Tam Coc and the Great Wall of Hang Mua
Day 751 – 752
We've moved on, and our next place is Tam Coc, near Ninh Dinh. It is mainly known for the three caves, reached by the meandering Ngo Dong River. However, on our first full day here, we visited Hang Mua with its mini version of the Great Wall.
It was sad to be leaving Lan Ha Bay; our wonderful Host was standing waving at us for ages as we sailed back to Cat Ba Island. Once we got to the mainland, we were guided to a small coach. We were the only passengers for the whole journey to Tam Coc.
We arrived at our Homestay, which was recommended to us by Hetty, who we met on the Trans-Siberian Railway. We were greeted warmly by Lien, and her Alsatian Cola; a big softie. She gave us a choice of rooms, and we picked the one with a view. Later we met her father, Mr Luan, who, as well as the homestay, has an embroidery business. We also met his lovely Japanese clients and their delightful four-year-old son. They have been buying from Mr Luan for the last 20 years and seem very fond of one another.
The next morning we decided to walk the 3.7km to Hang Mua for its scenic panoramic views. We found a great route taking us down pathways by paddy fields, with herons, ibis and many ducks enjoying the wetland, gentle water buffalo inquisitive about meeting us, and the occasional rat decomposing along the track. We have no idea what had killed them.
Eventually, we came to the main road leading us to our destination. All along the way, there were signs for parking for a fee. Many people get caught out with this. If you arrive by bike, scooter or car, you can park for free inside the gates of Mua Cave Ecolodge, despite what locals may tell you.
We got to the Ecolodge and wondered if there was a way to Hang Mua without walking through this resort and paying 100,000 dongs each. No such luck. Tim prised open his wallet and reluctantly paid the fee and we entered this rather tacky holiday place.
I am not sure why it’s called Ecolodge. When I see the word “Eco” I expect somewhere not to disturb the natural areas and blend in. With plastic horses and cemented bridges, this doesn’t fit the title.
Hang Mua means “dancing cave” and it was given this name as it is believed that a King from the Tran Dynasty, over 700 years ago, use to come to this area to enjoy watching dancing and various performances.
It is the cave that we visited first. Not that there was any dancing. It had a wide entrance, and we could see that many stalactites had been destroyed. Don’t they realise the time it takes for these to develop? Less than 10 cm every thousand years!
Afterwards, we sat and had some water. Behind us were some young ladies chatting away under a cover on a platform. Tim was so tempted to scare them with a growling sound. I wouldn't let him!
It was time to climb the 500 steps up the mountain edge. I’ve read that Hang Mua was constructed based on the model of the Great Wall of China. Really?
I will let you into a secret. There are not 500 steps, but 461 steps zig-zagging through the karst to an altar of Quan Am (Goddess of Mercy). I think there needs to be some mercy, relating this place to the Great Wall. I will say that the panoramic views are stunning.
We could see 360-degree amazing scenery including the Ngo Dong River having cut its way through the hills to Tam Coc, rice fields, a large rectangle of lotus plants and more of the domed karst hills that we love.
Tim climbed over the rocks to get to the peak with an ornate stone-carved dragon looking as if it’s lying across the ridge of the mountain, protecting the locals below.
As we started to walk back down, Tim decided to climb up another peak taking him to a pagoda on a narrow rocky peninsular. I waited for ages to capture his ascent on film, but the queue to the tiered tower was too slow.
We left the park and who should we bump into but Mr Luan and the delightful Japanese family cycling to Hang Mua.
Later that evening, we all had dinner together with also another guest, Jakub from Poland. Luckily everyone spoke English; even the little four-year-old boy could say a few words. We are very fortunate. The food was delicious and the finale was Mr Luan playing his flute in a typical melodic Vietnamese style. Beautiful.