Friday, June 22, 2018

Kong: Skull Island

A few hours in any direction from Hanoi you will find a myriad of places to visit and explore. I set off for a couple of day trips around Ninh Binh. I was going to hike around small villages, ride along remote trails through tranquil green fields and relax on a long river boats.

Day 1
A two drive from Hanoi brought our intrepid little tour group to the ancient capital of Hoa Lu near Ninh Binh. I walked down the steps from my air conditioned world into the searing mid morning heat that was not going to take any prisoners. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and I longed for my great fedora that I left on the bus in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Sensing blood in the water it did not take long for the cheerful lady vendors to swarm me. I struck up a conversation with one of the vendors because I needed a hat and she knew I needed a hat and I knew that she knew that I needed a hat. So I bought a hat. Now I never ever try to barter for something that costs the equivalent of $2 and with that I topped my head with a traditional conical field hat that is iconic in Vietnam. With my hat firmly in place I was now told I needed an umbrella, a cotton scarf and various other trinkets. I guess if you have the fish on the hook you have to try and reel him in.

The old city, dating back to the 11th century was quite nice and the surrounding countryside gave it a great feel and look. However I know nothing of ancient Vietnamese history and sadly the more our knowledgeable guide explained the more he sounded like Charlie Browns teacher.

After a buffet lunch that was include in the day it was time to enjoy a boat ride down the Tam Coc River . The little village was a bit touristy but I never pay any attention to that, after all I am a tourist on this day. The boats were small, designed for no more than 4 plus the ferryman. It allowed for attempts at conversations and lots of laughter. It took no time in noticing that all the ferryman rowed with their feet.That alone was worth the price of admission.

The trip was about 3 hours and was calm and relaxing. The river flowed through 3 caves of about 300 meters each but only about 4 to 8 feet high. Our boat captain was flawless going through the winding and twisting caves. There was only one person who was not paying attention and bumped their head on a low hanging rock. I wonder who that was?

Day 2
Bring on the bikes. I would like to say our bike were modern light weight and good quality but why lie. A few looked like relics from their days running supplies up and down the Ho Chi Minh trail. Oddly they worked quite well and as you know sometimes you need to take your first world attitude and embrace what you are doing and where you are doing it. In this case you can add what you are doing it on.

I kept my camera in my pack for most of the morning ride. First because I was really enjoying the experience of riding through old villages and along rice fields. Second because I did not want to fall off the bike into a rice paddy and get stomped on by one of the huge and very intimidating water buffalo that wandered the paddy fields.

We passed through rice fields with the classic farmers working but I did not bring my large lens (that what she said). I like the photo regardless. There were village farmers drying the rice harvest in an open courtyard, something we saw everywhere. There were small ponds that had lots of fish because there were quite a few locals catching dinner, mostly bottom feeders like carp and catfish but fresh non the less. I have met a few people along the way who are biking through Asia. I can honestly see the reason why and I was only out for a couple of hours. The back roads and villages in the countryside would lend to an entirely new experience let along personal challenge. I salute all you crazy buggers and I am a bit inspired.

To rest our legs from the "Authentic Vietnamese Bike Ride" we set off for the short trip to At Trang. We donned life vests and again hit the river for another 3 hour boat trip through various caves. The boats were different, the caves were longer and the views were arguably more impressive than the day before. On this part of the trip I found myself on our rickety craft with a couple of first time travelers from Brantford Ontario, home of the Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky. Good guys whose names I forget (as usual) and it was nice to have conversations through the trip about relate-able subjects from home.

The high light of this day was the turnaround point where we could explore the movies set for Kong, Skull Island. I watched the movie when I got back and it was shit, so don't bother. Parts of the set were left behind as legacy and to create a tourist attraction for the locals. Some even dressed the part in the village, taking pictures with happy camera toting tourists for a small "donation". If you can make a few bucks why not, that is why it's here. So good for them. I did not take any pictures but "donated" a few thousand dong to the cause

This was a good couple of days. The food was great and included but they must figure that those of us from the west are gluttons because it was all buffet all the time. Coffee, water, soda or beer whenever you wanted it with water  continuously forced on us for good reason. It was Vietnam hot. There is so much to explore and experience in the Ninh Binh area. The town itself is nice enough but we only stayed the night and did not venture to far.

The hotel had a bar with a TV playing the World Cup. After a really nice cultural activity it was time to get back to our Western ways. Which way to the buffet?

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