We reached Hoa Lu in the late morning, probably an hour or so before noon. This ancient city used to be the capital of Vietnam for a short while, about a hundred or so years ago. There wasn't much left to it, and all we saw were the ruins of a temple, so small that we could completely explore it within half an hour (and that's with purposely lingering at places that didn't need lingering...).
We, the lazy bums, had half an hour or so to spare after our meal (because the cycling group reached considerably later than we did) and we explored the streets outside of the restaurant. It was very sunny and hot that day, and we ladies ended up buying cloth bonnets from the roadside peddlers for VND20,000 (RM4) a piece. Yes, our faces are very important, and should not be left to fend for themselves in that merciless, scorching afternoon sun.
The main agenda of the day was boating at Tam Coc, to explore the rocks and grottos along the stream. The entire boating experience was to take a couple of hours, but I believe I did not keep track of the time because the view was indeed somewhat breathtaking (and it was really very hot!). I took so many shots that before we disembarked, my camera battery was running low!
(Sing) Row, row, row your... GAH! I'm tired! Nah, take back your oar!
Along both sides of the stream were small, discontinuous patches of paddy plants, and there were many rock formations, very similar to those we saw the previous days at Ha Long bay, though perhaps not quite so vast. There were mountains all around too. The highlights were three separate "grottos" which we went through - twice each - once on the way there and once on the way back. Interesting - that's the only adjective I will provide.
We took two to a boat, each with either one or two rowers. There were two rowers in the boat that I was in, and they were husband and wife. They could speak minimal English, but were able to convey these information - they were married, in their 40s, and the wife's sister was a rower too. She also showed me the calluses on her hands. Yes, it was hard work rowing tourists day in, day out, every day, for your whole life... (do I sound sarcastic?)
After the third grotto, we reached this little lagoon surrounded by mountainous rocks, with patches of paddy in the water, and floating sharks. That's right - sharks in boats selling drinks and snacks, who'd corner tourists and pester them to buy refreshments for their rowers. No one could escape the harassment, as the boats would not be rowed away until the passengers had given in or simply given up (and given in) - the sun was glaring, burning upon our skins, and all we wanted was to just go! Needless to say, we gave in and bought some drinks for our Mr and Mrs Rower. There - I hope you're satisfied now! Oh, but they weren't, and the journey back to where we started was not as fun. Mrs Rower started showing me T-shirts and embroidered pieces of cloths, pushing them at me, persuading me to buy, and boy, wasn't she relentless in doing so! I thought my neck would snap from shaking my head too much!
Upon reaching the shore, they demanded for tips (gah!!!). Apparently, that was the standard practice, because it happened to everyone! But well, the unpleasant excessive money-seeking aside, the trip itself wasn't half bad. At least, it was not as bad as the food we had for lunch, or the washroom at the restaurant which had see-through doors (yikes!)
The journey home was much longer than the one in the morning, firstly, because there was an accident somewhere along the way, which caused quite a traffic disruption. When we finally reached Hanoi, the bus got stuck in a massive traffic congestion, which rendered us nearly motionless for close to an hour. As fate would had it - that day was the eve of their national day, and people everywhere thronged the city - for what, I believe I knew not. There were so many vehicles that each were just one or two inches from the one next to it, and the symphony of honks were playing resoundingly. Imagine how it was like - for the Vietnamese, who honked all the time when their vehicle was moving, who now could not move though they really wanted to! However, we noted one thing about our bus driver - we were running late according to schedule, the traffic was frustrating, and we had been in the bus for over 4 hrs by then - though his hand was permanently pressing on the honk, he didn't seem at all stressed by the situation he was in. He talked and joked with his assistant and the tour guide as though they were in a coffee shop! How I wish I could maintain that sort of relaxed mind when I drive!
We asked to be stopped at Hang Gai or Hang Dao (gosh, it's been quite a while and I can't remember clearly which was which!) so we could go straight for our dinner. The bus driver wanted to drop us off in the middle of the huge roundabout cum cross junction (right in front of Ga Ran Kentucky), where vehicles came at all directions, heading to all directions, honking and criss-crossing each other, incessantly, without heed for traffic light nor rules... and well, we objected, of course. There was no way we could had braved that sort of traffic. We asked to be dropped off at the smaller lane, where we could step out of the bus and land on the sidewalk, instead of in the path of a scurrying bike. Then, it was off to dinner, and last minute shopping (to spend whatever remaining VND that we still had)
Our flight was early in the next morning. We woke up at a record 5+ am, and were ready and down at the lobby by 6am. The two fellas who took care of the place were still sleeping there. It was somehow weird to see 2 guys sleeping together, on a matress placed upon the floor right next to the main entrance - not so much on the sleeping on the floor, than the sleeping together... Anyway, one of the guys got up and made breakfast for us. We all chipped in some cash and gave him a tip for being such a sweetie (and for being quite cute too...).
It was raining when we left, but the journey to the airport was smooth and uneventful.
After checking in, things took a turn to "eventful". To cut the long story short, I had an accident in the toilet where my left index finger got caught by the door, and a considerably huge slice of skin and whatever else came almost clean off at the tip. How bad was it? Blood was dripping onto the floor (you can imagine). It was so painful I cried. No, I didn't intend to cry but the tears came anyway. Fortunately, my friend had a plaster with her which I could apply to the injury and stop the bleeding. But it didn't stop my poor finger from throbbing badly on the flight all the way back to KL.
Yea, some of you saw me in this condition for several weeks...
I went to a doctor's out of fear of infection, and I actually grabbed his hand when he attempted to remove the plaster I had on the wound (followed by squeals and feet-stamping when he ripped it off... that poor doc - had to put up with a big baby like me). After a dose of antibiotics and several weeks of wearing bandages on my finger, I'm happy to say it's good as new! For the record, the previous two posts about this vacation was typed using a maximum of 9 fingers, whereas this one was typed using all 10! (which also serves to show just how long I procrastinated in the completion of this one...)
And that was the (almost) complete account of my trip to Hanoi. Would I go again? For vacation - well, probably not.