MangoVine
Adventures in East Asia

Tam Coc Sampan trip along the Ngo Dong River

There's something about boats I'm finding appealing in East-Asia and at Tam Coc, we were enthusiastic about taking a two hour excursion along the Ngo Dong river amongst rice fields and surrounding low mountains.

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So, preparing ourselves for a restroom-free two hours, we met our sampan rower at the village of Van Lam. It would have been a Lord of the Rings (or Indiana Jones!) moment, if not for all the other sampans and tourists lining up for the trip.

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Just before we left, our guide told us that there would be photographer teams out on the sampans attempting to take shots of the tourists as they rode past, to print out and sell. He advised us not to look their way as we'd have to buy the poor quality prints which would fade after a few weeks.

Our rower swiftly introduced her son who accompanied us, helping out with a little paddling on the side. Unfortunately, our thoughts on the conversation were just that the rower was trying to build a rapport to get more tips later on.

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The Tam Coc ("three caves") excursion along the Ngo Dong river, takes a route that includes passing through three natural caves (Hang Ca, Hang Hai, and Hang Ba), the largest of which is 125m long with its ceiling about 2m high above the water.

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Our rower seems to make light work of the steering and movement and also demonstrated the use of her legs on the oars. Not as kinky as it sounds, but a logical skill considering the effort required to row by hand alone and the fact that these guys probably make the journey several times a day. Here's a clearer shot of another leg rower and our own rower in action...

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After the initial distance and passing through a narrow gap under a road bridge (with boat traffic controlled by a guy with a loud speaker), we reached the first cave.

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It feels cool and not as claustrophobic as initially thought, considering how low the ceiling is. At some points you need to duck, but not much.

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The rest of the journey is pleasant as we pass other sampans and tourists, the occasional worker cleaning the water or delivering stone and other building materials (by heavily loaded boats), lots of dragon flies hovering around us, and landscapes of tended rice fields, foliage covered hills and the odd altar.

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When we reached the third cave, it was dotted with women and their sampans full of refreshments. One rides up alongside and tries to encourage us to buy a couple of drinks for our rower and her son. When that failed (which we did feel bad about!), our rower decided to get herself some green mango which comes with some salt and spices to dip in.

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The third cave marks the half way point, and so the rest of the journey is back the way we came. I offered to try out the rowing, which was alot more difficult to control than I thought, as well as being pretty tough on the arms. My excuse that its because we're facing the opposite direction (i.e. moving in the direction you're facing) falls on deaf ears.

Nevertheless, this "break" for our rower is also a diversionary tactic for me, as she takes the opportunity to reveal a trunk of embroidered goods in an attempt to sell to Linh.

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The journey back, as is typical for these things, seemed alot quicker and the disembarkment is marked with a request for a tip from our rower, which we oblige.

More photos of our Tam Coc Sampan excursion on Flickr


This entry posted in : Attractions. Tourism. Vietnam.

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