Finally rested, thanks to a nice long sleep in the comfortable bed of Limestone View Homestay, and after a good breakfast prepared by Dzung (Black coffee and pancakes with bananas), we went immediately riding our bikes in the direction of Tam Coc, for a first boat trip of the day.
On the tin boat, rowing with the feet
Getting early to Tam Coc (around 8:30), allows you to better enjoy the place without the crowds and bustle of tourists that invade it from 10:00 onwards. Parked the bikes and bought the tickets, we immediately embarked in the thin and small boat made of tin, for only two people, plus the driver, a Vietnamese woman.
The special feature of this navigation is definitely the woman who drives the rowing boat with her feet. The tour lasts around about 1h30 ‘and it is very relaxing, especially thanks to the fact that there were few tourists, but unfortunately not very scenic as presented in the promotional brochure. As we are not in the right season, the rice fields are not prosperous and green, but they are bare and empty. Also, with the sky mostly cloudy, the overall look of the place was even less interesting from a photographic point of view.
The tour is not circular, so we reached a certain point and came back doing the exact same path. On the return journey, there were already much more boats of tourists and also many boats of Vietnamese photographers who chase tourists trying to snap a photo and then sell them. This makes the whole experience of a lot less relaxing and annoying. Add to this, our boat driver was trying to sell fruit or drinks at all costs. At the end, the final judgment on this excursion is basically negative.
Cloudy sky, let’s go to Ninh Binh
The grey and flat sky and the positive weather forecast for the following day they convinced us to a fortunate change in plans. In fact, we decided to postpone the second boat trip, in Trang An, to the next morning, and to dedicate the afternoon to explore the village of Xuan Ang Noi and later the city of Ninh Binh.
The collection of sea snails in the mud fields
On the road to Ninh Binh, we are fascinated by different women bent with their feet immersed in a huge muddy field, intent on picking up something. We ask a local guy who told us they were collecting “fish” but as soon as we approach we find out that the women were collecting small sea snails.
The scene was very photogenic, so we got off the bikes and spend an hour or so, on photographing these women and observing their movements.
At one point a man with a child in his arms asked me to take a picture of him and invites us to come to his house. Here, he asked us to sit at a table in the courtyard and prepared a cup of Vietnamese tea (very bitter). I was honoured by this strong and unique sense of hospitality and touched by his tender kindness. Obviously, he did not speak a single word of English and, at some point, he went away and comes back with a plastic globe. He asked us to show him where we are from so we indicated on the globe our land, Italy, and how we got to Vietnam from there. Right after, he pointed the finger on Cuba and pronounced the name of Fidel Castro, an iconic symbol of a country with the same political and social ideals as well as Vietnam. I wonder if it was already aware of Fidel’s death, but to do not disappoint him, I decide not to tell anything.
Ninh Binh, anonymous city but with a nice local market
Continuing our ride on fancy bicycles, we arrived in the city of Ninh Binh, quite anonymous and ugly, but we headed by chance, in a small local market. After the first stalls with the usual fruit and meat, there were a lot of other fishmongers and seafood, in a very rustic setting and so, photogenic. Moreover, the quality of the seafood was really good: prawns, squid, fish of different sizes, almost like in our country, in Italy. Indeed, there were also the mantis shrimp, for which I go really mad. For a moment, I thought to buy them to make a nice spaghetti with tomatoes, but then I remember that no one there sells spaghetti or pasta neither cherry tomatoes and not even olive oil. Ok, I gave up.
The woman and the grave
During the cycling route, I attended a very special and touching scene: a Vietnamese woman, with the typical hat, sitting beside a family grave. I could not miss this opportunity, so I stop, get down from the bicycle and mount the Elmarit 90 mm on my Leica. I try always to be not intrusive and disrespectful to other people’s feelings, but at the same time, I wanted to get this shoot home. So, approaching very slowly, I’ve made a couple of shots. The woman then turned to me and showed me a smile, despite the moment so intimate. I blessed her with the typical bow with hands clapsed and I went away, glad having captured a moment of life so ‘intense and unusual.
About my photography
In the first part of the day, during the boat ride, having mostly landscapes, I’ve almost always used the Summicron 28 f2.8 ASPH (at f5.6 or 8) and Skopar Voigtlander 21mm f4. With the latter, I managed to make even some interesting shots photographing the woman who rowed with their feet, from the bottom up, with the background of the karst rocks. Not bad…
During the trip to the market instead, I alternated the Summicron 28mm and the 50mm Summicron, to focus attention more ‘on the single subject rather than on the complete scene.
- Tam Coc boat ride lasts 1h30 and costs 120.000VDN per person for the tour, plus 50.000VDN of entrance fees
- Bicycle parking in Tam Coc costs 10.000VND
- For a more relaxed boat ride, try to arrive on site before 9:00.
- During the boat ride, the woman will probably ask you to pay 100.000VDN more to extend the ride. You don’t have to, and we didn’t.