We started off a rather wet morning on a very cramped mini bus with a small group heading to the ancient Vietnamese capital of Hoa Lư. This uncomfortable journey took about 2 and a half hours. I must warn you that Vietnam doesn’t have the best roads and things do get a little bumpy. This, however, was work every second just to get the insights to Vietnamese culture our guide offered. Everything from burial rights to relationships and family structures in Vietnam… With some good news for you bald beer bellied men out there. That look is in in Vietnam! Apparently it’s a sign of wealth and prosperity, as well as, making you look like Buddha. Where as the women with the whitest skin are sort after because it means their skin is purer and undamaged by sun, denoting a good steady office job. Their are also many similarities with the victorian ideology of the role of women in society, the separate spheres and the “angel of the house”.
Hoa Lư, situated in a magnificent landscape of rice fields broken by limestone mountains, was the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries. It lies in Truong Yen Thuong village in Ninh Bình province, approximately 90 km south of Hanoi. Hoa Lư was the native land of the first two imperial dynasties of Vietnam: the Đinh and the Lê. Following the demise of the Lê Dynasty, in 1010, Lý Công Uẩn moved the capital to Hanoi. Unfortunately nothing of the ancient capital remains, only a few vestiges. Now on this area stands temples in honour of the emperors Đinh Tiên Hoàng and Lê Đại Hàn, as well as, other members of their respective families.
I think we managed to do this on a good day. We were told on the coach by our guide to expect many people trying to sell you many things and we were led to believe before hand that this would be a very busy location with tours, etc. What we actually found was a charming little temple surrounded by stunning views of the limestone mountains, with only a small number of tourists (although compared to the mayhem of Versailles in Paris most places are quiet). We had a beautiful walk with a knowledgable, sweet, guide who made sure to interact with everyone in the group individually. This was more of an effort than some guides make. We weren’t here long, but you really don’t need long there to see it all.
From here we travelled to Tam Cốc-Bích Động for lunch and a sampan trip along the Ngô Đồng River. The lunch was… Terrible. Probably the worst food we have had on our trip so far. However, this could not detract from the beautiful two hour journey we took down river.
Tam Cốc literally means “three caves”. The journey begins at the village of Van Lam and peacefully moves through a beautifully scenic landscape of by rice fields and karst towers. As we traversed down the river we float through three amazing natural caves (Hang Cả, Hang Hai, and Hang Ba), the largest of which is 125m long with its ceiling about 2m high above the water. The contrast between the green lush rice fields and the darkness of the caves is breath taking. The boats are rowed by one or two local people with their feet! Almost like a bicycle. Of course they still try to sell you something and before the return leg of your journey there are more people selling food for either you to buy or try to persuade you to buy your rower something. But for a two hour boat ride you can’t really deny them a little something. The whole journey was very relaxing over all though and we could have happily stayed there for a lot longer.
Over all the day was, yet again, filled with amazing people and stunningly beautiful scenery. Definitely worth the terrible food and long journey there and back. Tour price was $30.