I am having a marathon blogging session here! So today we went to Tam Coc, which are river caves, and Hoa Lu, which used to be the capital of Vietnam.
Our first stop was Hoa Lu, which is esstentially a temple dedicated to an important king, who is credited with unifying the five peoples of Vietnam. Inside the temple, local people were chanting. I wish I know what they were chanting about! It actually felt quite chaotic, rather than serene as you might imagine. All around the temple, the usual sellers were there, as well as a few buffalos which had wandered over. One of them had clearly been decorated with flowers for tourists' benefit and did not look too happy.
After that we rented some bicycles to cycle to Tam Coc, which means "Three Caves". The ride was absolutely fantastic: we went through villages deep in the vietnamese countryside, where children giggled and ran by our side, calling out hello as they went. Maz even got a clandestine passager for a few minutes on the back of her bike! We cycled along a dirt track surrounded by paddy fields, and huge limestone rocks loomed in the distance. They call this place the Land Halong Bay. It was much, much calmer and quieter than Hanoi, and somehow looked more like I'd imagined Vietnam would.
After about an hour, we arrived at the river and boarded a little rowing boat. A vietnamese woman was rowing for us, which was a bit strange - I felt like I should grab an oar to help out. She spoke a little French and wouldn't stop laughing at us for some reason! The scenery was just beautiful: the river wound around the rocks, and the occasional temple borded the shore. Moutain goats ran around in the distance on the mountainsides. We travelled along the river, going in and out of dark caves, which echoed with vietnamese chatter. On the way back, our driver tried to sell us embroidery again - we are getting quite used to this by now.
Another great outing! Tomorrow night we are catching the night bus down to Hue in the South - that should be fun - although I am looking forward to finally seeing some sunshine.