Hoa Lu Tam Coc Tour: Boats + Bad Food + Broken Bikes
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While visiting Hanoi, Vietnam, on our honeymoon, we booked a tour called “Hoa Lu Tam Coc”. Overall, it was average and, personally, I would not recommend it. Some people may like this – keep reading and let me know what you think. Why didn't I love it? We spent most of the day on the bus, the food was AWFUL, and the best part of the trip (biking) was cut short. Some parts of the trip were interesting and had some nice views but it did not compare with the Hanoi food tour which was, hands down, my favorite thing we did in Hanoi.
TheRewardBoss Ranking: 3 out of 5: Just ok.
PART 1: HOA LU ANCIENT CAPITAL
About 2+ hours after being picked up, the tour dropped us off at the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital. Our guide took us to see the temples of King Dinh and King Le. While we are touring the temples, I noticed something interesting. No, it wasn't the temples (I've seen many before). Sometimes I focus my attention on other things like: why are there snacks and drinks inside the temples on various tables (and probably because I'm almost always thinking about food).
Some of the snacks look like they are for sale or maybe free…but there is no one to collect money, no prices listed, and no collection box. Is it for sale or is it some kind of offering or donation that people have left for the temple?? After seen more and larger piles of what is obviously not an offering or donation to the temple, I was pretty sure it was for sale. After the big breakfast at the Sheraton, we were not hungry so I did not ask the guide.
I did, however, ask about the signs in front of each temple that say photography is not allowed inside. Tourists ignored the signs and took photos and touched everything. When I asked, the guide said “the sign is old and tourists are allowed to take pictures”. In Hanoi's Old Quarter, the temples had the same signs and people were respecting those signs. If the sign is wrong or outdated, I would think they would just remove it considering this was a popular tourist site. Later the guide showed us a large ancient stone and then invited us all to touch it. Many people hesitated…”If this is an important ancient stone maybe we shouldn't be touching it?” I was thinking to myself.
PART 2: LUNCH
The lunch was flat out terrible. The best part was the cold fries and the fried rice… Only the soups and fried rice were hot. I wish I packed a lunch. It was possible to walk into the town and find another place but then I might lose the group which would soon be getting on the boats.
Heh, the sign says “HAVE A GOOD MEAL”. I think they meant at another restaurant!
I had several servings of cold fries and hot fried rice. I tried (but didn't finish) the meat
PART 3: SAMPAN BOAT TOUR
Judging by the pictures online, this is probably supposed to be the highlight of the trip for many people: getting a boat tour through beautiful landscapes. If you google “Tam Coc”, you'll see what I mean. Some parts were indeed beautiful – I've included some of those pictures below. It starts out very cool as you watch the boat guide use their feet to propel you along.
I love boats and being on the water, but I had enough about half way through (you come back the same way you came). Then things turned annoying. Perhaps it was our boat guide who navigated the boat near her friend's boat to pressure us into buying snacks. Or maybe it was 5 minutes later when the guides passed around a bucket from boat to boat filled with handicrafts that they then try to pressure you into buying something.
There were also photographers on boats taking photos who then try to sell the printed photos later (it's cheap if you want one). I could see that many people were visibly irritated by the constant harassing. We had to say “no thanks” 5-10 times before being left alone. We always try to be polite — and don't forget that you're on a boat with nowhere to go.
I understand the need to hustle, but for the record (in case any of you are reading this), the more you bother me, the less chance I buy anything from you. If all you have are pissed off customers, it will be really hard to make a sale. It's also one of the main reasons I avoid most “handycraft” markets…that and most of the stuff seems to be imported junk.
To be fair, our tour guide warned us about all of this before we got off the bus. He suggested a reasonable tip for the boat guide and said that it is ok if we don't buy anything else.
PART 4: BIKE TOUR
This was the best part! Unfortunately, the bike portion of the trip was cut short because one of the tourist's ass was sore after a 20-30 minute ride. Even though many of us wanted to continue biking, the guide asked the group and 1 person caused the entire group to head back to the bus.
The bikes were in poor condition and there were almost not enough for everyone. As luck would have it, I got a bike with a broken chain – great! After waiting for them to find another bike, the guide came back with a smaller girl's bike. Nice. Perhaps the bike with the broken chain was better? He was nice enough to get a girl to switch so that I could have an adult sized bike. The new bike was also a piece of crap but I was happy to at least have a working piece of crap.
The guide took us through the town then let us go at our own pace shortly after. We were thrilled to not have to bike in a bee line of tourists riding slower than I walk (one of the reasons I dislike large group tours). We sped up ahead of the crowd and were able to enjoy some of the Vietnamese countryside alone. The group later gathered together near a scenic area and the guide suggested taking photos there.
At this point, the guide offered the group two choices, continue on for a bit longer or turn back. Now, if you didn't like riding a bike, wouldn't it be better to skip this part all together?
That's me in the green. See that backpack? It is really inconvenient / uncomfortable for traveling. I keep asking Mrs. Rewardboss to bring something else but she says she likes it and the Fjallraven bag is fashionable. I prefer my Camelbak M.U.L.E. which must be at least 10 years old now and still in almost perfect condition (too bad I didn't bring it). The only thing I didn't like was using drinking water from the hydration pack so I just removed it (it always had a strange taste).
Back to the shuttle. The ride back home is about 2.5 hours. It's a long day and a LOT of sitting.
We almost did the “Halong Bay” tour with the same tour company but decided against it due to the bus ride being even longer than this trip. Instead we spent a leisurely day roaming around the Old Quarter.
My Camera: These photos were taken using my Canon S110 Digital Camera which has been replaced by the S120. I love it – it's tiny, fits in my pocket, and takes amazing pictures/videos. The light on this day was not that great and I admit the pictures could have been better.
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