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Day 14 – December 14th: Tam Coc to Cuc Phuong National Park: 42 km.

 It was 8.45 am before we got away. There were many hugs from Mama Lan, extending our goodbyes considerably. Still, we didn’t mind, it was quite touching, but we were all psyched up to ride; we had to go!

 A 100% chance of rain had been forecast. Mama Lan scoffed and said, “No rain.” She was right; it was a beautiful day!

Mountain Lake Homestay Tam Coc

Mama Lan bid us farewell. It was hugs all around!

Mouontain Lake Homestay - Tam Coc

Sharing the love. I could have stayed another week!

We rode north, back up past the Trang An Complex, then west and south around a large lake. The sun had generated a mist above the lake, giving it an eerie atmosphere.  The tall tower of Bat Dinh Pagoda stood out ominously through the mist like an ancient lighthouse, reminding us we were in a far-off land.

Bat Dinh Pagoda in the mist

The mist made it both eerie and beautiful

Bat Dinh Pagoda

Photo stop: Bat Dinh Pagoda on the far right.

As we rode, we passed by loads of stonemasons working their trade on the side of the road. They chiseled out lots of different things, but the most common item on display were gravestones for tombs. I had to marvel at the quality of the lettering; you’d swear it was done by a machine.

Cycling North Vietnam

Checking the map once more. It was a convoluted route, and we followed the route!

RidewithGPS then took us on a long series of “short-cuts,” zig-zagging through rice paddies inundated with water. There were plenty of ducks, geese, cows, and water buffalos as we rode along levee banks and through a number of small island hamlets. It’s not hard to imagine that life hasn’t changed in these communities for hundreds of years.
Levee Banks

We crossed long levee banks separating vast rice paddies.

Cycling in north Vietnam

Our shortcuts took us through several tiny island hamlets.

One place we passed had a large pond with maybe 20 herons tied to poles sticking out of the water. The string was long enough for them to dive in the water. I could only imagine that they were used for fishing, as I’ve seen something similar in China. It made for a strange sight, though.

Fishing herons

Herons perched on sticks above the paddy- an odd sight!

The herons had their own feed baskets

Up until now, there has been very little climbing. That was just about to change! Just before we reached Cuc Phuong, there were two short but steep hills to get up. Before the first one, a sign read 10%, so we stopped to rest and gather our strength. We figured that even if we couldn’t ride to the top, we could always get off and walk. It didn’t matter as long as we got there.

Our first real climb for the trip.

The last 200m of the second climb bested me. I grudgingly walked the bike to the top, caught my breath, and then returned to help Sharyn. Exhausted, we stopped at a small shop in Cuc Phuong village, bought some cold drinks, and sat and rested in a small park next door. Sharyn wasn’t feeling great, so we spent some time there before moving on.

Water, water everywhere!

After another couple of kilometers, we found the Thang Cam Homestay, our destination where we’d stop for the next two nights. I can’t say we got the Welcome Mat put out for us. The owner and his wife both seemed quite aloof, maybe because they spoke almost no English, but I figured they’d be pretty happy to have guests after so long.

Life out there on the rice paddies.

Making our way across the levee banks.

Our room on the first floor was pretty ordinary (200,000VND). The door didn’t lock, the hot water was lukewarm at best, and the electricity cut out, so we couldn’t recharge our phones. I expected the mattress to be traditionally solid as a rock, but they could at least have power in the room.

Heavy traffic in cuc Phuong.

We managed to borrow a motorbike for dinner and found a small restaurant (Nha Hang) sort of open. The woman was genuinely surprised to see us, or anyone for that matter! We enjoyed a big serving of beef noodles (Mi Xao Bo) and headed back.

Fortunately, we bought our camping mattresses with us, which we placed on top of theirs. Experience is a great teacher!

Read on to see what happened next. You’re not going to want to miss: Disaster Strikes!!!