She’s over 70 and some days rows tourists two km’s, seven times a day and with her feet. To make it even more difficult she will often have up to four adult passengers in her three-metre wooden boat.
Thanh (means bright and sunny) is not alone, there are literally hundreds of these awesome talented rowers employed on the Tam Coc (three caves) Bich Dong in Ninh Binh province. These boat people work hard and often offer passengers fruit and water at no cost during the 2.5-hour journey. Naturally they rely heavily on well-deserved tips (about 100,000 dong about $6 Aud) The best time to go is in the cooler months January to March when you can also enjoy the many festivals.
Vietjet Airlines fly between SGN and HAN and is one of the cheaper options. Two hours, serving food and liquor at a price.  When our group of 12 arrived at the boutique HanoiOi hotel in the old centre, staff were in the throes of setting up all their systems; this was typical of all the hotels, restaurants and café’s which had been dormant for the past two years.  The vibe in both Ho Chi Min City and in Hanoi is optimistic as they strive to return to the halcyon days before Covid. The HanoiOi Hotel is a family-owned operation about a three-minute walk to the Hoam Kiem Lake (small lake) Rooms are clean and well-appointed, ask for a city view.
Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital has many attractions, and is an ideal base to visit Howlong Bay, Sappa and Ninh Binh. Ninh Binh province has become popular for its similarity to Howlong Bay, but on land. The area attracts younger backpackers, motor bike riding tourists and is swelling in popularity with all ages as one of Vietnam’s go-to regions.
The rural scenery on the two-hour trip to Ninh Bin from Hanoi to begin the two-day tour is impressive. On arrival a visit to Hoa Lu- the Ancient Royal capital of Vietnam followed by a visit to Dinh king temple and Le king temple, in the 10th century, hearing the heroic histories of two great kings of Vietnam. Next is not compulsory, a visit to Mua Cave (Mua mean Dance) with 500 steps up to the Top of Mua Mountain. From the top, enjoy extensive views of the local area. Overnight accommodation included at The Dong Ne Hotel and Resort at Ninh Binh.  A great find with a 30-metre pool and walking distance to the river where most of the action is centred on the boat rides.
Next morning a transfer to Bai Dinh pagoda – the biggest pagoda in Vietnam with 500 La Han statues and the largest bronze Buddha statue in Vietnam, 10 meters in height, 100 tons in weight. Lunch in a local restaurant with some special dishes such as goat meat with elderberry. Depart for Trang An Eco-Tourism attraction and another boat ride again with amazing scenery, impressive limestone cliffs, rice paddies, tranquil streams and the highlight is the eerie caves some of which one needs to sit on the floor of the boat and duck when told so as not to hit your head on the jagged roof of the caves.

Back in the capital we found some very acceptable restaurants.  Not cheap but classy is El Gaucho an Argentinian Steak House and Lac Thai with an accent on the Thai-
Western fusion cuisine, both a good three iron shot from the Opera House. A bit further away beside the bigger Truc Barc Lake, is a popular 4.5-star Indian restaurant, Foodshop 45; try the goat curry.  If you feel like a break from Pho and Banh Mi, the S Patisserie fronting the small lake serves excellent western style meals, snacks and cake plus real English tea served in fine China teapots.  The staff speak perfect English which is not always the case in Vietnam. Jetstar are currently offering some amazing fares which won’t last as the country’s popularity continues to soar.
Written by John Savage