Sampan Adventure

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”

– Ibn Battuta

How about we get the hell out of Hanoi now??  That sounds like an EXCELLENT idea!!

We booked our day tour through our lovely hotel:  Happy Moon Guesthouse- via http://www.goasiatravel.com     Even though this was our first and only tour through GoAsia, I was already a million times happier than http://www.viator.com    If and when we come back here, or any part of Asia, we will definitely be using this tour company.   The day tour cost about $58 AUD per person- which includes

  • 8 a.m. Hotel pickup from any hotel in Hanoi Old Quarter  
  • Bottled Water on shuttle bus (Finally someone gives you free water!) 
  • An exceptionally good English speaking Vietnamese local who- call me crazy- speaks predominately English for the tour (He’s no DONG)
  • All entrance fees to the sites to be visited 
  • An AMAZING Vietnamese buffet lunch (Holy nut sack….. I went to TOWN on this heavenly buffet!) 
  • And of course: Dropped back at your hotel by 5 p.m. 

There were about 10 of us in the group including 2 Australian women from Brisbane and Gold Coast (Hey fancy that!).   The 2.5 hour drive felt incredibly long and tedious.  We stopped along the way for two “pee breaks” at these giant tourist shops consisting of overpriced items and nazi Vietnamese women following you around the store so you can not steal.   Girl please… I’m not about to steal some Pringles- even though they were calling my name- but not for $8 AUD!    Back on the road we go…. “Are we there yet???”  A complete flashback to road trips as a child… my patience level was non-existent.    FINALLY we arrived to Hoa Lu Ancient Capital where we visited King Dinh and King Le’s temples.    I was somewhat hoping I would be used to this insane heat and humidity by now, but oh contraire.      My clothes were quickly soaked with sweat and I sadly was anticipating getting back in the van for the bless-ed air conditioning!!!

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The human oven
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Inside the temple

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This poor Buffalo... he probably wanted to kick this kid straight in the face
This poor Buffalo… he probably wanted to kick this kid straight in the face

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On the way to our next stop, the tour guide warned us about the upcoming photographers that would be snapping our photos and trying to sell the photos to us.  He simply said “If you don’t want your photo taken, simply wave them away.  When you go on your boat ride, there will be someone rowing the boat for you.  At the end, they will ask for a tip.  Don’t feel like you have to tip them.  Of course it’s appreciated, but it’s not expected.  Lets go eat!”

About 10 minutes away, we arrived at Tam Coc Wharf where we enjoyed our buffet lunch.  This restaurant is well known for its goat meat.  Apparently folks from Hanoi drive 2.5 hours to come and eat this.  The food consisted of a large variety of things:  Soups, fruits, stir fries, rice, fresh spring rolls, fried spring rolls, pork kebabs, fries, noodles, meats, you name it!  As usual, my stomach was not in great shape, so I wasn’t even really hungry.  That said, I still can’t say no to a buffet- especially with ALL this to choose from!   YUMMMMMMM.

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This is the only photo I took of the buffet. Food photo fail, I know. Pardon my fatass, but I was a bit distracted stuffing my face!
This is the only photo I took of the buffet. Food photo fail, I know. Pardon my fatass, but I was a bit distracted stuffing my face!

After lunch, we literally walk across the street where we patiently wait to board our boats (2 people per boat, plus the rower).  The men and women rowing the boats, literally use their feet to do it.  They do it ever so graciously that it looks so easy and natural.   I visualise myself trying that, and somehow my foot would get twisted up or slip, causing an epic fail.    With this mental image, it made me really appreciate this work of art with their little feet.     The picturesque view of the lush green mountains, the green/blue water, and these beautiful rustic boats…. It was incredible!!!  Once Patty and I boarded our boat, I made myself comfortable at the front for photos.   The water was crystal clear with a forest of plants down below.  We meandered in and around mountains and  scudded through a few very dark caves.  Another surreal moment where I feel like I should be in a postcard.    Sitting on the water with the sun rays blaring down on me, I felt like an ice-cream cone melting into a disgusting puddle.   Why didn’t I wear a hat???     While we were in Hanoi, I noticed my lower body breaking out in a nasty rash.   I thought “Great, probably caught something in one of those dirty train beds!”     It tingled/itched/burned like a horribly bad sunburn and it continued spreading in a splotchy like way.    Come to find out-  Heat rash! Bloody heat rash!    I’ve been to some very hot places, but I have never once broken out in a heat rash…. THAT’S how hot it was!!!!

At the very end, the river literally ends and we backtrack to the beginning.   A mini “Floating Market” awaits you towards the end, persuading you with overpriced cold water, snacks, beer, you name it.   This is definitely a hot tourist attraction!

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Just a bit obsessed with these boats

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Rowing with his feet and snapping photos. I can’t even wrap my head around that… Safe to say: He’s coordinated!

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A dragon temple on the top of a mountain
A dragon temple on the top of a mountain

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Little huts along the river.
Little huts along the river.

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Heading into the cave

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Market ladies ready to pounce you!
Market ladies ready to pounce you!

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Just in case you want some flowers with your cold beverage and snack along the river
Interesting place for a nap!
Interesting place for a nap!

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The forest below
The forest below

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This is mild compared to how it was
My lovely heat rash ….. This is mild compared to how it was the past two days

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More of that foresty beauty
More of that foresty beauty

About 1.5 hours later, we are back at the wharf!    Our precious lady who had been rowing the whole time, said :   “You tip?!  Tip?!”   Damn, lady…. blunt and to the point.   Patrick tipped her and apparently she wasn’t satisfied with that.  “Madame, tip?  Tip?”   I looked back at Patrick- a bit thrown off at this greedy woman- and said “Is she for real right now? ……  No, that’s your tip from US.”    She was not happy, but whatever!!     Along the way we had our photo taken by one of the local photographers (wasn’t even aware, I just thought some stranger was taking our picture as usual! haha)  So of course I bought one for a nice momento.

Our "momento" photo
Our “momento” photo

  After we chugged a giant bottle of ice cold water,  we rented some bicycles for a cruise through the rice paddies (it says bike rentals are not included on the tour, but we didn’t have to pay for ours).   About half of the group ended up staying behind because it was too hot.  We road along the road, cars madly honking and passing us while I gladly rang my obnoxiously adorable little bell right back at them!    We stopped at a few places for pictures, but not nearly enough.  When I wanted to stop for a photo, I had to quickly snap a few photos, and then peddle like my life depended on it,  to catch up to the group far ahead.   The rice paddies here were a new level of beautiful!   The paddies in Phong Nha had already been cut and harvested, so they were green and short.  These ones were tall and yellow- just like I visualised.  I have been dying to get a photo of a farmer out in these tall rice paddies, but thus far in our trip I haven’t been able to.  As we were riding along a very narrow trail through the paddies, I spotted a farmer wearing the authentic Vietnamese hat while cutting the rice crop.  I was SOOO excited.  I jumped off the bike and walked down a snaky  looking trail, just so I could get a better view.  At this point, the tour guide and the rest of the group were stopped here as well.  He could clearly see I really wanted this photo, so he happily made everyone wait until I was satisfied with the photo.  It was super nice of him!  Before we knew it, we were back to the wharf where we started.   Awwwww shucks….. That’s it?? But I want to go for a longer ride!!!!   Way to stick the tip in and pull out buddy.  😉

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"Hurry Kylie, we can't lose them!"
“Hurry Kylie, we can’t lose them!”
Lotus flowers!
Lotus flowers!

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Our amazing guide. Tried taking a quick sneaky photo
Our amazing guide. Tried taking a quick sneaky photo

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Very few of them.. but the beautiful pink lotus flowers
Very few of them.. but the beautiful pink lotus flowers

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Tall rice paddies!
Tall rice paddies!

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Drying out massive amounts of rice!
Drying out massive amounts of rice!

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Another giant bottle of water chugged, and we are ready to load the bus back to Hanoi.  WAHHHHHH… Today went by so bloody fast.  It was such an incredible experience and I’m beyond grateful that Patty persuaded me to do this instead of being stuck in that horrid city for another day.    Another 2.5 hour drive and we are back to our hotel for our last night in Hanoi.  So heartbroken to leave…. NOT.  This is the one and only location where I was literally so excited to get the hell away from.

So my number one tip for this area of Vietnam??  Get out of the city- especially Hanoi and go play in Mother Nature!!!!  🙂

Next stop:   Halong Bay!   The top tourist destination in Vietnam.  Known for it’s emerald green waters and THOUSANDS of limestone islands.   I am absolutely thrilled about this part of our trip.

Thanks of reading 🙂

 

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