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The Traveling Lotus

Taxi Scams and Tam Coc

VIETNAM | Wednesday, 9 October 2013 | Views [1143]

The day started when we arrived in Hanoi on our overnight train from Sapa very early- around 4:30 am. We blearily headed out of the train station, and found a taxi who said he would use a meter, one of my stipulations when traveling in Vietnam. However, I noticed that the meter had started jumping very quickly...it started at 10,000 dong (about 0.50USD) and within two minutes, it was up to almost 50,000 dong (about 2.50). Sure enough, while I was watching, the meter jumped again to around 55,000 dong. I told the taxi to stop, because the meter was broken. He spoke practically no English (or was pretending not to), so we got out of the cab and grabbed our bags. I was very angry, but tried to give him 10,000 dong which was the base fare, to be fair. He was extremely upset, and wouldn't take it as he wanted the entire 55,000 dong. I was also quite infuriated and was not about to give in as it was obvious the meter was fixed. I did start to get a little nervous when some locals came to watch the fuss; I wasn't sure if they would take the taxi driver's side against me, but I stood my ground. Finally, after I said "take this [the 10,000 dong] or take nothing, we are leaving now!" the driver snatched the money out of my hand. It took me by surprise as it was actually a bit violent (don't worry - I wasn't hurt), so I immediately started walking away, telling the girls "Let's go!" before the driver could change his mind. We flagged down another taxi, whom was thankfully honest, and headed back to the hotel we had initially stayed at when we first came to Hanoi.

Thankfully, the service at the hotel was more than amazing, and it totally made up for the bad start to the morning. Even though we weren't checking into the hotel, nor had booked our Tam Coc tour through them, they gave us a room key for free, and we were able to all shower and reorganize our bags during the time we had from about 6 to 8 a.m. We left some laundry with them, and they gave also us some free croissants for breakfast while we waited to be picked up for our trip to Tam Coc.

The bus to Tam Coc arrived, and since it wasn't full, we spread out and relaxed for the few hours the drive took. We stopped at Hua Lu first, one of the (many) ancient capitals of Vietnam. All that was there was a couple of temples dedicated to the kings who ruled there when Hoa Lu was the capital. I was underwhelmed, but that's to be expected as I have seen hundreds of Asian temples by now, and they are all more or less the same in my opinion. I did encounter a new tourist trap though: locals followed us snapping pictures with their nice DSLRs and tried to sell the photos as souvenirs. I quickly learned to put my hand up to block my face so that they wouldn't have any decent photos of me to offer, so I wasn't bothered with them trying to sell me my picture. It was weird, though, almost like be followed by paparazzi in rice hats! We stopped for a decent buffet lunch before heading out to the river for a rowboat ride through Tam Coc (which is nicknamed "Inland Ha Long Bay"). Since there were only 2 people to a rowboat, and 3 of us, I volunteered to share a boat with an Italian guy who was traveling by himself, and Alison and Jackie went on a different boat together.

I got into the boat, and Alessandro (the Italian) got in after me. Then the rower started rowing us down the river...with his feet! I was surprised, as I hadn't known before that this was the traditional way to row in the area. They sit in a legless chair bolted to the boat, and use their legs to row...they looked like frogs! It was very fun to see something new.

The scenery was beautiful, gliding down a river with limestone karsts around us, but it was too hazy and bright to really get any decent pictures. So while we rowed around and under karsts through small caves, I chatted with Alessandro, who has traveled extensively, so it was fun swapping travel stories to pass the time while we admired the view. After a couple kilometers, some locals rowed over on their boats, trying to sell us snacks. Oh, the persistence of venders in Vietnam! After we refused several times, our rower turned us around, and we rowed back the way we came. We gave the rower a tip, and waited for the others to return so we could get on the bicycles for the next part of the trip.

At this point, I wasn't overly impressed with Tam Coc, but getting on bicycles changed that. The 3 of us girls and Alessandro got on bikes with the tour guide while the other German couple in our group waited behind. We pedaled off down the street, and quickly turned off into a little neighborhood, and within minutes, we were in nature. We were riding along a raised dirt path, and turned along a small creek that some locals were rowing along. I watched while a dog jumped in the river and paddled across to the other side. The river opened up to bigger ponds, although I am not sure that's an appropriate description. They were almost like flooded, very deep rice paddies, with no rice growing. The effect was amazing because by this point, the sun was setting, there were no vendors, we were peddling at our own pace, and enjoying the sunset in an incredibly beautiful environment. I am sure our tour guide was frustrated with us taking forever as we stopped to take pictures at practically every turn we rounded. Once, we even had to stop for a large duck crossing as they left one "pond" and crossed the road to get to another. Reluctantly, we returned to the small city center to return the bikes, and board the bus back to Hanoi.

After returning to Hanoi, we still had some time to kill before heading to our overnight train for Hue which didn't depart until 11 p.m. So, we decided to try a Lonely Planet recommendation for dinner, Highway 4, for some catfish spring rolls. On the way, we stopped to buy some postcards from a friendly vendor, who showed us one of the postcards of a bridge in Hanoi and told us a story about how he could see sharpshooters on top of the bridge from his window during the war. We continued on and found the restaurant, which was actually very nice and classy. Alison and I decided to order a glass of "wine" which turned out to be disgusting. I am not much of a drinker, so I am not sure of what the technical term for the drink is, but it tasted like port and whisky mixed together. Normally, I can finish a drink even if I don't like it, but I left half the drink untouched. It was only $2 though, so I didn't feel bad about it. We ordered the catfish spring rolls, which were just as delicious as the Lonely Planet had promised. Yum!!

After we finished our dinner, we returned to the hotel to grab our bags and headed to the train station to catch the overnight train to another one of the ancient capitals, Hue, in central Vietnam, concluding our travels of the awesome northern region of the country.

Tags: beautiful scenery, bicycles, hanoi, hoa lu, river, rowing with legs, sunset, tam coc, taxi scams, vietnam


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