It rains even in paradise

Rain and mist followed us from Halong Bay all the way to Tam Coc some 200km down. It was a little bit warmer, but humidity and rain started to become unbearable. Since the day we crossed the border with Vietnam two weeks earlier we were cold and wet, our shoes stunk from humidity and our good moods were getting more and more gloomy. We were desperate to feel sun on our skin and to sleep in a dry room.

Tam Coc was yet another unforgettably pretty place, but it was haunted by rain and cold. Next stop after Tam Coc was Hoi An – filled with summer heat and flower blossoms. Motivated by the vision of heat, we spent an intensive day exploring Tam Coc and its vicinity. The place is known for river trips through rice fields tightly surrounded by tall karsts. The scenery is magical. We heard it being called Halong Bay on a river. Unfortunately, as any beautiful sight, it has been exploited by tourist industry. From a remote countryside gem, it is being transformed into a luxury weekend getaway. Discouraged by its tourist dollar hype, instead of going on a boat, we rented a motorbike and followed all the possible paths within 10 kilometers. We visited a tiny temple literally glued to a karst, another temple in the middle of lush green rice paddies and a hauntingly beautiful cemetery, which seemed to be taken straight from Jack the Ripper film set. All of them surrounded by rice fields and karsts. Driving through the countryside we saw as much as from the boat. On our own two wheels we saw everything there was to see.

The motorbike also helped us with practical issues. When we arrived to Tam Coc we found out that there was no ATM in the village and we only had $10 on us. The closest ATM was in Ninh Binh 8km away and a motor taxi would cost us as much as motor rental for the whole day. Plus we had to buy bus tickets at Ninh Binh bus station – they were half the price of those sold in Tam Coc. We were determined to go south asap. When bus ticket lady told us the next bus was leaving the same night, we eagerly agreed and bought two tickets on a sleeper bus. We urgently needed to get as far from the rain as possible. Enough was enough.

The bus was leaving at 8pm and we got dropped off in Ninh Binh backpackers, where the bus was collecting us from. While waiting we started chatting with the manager of the hostel. It turned out he was outraged by the prices in Tam Coc and all the hype around it. When we told him that we were actually meant to stay in Ninh Binh rather than Tam Coc, but the bus driver didn’t stop in Ninh Binh, he got furious. Apparently bus drivers were paid off by a hotel owner in Tam Coc so that they stopped right at the entrance of his hotel. We actually did stop at the entrance of that hotel. What’s more there was a guy on a bus with us who kept telling us all the good things about that hotel and what a good deal they offered. It was too expensive for us anyway, but it was only later that we realised that he must have been an undercover promoter of that hotel. They really went to great lengths to get clients. Yet it was not the first and surely not the last time when we saw tricks like that. After observing them for a while, it seems that the Vietnamese do not believe in fair play when it comes to business and it’s especially evident in tourism.

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