Kyle dragged me out of bed at 5:15 to watch the sunrise! It was beautiful watching the pink glow of the sky coming behind the elephantine rocks but I only barely managed to smile for one bleary-eyed picture before crawling back into bed.
After breakfast, we toured a cave (Thien Cung Grotto).
After returning from the cave, we participated in a short spring roll demonstration and rolled the spring rolls we would be eating for lunch. Lunch was fried squid, a jicama and carrot salad, cabbage, and the deep-fried spring rolls, which came out quite well.
Our tour came to an end and while we felt we’d had a pretty good balance between planning and spontaneity, winging things turned out to be a bad idea at this time. We had read briefly online about buses to our next destination (Ninh Binh) but our tour guide informed us these buses were unreliable, and might skip our stop completely if not enough people wanted to go, would be extremely difficult to navigate, and were also “dangerous.” He explored some options for us and found it was too late to book a private car, which he believed would have been the best option. We decided we would have to go to the bus station and try our luck. Fortunately, as we were leaving, Kyle decided to walk around and see if any taxis were nearby, and he happened to find a bus going to Ninh Binh for a good price – good thing too, because $250,000 dong was exactly what we had left (about $12.50). The good news is we found a way to get there; the bad news is we didn’t know the guy would drive about about 30 mph the entire way. The 170 kilometer ride took over 6 hours.
We arrived in Tam Coc of the Ninh Binh province and found ourselves outside a random place called The Long Hotel with zero Vietnamese currency, no mode of transport to our hotel, and the nearest ATM about 8 kilometers away.
I gave The Long my very last 6 USD as partial payment for a scooter rental and promised to pay the remaining $1.50 later. We loaded our luggage onto the scooter and the lady at The Long gave us a questionable look, but Kyle said, “Don’t worry; we’ve done this before,” and she shrugged and let us go our way. Indeed, this was easy compared to our arrival in Hanoi where I refused to pay for 2 scooter rides and Kyle and I both hopped onto a guy’s scooter with all our luggage. We had just started our brief ride when the lightning and thunder began and we literally raced the rain.
We finally made it to Tam Coc Garden resort (and beat the rain!) and all the greenery and lush landscaping really made me wish we had arrived before sunset. After checking in and showering after a long day, we had dinner at the resort restaurant and went all out with the restaurant specialties, a mango milkshake, green papaya salad, and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.
After dinner, we decided to run some errands – get bottled water, beers, gas, and drop off some laundry at The Long (hostel, laundry service, scooter rental, travel agency, another one-stop shop, but without the cockroaches like at Allez Boo). As we walked out, a hotel staff member asked whether we were sure we wanted to leave so late at night and asked where we were going. She was concerned we were not familiar with the area, but we assured her that Google maps would not fail us.
We took a lovely and carefree ride in the dark to get cash and beer. The scooter headlights made all the bugs glow like lightning bugs and the night air was finally cool and perfect until it started lightly raining, but we were having too good a time to care. We saw the suggestions and shadows of towering boulders and mountains, and the faint glow of streams in the dark and looked forward to revisiting them in the daylight.