Friday, July 4, 2008

Tourist...or Tourist Attraction?

I had a couple of days in Ninh Binh and the main thing to go and see there is a place called Tam Coc. It is known for the limestone rock formations that look almost like a small mountain range lying just on the outskirts of the city. So for a few hours you hop on a little row boat and a little Vietnamese woman (with pipes of steel!) rows you on a little boat down a river through rice fields with the most beautiful scenery of waterbuffalos bathing in the water, rice fields and mountains. It was boilng hot (which you think I owuldve gotten used to by now) and beautifully amazing. The river takes you through 3 of the mountains and you are inside rowing through these dark grotto caves. In the massive caves there are stalagtites forming everywhere and refreshing drops of cold water pattering down like rain....

So thats Tam Coc. I have been so luckily and managed to wind up at the wrong place and end up being surrounded by Vietnamese local tourists instead of the "backpacker"western crowds.....wicked. This one was the icing on the cake.

So Trang An, is a smaller version of TamCoc but so much more amazing. I dont think very many people go to NinhBinh, but since I am just killing time waiting for my mom to show up, I ended up here. The super friendly and helpful man from my hotel told me if I have the time, see Trang An. I showed up there and was the only white person to be seen. I hopped in a boat with a Vietnamese man and his young 15 year old son and off we paddled. Communication was minimal, and Quang, the son new only a handful of English words. The guide, or the woman rowing the boat more like, spoke not a word nor did the dad. Off we went along the river. Trang An was about a million times more amazing than tam Coc. First of all the caves were smaller, and when i say smaller, i mean we had to duck our heads flat down against the boat to squeeze through, and we were bouncing off both sides of the walls. The stalagtites were massive and our rower expertly navigated the boat through the almost pitch dark caves without taking off our heads.

We got to hop off the boat at a few temples and check stuff out and most of the time we were the only boat with in eye sight. However at one of the stops, we got off and there seemed to be nothing there but stairs up one of the limestone mountains. The guide was yappering on in Vietnamese to the father and son so I just shadowed them and did as they did. Through the whole journey they were so friendly, offering me their foood, curiously glancing at me checking me out and smiling and hand gesturing and attempting to make conversation, I loved it. So up we climbed, father, son and I, and we literally came across the equivalent of a tour bus of Vietnamese people, returning to their boats. Once the first one saw me it was like broken telephone as they called to one another to look whats comin'round the mountain! So instead of passing the big group and the 3 of us continuing on our way- the huge group of tourists followed us and were chatting a mile a minute to the man and his father while gawking and looking at me. Fun times.

So with our new entourage, we climb the top of the mountainand down the other side and I see the destination is this small little temple in the middle of nowhere. It was so beautiful and remote but out of the woodwork pops these men with cameras and little mini printers, who charge you and sell you postcard pictures of you amongst the limestones and in the temple. Man, they had a field day with this, so out come the camers. The photographers cameras AND everyone with their little digies.....I had to pose with every SINGLE one of was hilarious! It started with just the Dad, he was so sweet he bought me a post card of me standing with his super embarrassed looking son- the 2 of us side by side and then once the other Vietnamese saw this they hopped on the bandwagon and literally ALL of them posed with me for pictures and postcards. I am a celebrity!!!!! It was tooooooooo cute! Most of the time they were really friendly and genuinely intrigued by me, but I couldnt help at times feeling like maybe I was a bit like a circus animal to them (especially when I stick my tongue out, I have learned to use that as my wild card while travelling...tongue peircings wow the shit out of some people!) Father, son and I eventually manged to shake the crowd and get back to our boat, after our run in with the paparazzi, and serenly finish our trip down the river through the caves,grottoes and the rice fields.

Once we were back on terra firma, I couldnt locate my motor bike driver and with much sign language, I think father and son were pretty much prepared to safely take me back to Hanoi with them and help me...honestly they were just the sweetest bunch!!!!!! Ít was such a nice change from hanging with the backpackers even though less than one sentence worth of english was said!

The rest of the day just kept getting better and better. The next stop was Hai Lau, which was actually the original capitol of Vietnam way back when. (I was the only non-Vietnamese tourist again) There was a few ruins to see and temples that were somewhat interesting somewhat boring...but this time I hooked on the tails of a group of senior citizen Vietnamese amusing. This group was not as enthrawled with me as the morning bunch, but i would catch the men and women sneaking in glances here and there and then chattering away and looking back at me. My favorite is the attempts to communicate when I dont speak a word of their language and they dont speak a word of mine...but somehow a basice conversation is conducted with a lot of hand gestures, body parts, smiling and laughing!!!!

The last stop of the day was Kenh Ga, a floating village. Another boat trip down another river and through a beautiful little village on the water........I am in love with Vietnam and have only been here for less than 2 weeks, I cant wait for the rest of this trip!!!!

I am headed back to Hanoi now and though the city doesnt really interest me that much, i am rendezvousing with some of the people from the Gibbon Experience back in Laos, and Saturday is one of the guys 31st birthdays. Celebrations look to involve a sacrificial snake, shots of snake blood and the birthday boy getting to swallow the heart while it is still beating (I kid you not!).......nothing like some good old fashion birthday fun!!!

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