Nov 22, 2015

Tam Coc Gardens

We always get a window seat and an aisle seat, hoping no one takes the seat between us -- especially nice on these long-haul flights. Seventeen hours can be a tough flight no matter what, but when the seat between us is empty, there is a luxuriousness of stretching out, leaning over, spreading out. It's also easier to come and go without having to disrupt another passenger. But sitting while the plane loads is a stressful period: is she going to take the seat? Him? OH NO, not him, please please please not him.... When we checked our bags at Newark, we were told that the seat between us was taken, so we were at least relieved of that stressful period. Our seatmate was an older Chinese woman, not drunk or smelly or flowing into the other seat spaces like some of our previous seatmates, so it was as good as it could be.

The flight was supposed to take off at 1:10am, but we'd have gotten into Hong Kong "before the airport was open" (we were told, which made no sense...) so they delayed the departure for 40 minutes. Despite that, we arrived in Hong Kong even earlier than we would've if we'd left at 1:10am, and the airport was obviously open and functioning, so what was that about, anyway!

Hong Kong at sunrise
We flew Cathay Pacific, an uneventful flight with extremely ordinary food, and there was frequent turbulence of a degree I don't remember on previous flights, but we landed in Hong Kong with no problem. It's endlessly remarkable to me that I'm so familiar with the Hong Kong International Airport -- me, me -- so we got off the plane and knew where to find the coffee and where to wait and how to go directly to the gate area, and that we'd get loaded on a bus and how and where all that would go. Hong Kong. Me. I'll never get over that.

Then it was an easy flight to Hanoi, and for the first time we landed at the brand new airport. Last year we saw that it was nearly completed, all glass and fancy and modern-sized, so we weren't surprised. The process to get the visa was modernized and didn't involve a man with a giant ledger, and we were out of the airport so fast it was amazing. Our luggage made it too -- a big treat after the debacle in Norway.

For the first time too, no women in Ao Dai to be seen, but the air
still had that acrid smell that equals Hanoi, and I was so glad.
crazy eyes! SO HAPPY to be here again.
so big! so fancy! all new Hanoi.
The driver was waiting for us to take us to our hotel in Tam Coc, which was only ~50-something miles but it took us a couple of hours. At first I thought the speed limit must be quite low, but then I noticed people on scooters passing us so for some reason the driver just liked to drive slowly.

I hate this. MEGAMALL. And it had a giant Christmas tree in front.
When we were in Phnom Penh last year at this time, we saw giant blow-up Santa Clauses here and there, which was strange. It's not like there are no Christians in Vietnam, but there aren't so many that the giant Christmas trees make much sense:

Anyway. We finally got to our hotel and were struck by the beauty of the grounds, and the surrounding landscape.

our little patio off our room, and the view
the pool
some of the grounds -- really beautiful
one of the several kitchen gardens -- this one several kinds of lettuce
After a rest -- such a long, brutal trip it was, more than 24 hours door to door -- we headed out for a little walk in the countryside around the hotel. We're tucked away in a very rural area, maybe 20 minutes by car to Ninh Binh. This is a landscape I've wanted to see since I was a little girl; I love karst mountains, and when we saw them in Halong Bay back in 2005 I was so dazzled. This is called "Halong Bay on land" and it's clear why:

here we were in 2005, in Halong Bay.
And here is Tam Coc. Halong Bay on land. All the rice fields are flooded right now.

someone's home -- with a lovely pig and some chickens
the late afternoon sun lit up the hammer and sickle flags and they always tickle me for some reason
We ate dinner at our hotel and the waitress was so beautiful and soft-spoken I got an immediate crush on her. I really love Vietnamese people; they are soft, and usually so beautiful -- and at every age, too. The best part of our dinner were our green papaya salads; we accidentally ordered way too much food without knowing the portions we were ordering; the salad was $3 but it could've been my whole dinner. We crashed early, 8:30 or 9pm, and slept until 6:30 -- woken up once by a tremendous rainstorm in the middle of the night.

After breakfast we took a very long walk and just wandered around on little dirt roads, through rice fields, past little homes, past new hotels being built. We didn't encounter other people -- a child here or there, people working in the distance on occasion, but that's it.

a cemetery
We were going to take a bike ride but it started raining too hard, so we're hanging out, waiting for it to pass, and then we'll head out. One of the things you do in this part of Vietnam is take a little boat ride through this stunning landscape, and go into small karst caves, and we're planning to do that tomorrow. Today is a day for rambling around on foot or bikes, relaxing and adjusting to being 12 hours ahead of ourselves, and recovering from the long trip. Again, as has happened every time we've come to SEAsia for the last 4 years, I am covered with giant red polka dots -- very itchy, and very mysterious because they always pop up in the same spots on my tummy and legs -- so I'm glad it's not too hot and steamy outside since that makes it worse.

This is our fifth time in Vietnam and we're seeing two new places this time -- the Ninh Binh/Tam Coc area, and Can Tho down in the Mekong Delta. As we were watching the rain fall, we were both so glad to be here in this brand new place, surrounded by such incredible beauty. More later. xo


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