It was more difficult to wake up this morning. I think the jet lag is catching up with us a little bit!
After another delicious buffet breakfast Vinh arrived with our bus and we made the two hour drive to the Ninh Binh Province to visit some temples (there are the remains of an ancient king and queen there but I don't have the right characters to spell their names correctly so I won't try in case I end up writing something completely wrong). We travelled through rice fields and farming land. I felt like I was in an episode of M.A.S.H. It was so lush and green and many of the built structures were in quite bad disrepair, lots of buildings were unfinished and Vinh explained that there was not enough money to finish them. People rode bicycles and motorbikes but there were weren't nearly as many as in the city. A thick mist lay heavy over the rice fields and farmers worked in their long blue cotton clothing and bamboo hats. It was really like something out of another time.
We arrived at the temples and were rushed at by roadside traders wanting us to buy their fruit, umbrellas and ponchos but we followed our tour guide's instructions and showed no interest in their wares and they left us to walk past. The temples are set in the middle of beautiful green mossy mountains and are surrounded by a freshwater river. Donning colourful ponchos to protect us from the rain, we wandered around the grounds and Vinh told us some stories about the ancient king and his wife. The queen had been married before (re-marrying was a big no-no as they believed that widows should look after their dead husband's family until her death... Nice huh?) but she was allowed to marry again after her husband's death as he was the king and his wish over-ruled traditional beliefs about morality. The statue of the queen in the temple shows her smiling like the Mona Lisa due to her love for the king and being permitted to marry again.
We learnt the difference between temples and pagodas; a temple is a place to worship and bring offerings to the dead and a pagoda is for worshipping gods/Buddha. In a temple people can bring anything as an offering but in a pagoda only vegetarian food. Vinh explained how you can look at the foot of the dragon on the stone tablet in the front of each temple to gauge how old the temple is by how many toes the dragon has. I don't remember how many equate to which era though... So much info to take in!
As we made our way back to the bus one of the children decided it was a good idea to pick up a rotten human molar that she found on the ground... I drowned her in hand sanitizer while explaining why this was not the best idea to handle something like this.
Lunch next at a lovely elevated restaurant overlooking Tam Cốc (I found the Viet button!) which is also called "Ha Long Bay on Land". We were served a wonderful variety of dishes and it was lovely to feel the cool breeze blowing through as the rain fell outside. We hoped it would stop before the next part of our journey, a boat ride through the caves, but it didn't.
We were then rowed down the river by very skilled rowers, many of them rowed with their feet! The 2ish hour journey up and back took us through three caves and the scenery was magnificent. Mountainous and tropical with mountain goats (thịt dặ - meat goat) dotted all over the rocky faces. On the way back we were ambushed by boats with people peddling food and drink. They held on to the boat until you bought something from them. I was totally caught off guard and ended up spending the 50,000 dong tip I had been holding for my rower on a drink and snack for him. My wallet was in the bus so I had to ask for more money from Chau to tip as it is expected. Also, the boatmen/women have very limited opportunity for work I think they said only once every ten weeks and the company only pays them 70,000 dong per ride which equates to about $3 AUD for 2 hours work.
Despite the money dramas it was a beautiful experience! We were all soaking wet from the rain so we decided to come back to the hotel to change before dinner. April and I skyped Molly, Rich & John very quickly before we headed out again on foot to 24 Pho, a fast food soup chain, where the children were required to order in Vietnamese.
A great second day, well and truly ready for bed now!