Thursday, June 4, 2009

From Vinh to Ha Noi

From Vinh to Ha Long Bay is over 400 Km. It would mean a full day of travel and arriving in the evening. We would need to stay two nights at Ha Long Bay and cut short our stay in Ha Noi. We decided to skip the UNESCO World Heritage site for a easier alternative, Tam Coc, Ha Long on the rice paddies. The plan was to stay a night at Ninh Binh, visit Tam Coc the next morning and drive to Ha Noi after lunch. Ninh Binh to Ha Noi is about 100 km.

From Vinh to Ninh Binh

We pulled in a roadside restaurant, half way between Vinh and Ninh Binh, for lunch. One of the worker was smoking tobacco water pipe. This form of smoking is longer popular, could be extinct, in Singapore. I remembered seeing this when I was a kid. The tobacco water pipe was made of bamboo then. Here you see a stainless steel version.

It was the coconut that attracted us to this store. On this trip, I had more coconut juice than I can remember. Coconut water would "cool" us down but some say that too much coconut water would result in "soft leg". While we were having our lunch, a tour bus stopped just in front of us. Only the drive and his assistance came down talking to the stall keeper while the rest of the passengers in the bus staring at the coconuts. A few minutes later,
we saw the workers were loading the coconuts into the luggage compartment of the bus. In Singapore, we buy one or two coconuts at a time. Here, they buy by the bunches. Within minutes, at least, 50 coconuts were sold.

A short while later, a Honda motorcycle carrying new supplies came. It has a metal basket at the back seat to increase his payload.
This structure hold coconuts on both sides. Not only that,
the coconuts are in a bunch, he had a couple of bunches hanging in between his seat and the handle bar. He transported at least 40 coconuts on his bike. After he off loaded the coconuts, he folded up the metal piece and left. The worker from the shop stacked up the coconuts waiting for the next bus to come. We had just witnessed the local JIT (Just In Time) supply chain system in Vietnam.

Ninh Binh
We made enquiry at Thanh Binh Hotel. Although we liked the room bright and clean, we stick to our principle of checking on the second one before committing. Thuan told us the boss said we will be back because we cannot find a better hotel around here. True enough, we checked into Thanh Binh Hotel for a night because car parking within the compound is one of our conditions.

We saw this roadside "dessert delights" outside our hotel. After dinner, we sat down and had a go. We ordered by gesture and pointing. The container in front of the boy was ice cream. The glasses on the table contained red beam and stuff. They were amused by my picture taking. The boy indicated he wanted his picture taken. I took the picture and printed him a copy later. He way happy. The dessert in the glass was similar to our "Bo Bo Cha Cha". The ice cream was like our local ice cream ate with bread. Only thing different is that they put dried coconut and yellow beam as the base before they put the scoop of ice cream on top.

A clean car into the Capital of Vietnam was the order of the day. The car wash was just 50 meters away. The full work was for US2. They had not seen a Right-hand-drive car before, I guessed. One chap decided to take the drive's seat and check it out. This outfit had five to six workers. When they wiped dry the car and clean the interior. They just worked quietly. One would vaccume, the other would spray the windscreen and clean. Everyone knew their role and just got it done. The boss was so nice. While we were waiting for our car, he insisted that we sat down and had tea with him. First, he used the small "teochew" tea cup. Then, he asked his worker to bring ice cube and served us in big plastic cup. He was just so friendly. We did all this without say a word.

Tam Coc, Ha Long Bay on the rice paddies

Neo Chian and I enjoyed our visit to Tam Coc. The essential Tam Coc experience is to sit back and be rowed through the caves. "Tam" means "three" in Vietnamese. The first cave, Hang Ca, is 127 m long, Hang Giua 70 m long and the third Hang Cuoi is 45 m. There is some distance apart from one cave to another. The boat traveled slowly for you to enjoy the serene and scenic surrounding. The whole boat trip took about 2 hours.

She is 80 years old and still going strong. She got her daughter, 52 years old, on board as well. They worked as a team. She was the primary rower at the back of the boat.

Paddie fields are on both side of the Ngo Dong River. We are lucky to see farmers harvesting the paddies. The only mode of transportation is by boat. The farmer rowed their boat into the paddies field. They piled the paddies on the boat and moved to a central location where they separated the grain from stalk.

We got her rowing to the edge where we plucked a stalk with rice grain. This was the first time I touched a stalk of rice grain.

Although it was low season, the stream of boats were moving in orderly fashion. The boats in the opposite directions passed quietly because everyone was absorbed by the tranquility and gorgeous views.

Entering and exiting the first cave. Inside the cave, water was dripping down and you see ripple in the river.

At the end of the third cave opened up to a dead end. There was a landing leading to drink huts. There were boats stocked up with drinks and snacks. Our rower took a rest and let the drink boat get near. It was like in Bangkok floating market. This lady tried a standard operation procedure written in the Lonely Planet. First, she paddled drinks and snacks to you. Next, she asked you to buy drink and snack for your elderly rower. You would find hard to resist the request of offering a drink to the elderly rower. It was true that after you had paid for the drink and snack for the elderly rower. She turned around and sold it back to the seller. On the return leg, after we passed the third cave, the daughter became active. She took out embroidered tablecloths, shoe bag etc. While we were negotiating a deal, the elderly rower controlled the speed or rowing. At one point, she almost stopped completely. Until the deal is done, she picked up speed again. When we almost reached the jetty, she asked for tips for her mother, not for herself. Just one way to get the little extra. All these had been written in the Lonely Planet Guide Book....
I would recommand Tam Coc as a day trip destination for those who travel to Ha Noi. You will not regret the trip.

Ha Noi

Ha Noi is the furthest point of our trip from Singapore. After Ha Noi, we will turn around for homward journey. We wanted a picture before we entered Ha Noi. We were looking for a city limit line but couldn't find. So, we settled for taking a picture at the end of this highway, 10 km away from Ha Noi.

Koh Teng Lam, a good friend of mine, lives in Ha Noi for 15 years insisted Neo Chian and I must stay in his home. So, we put the address into GPS. Miss G guided us to Teng Lam home easily. He rented this building (in the middle) which is six storey high. For the first three floors, he uses it as office and lives on the next three floors. This was Sunday. The traffice was light. We noticed that Ha Noi has less motorcycles than HCM city. Teng Lam was there to welcome us.

We sat at his office to have a beer marking our arrival. Yes, we made it to Ha Noi. Neo Chian and I had been traveling together for more than 30 days now. Both of us are looking forward to some home cook meals in which Iris, Teng Lam's wife, would prepare.

Six storey building with no lift, no need to go gym. Walking up and down from home to office is enough execise

First home cook meal in more than a month for us. Not only just good food, but also a homely atmosphere made our dinner so enjoyable. Good food, good wine and good company...

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