hotel informed us that there were actually three hotels with similar names, all owned by the same company. And we were at the wrong one. We had been at the right one the first time. Memories of Hue.

We took a cab back to the proper hotel and experienced their elaborate welcome. There are always welcome drinks in Vietnamese hotels, but this place took it to another level with a custom virgin cocktail and fruit. We soon realized we hadn’t stayed at a place like this before. (They also made sure we’d get picked up in the morning.)

After we checked in we went to Hoan Kiem, the downtown lake in Hanoi, to walk around it. After a few circuits we went to look for some food. We went to try a Pho place but it was so busy we ate at the place next-door, where I had very solid Pho and Jenn had “inflated noodles”.

After dinner we found a craft beer bar with no taps but more bottles than we’d seen anywhere else in Vietnam. After that we went to the Night Market and eventually settled on stuffed waffles for dessert, which Jenn liked more than me.

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