Unlike most, more energetic and inspired, travelers, expats and what-have-you, I am pretty useless at actually going out on adventures once I have a comfortable nest to curl up in and can begin the arduous task of establishing daily routines. Learning how to order my favourite kind of noodles is enough of an adventure for my Tuesday, thank you very much.
Despite this, I was thankfully jilted out of my stupor by a visit from one my dearest friends, who has a near-phobia of online existence and who, therefore, does not appear in any photos or commentary. I will call her 'Activated Nut' (A.N.), since she introduced me to the incredibly bourgeois nonsense that is 'activated' nuts (which, unfortunately, are wonderful).
We spent most of her week motorbiking around Hanoi, eating (a lot) and drinking every cocktail with gin in it, but the highlight was our overnight trip to the area of Tam Coc, accessible via the train station at Ninh Binh (2 hours from Hanoi). Ninh Binh itself is a shady town, with the atmosphere and personality of a border town (that is to say: sleazy, untrustworthy and desperate). We met one unsavory woman who roped us both in, despite our smarter instincts, and so we began our trip with A.N. firmly telling another lady involved in the scam "No! Go away" and slamming a car door. Tensions high, we arrived at our hotel and, upon realising we had arrived at paradise, dropped our bags (and baggage), took advantage of the free bikes and went on an entirely unresearched roam.
Well, I don't know if I've ever been in a place which rewards random exploration with the same intensity as Tam Coc. For example, I was cycling past the little pond (?) below, saw that cave and stood staring at it until an old woman came over and offered to take us into the cave in her boat. Well. Well well well.
|About 15 minutes later we come out in the inside of the mountain. Dusk.|
|Our staunch guide, who would point her torch at cave formations and say "Madam, look - beautiful"|
|Can you see the face on a winged body? In the blue.|
Hyperventilating and generally astonished and shaky (it was dark when we finally came out of the cave again. It had been light when we went in), we cycled back on the roads between the rice fields, in the dark, and called out little exclamations to each other. At one moment in the cave our torch had failed, and we had sat, in the pitch black, holding hands and saying "it's ok, it's ok, don't worry"
It was ok. Staunch guide lady fixed the torch, in the dark, and we returned to the incredible sight below (our mind-blowing hotel), swam in the dark and knocked back gins.
For our nerves.