It was a late flight and an hour past midnight arrival. Yet we managed to sleep well and enjoy a hearty breakfast in the few hours left before our mid-morning pick-up for the Hoa Lu and Tam Coc trip. The drive was comfortable, and our guide HΓΊng gave us a good introduction to Vietnam’s glorious past.

Hoa Lu, just a 2-hour drive from Hanoi.

Hoa Lu, just a 2-hour drive from Hanoi.

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Hoa Lu is an ancient capital in the 10th – 11th century before the capital was moved to Hanoi. There were only 5 rulers under this dynasty, but 5 may seem many considering the dynasty reigned for less than half a century. Most interesting were the stories involving an emperor who was succeeded by a 6-year old son, replaced by his regent and top general who then married the first emperor’s widow. Just 3 square kilometers in size, the site featured palaces, shrines and temples to honor these emperors : Dinh Tien Hoang and Le Dai Hanh, their sons, and Queen Duong Van Nga.

Temples are dedicated to people;  Pagodas to Buddha. Something new I learned from Hung.

Temples are dedicated to people; Pagodas to Buddha. Something new I learned from Hung.

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Vietnamese lunch was served just before our boat ride in Tam Coc. So we were so full while enduring a 1 1/2 hour sampan boat ride that stretched into 2 because the heavens opened up and we took cover under one of the natural cave “tunnels” while it poured. Still, the giant limestone karst formations jutting out of the rice paddies provided an impressive site. It’s like Halong Bay on land, or rather between rice paddies. Too bad they just harvested the rice when we paddled our way through the Ngo Dong River. We made our way back with newly-bought raincoats and braved the rain while our boat man paddled the boat using his feet in a fast-paced rhythm.

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The Sampan Ride along the river hemmed by rice paddies, dotted by limestone rock formations.

The Sampan Ride along the river hemmed by rice paddies, dotted by limestone rock formations.

It was a no-brainer to decide to cancel the biking around rice paddies after the boat ride. Instead, we dried ourselves and made our way on a 2 1/2 van ride back to the city. Not complaining here. We had a wonderful time despite the rain.

Look Ma, no hands!

Look Ma, no hands!

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Fishing?

Fishing?