The Adventures of The Roving Route #21
This Week We have had the most incredible week here in Tam Coc. Although the weather has continued to be poor, with rain or mist most days, our views are stunning none the less.
Much of our week was spent working in our room watching the farmers tend to the rice fields. Right now is planting season which starts out with 95% of the field being covered in thick mud. At least a foot deep throughout, the heavily saturated mud is perfect for growing the water-intensive rice crop. The remaining 5% of the field contains a dense cluster of partially grown shoots. When the fields are ready, they separate the rice shoots and individually plant the 10-inch stick. An entire field will be done in a day with tens of thousands of these small plants. Within this week, we watched most of the fields outside our window change from a sloppy muddy mess to a nice green shade of rice shoots. Most of our breaks were spent walking along the dikes talking and watching the farmers care to the plants!
One day on a walk, we noticed half a dozen guys sitting on the canal wall while two guys were walking around in the shallow waters. We got closer and noticed one of them had a very sketchy looking backpack on with wires coming out to two long sticks with metal baskets on the end. We couldn't be more intrigued. After watching for a few seconds, we realized, he was fishing! The backpack had a battery in it which electrified the baskets on the end of his sticks. When he saw a fish he lowered the baskets which would stun them and allow him to throw the fish to shore. Our best bet is that during the wet season when rice isn't growing, the fields fill with water and small fish. Over the months they get bigger until around this season when the water has started to drop and the fish are at the size to be eaten. As the fields will be cultivated soon, the fish need to be removed, so it seems they use this interesting method.
For the days we were not working this week, we explored the area on the hotel's bikes. Out of the dozen or so, only a few worked perfectly which isn't surprising for free bikes. The first stop of the day was Bich Dong Pagoda. The pagoda is built into the side of a cave with an access point behind it that leads you through the rock karst and to another pagoda. The views were stunning as was the uniqueness of the cave pagoda.
We honestly can not explain or show you how absolutely stunning it is to bike through this area so you will just have to come and see it for yourself! The valleys that cut between the steep rock outcroppings make for perfect views. We eventually ended up in a massive park known as the Bird Garden. This park is most famous for the 100,000+ birds that use it as their breeding grounds but also for the numerous caves. The larger egret like birds were constantly swooping overhead and landing on an island in the middle of the lake. From the overlook across the way, there was no doubt over 100,000 at any point. We are unsure why that particular island was so popular for them, but it was truly amazing to sit and have a snack while watching them come and go.
As we mentioned, the park also has several caves which ranged from quite small to massive. Our favourite cave was divided into 3 areas: heaven, earth, and hell. Walking up the 400 steps, we were surprised to walk into a mountain that was literally hollow. The cave was unique as it was at least 250 feet tall and was more like a vertical shaft than a typical cave. Even more stairs took us spiraling up the shaft to a viewpoint where the exterior wall had collapsed exposing an amazing view over dozens of karsts and the bird garden in the distance.
While ripping along the gravel roads in the park on our bikes, it seemed that the rusted and poorly managed bikes did not want to cooperate causing Derek's bike chain to come off and get jammed up in the rear tire. It seems that luck and friendliness were on our side as within a minute 6 teens had already pushed us to the side, flipped the bike upside down, and were doing what they could to dislodge the chain. Though we continued to try to help, we kept being pushed away as they insisted they would be able to solve the problem! It took them about 10 minutes to fix, but they managed to sort it out. Unfortunately, it did not stay fixed for long and broke several times on the way home. Luckily for us the sun was setting offering gorgeous views along the way.
For anyone who wants to have a better picture of where we are, or even just wants a nice movie night, we suggest watching Kong: Skull Island as it was all shot in the surrounding mountains and the bay of Halong- next week's destination. While the movie has some definite plot flaws and subpar acting from Samuel L. Jackson, it does have some amazing scenes set throughout the rice fields as well as amazing CG animation. The grandmother from our first homestay in Tam Coc was even an extra in the movie (she also has the pictures to prove it)! The place we have stayed at is a homestay meaning that the family who runs it also lives on the same property. This was quite nice as it makes you feel more connected to the place you stay- especially when you stay for two weeks! The family dog was always roaming around which was awesome as we finally felt comfortable enough to play with a dog again! One night when looking for Big Boon, we noticed two chickens running around - though that didn’t last long! Two family members came out a few minutes later and dealt with the chickens as any farm does. It was honestly really amazing to watch them defeather and process two chickens. It was very natural to see what parts the family kept. With the exception of just a few innards, everything was washed and headed into the kitchen to be used in the family's feast!
We will have to say goodbye to our amazing homestay in Tam Coc in order to get back to Hanoi to meet up with our special guest. Fortunately, we will not have to leave the karst landscape for too long as we will have the opportunity to explore the UNESCO World Heritage site of Halong Bay aboard a junk boat. Cheers from Tam Coc, The Roving Route