We went back to Hanoi and the following day decided to take a tour south to Ninh Binh.
Our first stop was Hoa Lu, an ancient Capital of Vietnam and the temples of the Dinh and Le Dynasty.
Both of these temples were built to honor two revered Vietnamese rulers.
Our next stop was to Tam Coc, known as Vietnam’s “Halong Bay on Land”. We were taken down the river in small boats that would hold between 2 and 4 people. Our boat was piloted by an old woman. I felt guilty. I felt like I should be rowing her down the river.
Once our boat was underway, she leaned back in her chair. She used her feet to row the oars in a bicycle pattern. The trip upstream would take 45 minutes, then turn around, and row all the way back. There were at least 100 boats on the river, all being propelled the same way. The ages of the people rowing ranged from probably 20 to 80, both men and women.
The river snaked through the marshes and fertile, lush green rice paddies. We were surrounded on both sides by mountains and limestone columns pushing abruptly skyward.
As we continued down the river we came to limestone columns blocking our way. Nature had provided us a way thru the mountains. Narrow tunnels, carved by years of the waters flow. Some passages were just wide enough for two boats. It was a very memorable journey.
Once back in Hanoi we spent our last day walking around the lake and people watching. We sat by the lake for a couple minutes watching the kids play.
Several people came over to us and asked if we were Americans. Yes, we are. They asked us why we were there. What we thought of their country. They were from a local TV station and wanted to interview us. We loved Vietnam and had learned that the truth of the history will always remain hidden somewhere in the middle. Vietnam is a wonderful, beautiful country. They have their own problems and are still communist. But, the people are friendly and always willing to help. The wars are over and in the past. That’s the way they want it. They have peace and prosperity now. They are growing and very modern. Crime is low. We will return.
We finished off our trip with a visit to Hao Lo Prison. This prison was built by the French at the turn of the 20th century, in classical French prison design. This is where the French imprisoned and brutally tortured and executed Vietnamese freedom fighters.
Now a museum,the prison was also known as the “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War as it held American POW’s. While we were there, an old Vietnamese man and woman were also there, for the celebration of his escape from this prison. He was a political prisoner of the French. He escaped by crawling out through the sewers.
His gaze met ours as we passed. He slowly made his way toward us with a smile on his face and a hand of friendship extended.