© 2011 notworkrelated - David Rutter & Helen Roscoe. All rights reserved. notworkrelated Ninh Binh

Vietnam – Hanoi – Tam Coc – 8th-9th January

On the morning of the 8th we enjoyed a good breakfast from the Hotel including a choice of eggs, bread, fruit and juice. Afterwards we set off to research a few options for tours in the area. We had planned to do a tour to Ninh Binh and Tam Coc with Maayke and Paul so were shopping around the various fake Sinh Cafe‘s across the city to find out the best deals. They’d already sourced somewhere that would do the trip for $16 with bikes included for one part of the trip. After a while and battling through the many scooters we ended up back at the same place and booked the trip for the price they’d agreed. We’d arranged a part-payment trip in case there was anything we weren’t happy with; often you’ll find there are many cheap tours and you’ll never know which one is better than the other. We thought it would be a good day out of the city anyway so went along with this.

Afterwards we went off to do some more research into the other part of our trip interest: the Halong Bay tour. Helen had read up on a few more reputable companies offering slightly better value tours so we started with Ethnic travel who didn’t really have a very welcoming atmosphere and soon decided we wouldn’t be booking with them. We found Ocean tours around the corner who’s 3 day 2 night tour with one night on the Island in a bungalow to be the best on offer but still had a look around. In doing so we met Justin and Jules who were doing the same research as us, Dave stopped them as soon as they walked out of one of the other tour agencies and we started chatting about what information that have and so on. Before long we were enjoying lunch with them and went back to Ocean Tours to get a better feel for what they were offering.

After a few more drinks, a walk around the city into the French Quarter and then back to Ocean Tours we’d decided this was THE tour for us and we all booked it together! We knew that at $175 we were paying a lot more than many other tours on offer but decided that it sounded far better than some of the other less tailored trips and we liked the sound of staying in a bungalow for the night!!

So with that sorted we went back to our now hostel Gecko (we’d moved out that morning as we wanted to save some money by staying in a dorm and rendezvous had no more availability) met up with the others and went out for food to Koto, a restaurant in the south-west of the city which trains up street-kids and the homeless to be chefs and working in the kitchens. The food was very good indeed and it was packed so it was good to see the restaurant supported in this way.

On the 9th we were picked up at 8am for our day trip to Ninh Binh and Tam Coc. The weather had been pretty chilly since we’d arrived in Hanoi although we were acclimatised to this and to us it felt okay, but there was some rain forecast for the day so we took extra layers with us. Leaving Hanoi the bus stopped several times to pick up other people and groups on the tour and before long there were around 20 on the bus. It took around 2.5 hours to get to Ninh Binh with one stop and we spent a lot of this time chatting to Bekka and her husband from America who are now living in Beijing, we exchanged stories of China and it passed the time nicely.

Our first stop was at 2 temples, which held the first and second Emperors of Vietnam. A few people on the bus were a little annoyed as they’d been sold the bus ticket as bus fare to Ninh Binh and not a tour, they had to go to the temples first before being dropped off in Ninh Binh…be warned this happens quite a lot over here!

The temples were okay but we have seen many amazing shrines and temples over our time traveling, so it takes an amazing day with the weather and a spectacular site to impress us! Have we become Temple snobs…?

We were supposed to be cycling from the temple site to Tam Coc where the rest of the tour bus was traveling to for lunch. As it was raining and very windy we decided against this and joined the bus to go straight to the restaurant. It was a good job we did as it would have taken us much longer to reach the port than the tour allowed for and would probably have missed our lunch…to be fair though that wouldn’t have been such a bad thing. The vegetarian option for Helen and a few others was quite poor with the best thing on offer being a plate of chips for 7 to share. We mentioned this to the tour guide and he was very apologetic but it’s more down to the restaurant than him.

Following lunch we went over the road to the rowing boat tour and met the lady driver who took us out on her boat. She was quite agile often using her feet to row and we had a paddle each so we could both add some gusto to the pace. We passed under caves and one by one the boats traveled along the river. It’s supposed to be the land version of Halong Bay with many karst peaks engulfing the landscape. It was quite similar to what had surrounded us in Yangshou and we both felt Yangshou is a more impressive place.

The boat tour was good fun, and we even bought our guide a drink and snack which she shared with us, we had to bargain for this and the woman selling the goods on her own boat wouldn’t leave us alone until we did! We didn’t mind too much though as we felt our guide was doing a very good job indeed.

At the end of the tour we were pressured into giving a tip to our guide but we felt we’d already tipped her in buying her drinks and snacks along the way so made for a sharp exit to the bus. There were people selling souvenirs and market items along the pier front and some were selling dog meat. By now we have become used to seeing this sort of thing on sale, funny how you get used to customs so quickly but its always the topic of conversation when you first see it.

We had a small confrontation with our tour guide on the bus back to Hanoi. As we had monies outstanding to pay he was asking for us to complete the payment. We mentioned that we’d agreed a price including bike hire but as we didn’t use the bikes then we wanted to pay the price quoted to us excluding bike rental. He got quite angry about this and said we have to pay for the bikes as the restaurant paid for fuel to get them to the site for us to cycle, but we saw many bikes there so we felt this was not the case. We were happy to pay but just not for the whole fee and he didn’t say when we said we weren’t taking the bikes that we would still have to pay for their rental. He rang our tour company and Helen agreed a price over the phone which mean’t we paid some of the cost towards the bike but not all. Our chirpy tour guide was no longer quite so happy and he settled into a grump until the bus stopped to pick up his girlfriend.

Another lesson learned! Still we had managed to get back some of the money so it was good to know there are some principles in place. When we got back we ate at a great local restaurant and for a good price. We went back and packed ready for our Halong Bay trip leaving at 8am the next day.

(Leica M9, Summicron-M 50mm f2.0 & Olympus PEN, 17mm f2.8 & 100mm f2.8, processed in Lightroom 3)

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