Our rower used his hands to row, unlike some of the others that used their feet, as you can see in the photos and video
. Along the way we picked up a Vietnamese woman and she assisted with the rowing. It was a very scenic ride down the Ngo Dong River as we were floating down below towering limestone peaks on both sides. The walls of the peaks were whitened and streaked with lines cut into them as if they had been cut by hand. There also were holes in the stone, which I learned is called Karst landscape. This kind of landscape is shaped by the dissolution of layers of bedrock such as limestone or dolomite. I looked that part up because it fascinated me throughout our ride. The river had many rowers bringing people up and down river and occasionally we’d see women in boats trying to sell us liquid refreshments. Overall it had a very serene feel about it. The air was cooler down on the river, which helped because we were mostly exposed to the sun throughout except when we were under the caves.
The name Tam Coc means 'Three Caves’, and refers to the three massive caverns (Hang Ca, Hang Hai, and Hang Ba), the largest of which is 125m long with its ceiling about 2m high above the water. The float was about 2 hours and along the way, we witnessed life in rural Vietnam happening around those huge karst formations. Passing small temples and rice paddies being worked by the local people. Tam Coc is often referred to as the "Halong Bay on Land" because of the large limestone formations, the same as those seen at Halong Bay
The unexpected part was at the turnaround after the third cave were maybe ten boats manned by women and stocked with drinks, snacks, embroidery and other assorted gifties. It had the feel of being led into an ambush. The women were all friendly and jovial, laughing and joking – I never felt pressured to buy anything although I did buy myself a beer and our rowers a drink.
The float back was quiet and peaceful despite seeing other incoming rowers. Once back we climbed out of our boats and boarded our bus for the 3+ hour ride back to Hanoi.
After our trip to Hoa Lu and the temples, we road to Tam Coc (Three Caves) and unloaded in the village named Vam Lan at a restaurant about 50 yards from the waters edge. And that's where the boats are that take us down river to the caves. We had a nice lunch and then we crowded around at rivers edge and paired off for the boats. I was in a boat with an Aussie woman that teaches grades 1 & 2 International. She climbed in and sat on the first bench and I got in the middle just in front of our rower. Then she put up her umbrella to ward off the sun and my view was greatly compromised. But she was nice about it and said that whenever I wanted to take photos to let her know and she’d move it. What I really wanted was for her to put it down altogether so I didn’t have to move my head up and down like I was at the cinema and a woman with a big hat had just sat in front of me. It all worked out, as you should be able to tell by my many photos.