This morning a bus and our guide Minh, picked us up and we had a 2 1/2 hr ride to Hoa Lu, the ancient citadel of Viet Nam in the 10th Century. It’s located in Ninh Binh Province, the ancient capital of Vietnam.
We saw the temple dedicated to the emperor and learned that a temple and pagoda look exactly alike from the exterior. The difference is that a pagoda is dedicated to the buddha, and a temple is dedicated to a local person of note.
Minh explained why the homes and buildings are so long and narrow, at least in the old quarter of Hanoi. The emperor imposed taxes based on property frontage, so if your space was narrow and deep, you would pay less than the same square footage that was shallow and wide!
We learned s bit about the language. Every word is only one syllable, so, for example, “America” is 4 separate words. On top of that, there are 5 ways to pronounce “la”, depending on tone. Each has an entirely different meaning.
It helped pass the time and before long, we were at the halfway point, at another one of those tourist stops. This one also had a section of crafts being made by people maimed by Agent Orange, dropped by US troops during the war. It was terrible to see what we did here.
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant overlooking the river. Lunch was nothing worth describing though we did get to taste the famous goat meat, a speciality in Ninh Binh. We then boarded little sampan boats and 2 per boat, were rowed up, then down the river, along with scores of others. For a few moments, I felt like I was on Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. (“We are now approaching Schweitzer Falls, named after the famous explorer, Dr. Falls”). I love Jungle Crusie, so, no matter. The locals row with their feet – amazing flexibility, dexterity, and strength. It was quite beautiful and we appreciated the silence and fresh air.
The rock outcropping are the same as on Ha Long Bay, but arise out of the earth rather than the sea. We passed through three caves, Hang Ca, Hang Hai and Hang Ba.
We then hopped on bicycles and took a short ride between Hoa Lu and Tam Coc, through the villages and adjoining rice fields.
We returned to Hanoi in a light rain, and got off the bus in the old quarter. Walking back to our hotel, we found the place for pho. Minh suggested we look for a sidewalk setup with a huge pot of simmering stock. The larger the pot, the more customers served and the better the pho. Our soup was perfect. Turns out all those sidewalk setups are illegal. When the police come by, the customers stand up, the tables and chairs disappear along with the soup. As soon as the police pass by, everything reappears and you can finish your meal.
Tomorrow we leave Hanoi for Hoi An.