Those of you that have been following along with us are probably now thinking- how did you get from Beijing to Hanoi? Well it’s a long story, but basically traveling during National Holiday in China completely screwed up our itinerary. Since we were so limited in what transportation was available, we cobbled together a strange route through China that had us end in Beijing. Unwilling to take a 3 day train to Vietnam, we bit the bullet and booked a flight, through Malaysia. Yes, from Beijing to Hanoi we spent a day in Kuala Lumpur, which frankly was awesome. Shopping capital of the world- we even found multi-grain cheerios!
We briefly stopped in Hanoi and instead headed to the coast and spent a few days in Nihn Bihn. An Endangered Primate Center is the biggest draw at the Cuc Phong National Park, but after spending so much time in heavily polluted China we were glad to have a day in the fresh air hiking through the jungle and took less than 15 minutes for the bugs to find Danny, reminding both of us of the many joys of the tropics. We hiked to a tree which is claimed to be over 1000 years old and even hiked into a pitch black “pre-historic” cave. No animals were spotted through any of this, outside of stickbugs and other insects, as hunting in the park has diminished animal populations so much that there are hardly any animals left in the park.
The next day I found myself sitting in a row boat watching a woman row with her feet. Yup, you read that right. Rowing with her feet. Through the caves and stone arches of Tam Coc – Bích Dong (means 3 caves) we admired the scenery as every other boat that passed stared at our boat driver rowing with her feet. Sure there were other drivers using their feet, but our lady rowed that way for the full hour long trip. It was impressive, but then again, why hadn’t anyone else thought of that before? Surely these can’t be the only people in the world innovative enough to use larger muscle groups to row. I guess necessity is the mother of invention, as was the hard push we received on the boat to purchase some local embroidery.
Back in Hanoi we filled a full day sightseeing and sat through a rather amusing water puppet show. A traditional form of entertainment, the water puppet shows are traditionally performed along river banks. Now the shows are performed from pools inside auditoriums and although the story lines were a little lost on us, we enjoyed watching the puppets flip back and forth on long sticks. It was a little kitsch but cute and worth the $3 price of admission.
Plenty of other sites abound in Hanoi, we enjoyed the Ethnography museum- be sure to check out housing examples in the back, some of which were put up in the traditional way by villagers. We also stopped by the “Hanoi Hilton,” where John McCain’s flight suit is on display. I wonder what would have happened if he had become president?
IF YOU GO: We stayed at a great hotel in Old Hanoi called the Allura, shop around and you should be able to find something comfortable and decent without any problem. Buses to Ninh Binh run from a bus station in the south of the city very frequently and are less than $3. From Ninh Binh we were able to arrange a car to take us to the national park, but be aware that the primate center closes mid-day for lunch. A little restaurant on-site serves food until it runs out- this can be rather early, so bring snacks and water. We rented bikes in Ninh Binh to get to Tam Coc for the boat trip and took a route along the river.