About a month ago I began teaching classes at a new high school. The classes were big and loud, but they were mostly nice kids. After a couple weeks of teaching them, I was informed that I would be taking a trip with them to a place called Tràng An. It was not paid, but it was also free for me. Ok then, great!
I showed up at the high school before sunrise and was eventually herded onto a bus full of Singaporean exchange students. The bus ride was going to be about 3 hours. It was not long before I was asleep. When I fell asleep the bus was bumping it’s way through the Vietnamese country side.
Arriving In Trang An
When I woke up I was instantly confronted with one of the more ridiculous landscapes that I have ever seen. Green, mossy giants shot abruptly up out of the earth all around me as our bus weaved down a narrow road. We were also arriving in a dense fog, which made the whole thing a little more dramatic. The fog had started to clear by the time I got out of the bus and took this picture:
We got out of the bus and I bought a loaf of bread for breakfast from a woman for 20,000 VND. That’s less than a dollar but more expensive than normal.
When I came back to the bus a well-meaning supervisor told me not to buy anything from the people here. When I asked why he leaned in very close and with one arm around my should said ‘because they will cut your throat!’ As he said this he used his free hand to do the classic throat cutting motion.
I raised my eyebrows, hoping this was a metaphor for their likelihood to overcharge me.
My morning was spent in a cycle of being forced into physical games with the students, eventually getting tired and quitting to go find some shade and cool off… only to be dragged back into the games again. It was a hot day and it’s tough being on everyone’s team for tug o' war. But finally we had lunch and prepared to embark onto the river.
I was put in a boat with only one other trip leader but after 15 minutes out on the river the students on an overcrowded boat decided to lighten the load and give one of their peers the boot. This landed a kid named Quan on my boat. Quan's dream was to work on motorcycles as a professional mechanic.
This video documents the adventure that Quan and I shared:
At the end of this boat trip, I promptly lost my keys. When I returned to Hanoi we had to call a mechanic to come from a garage and create a new key for my bike. He shined a flashlight intermittently into my bike's key hole as he filed down a piece of metal to match what he saw. After about twenty minutes, he put the piece of metal into the slot and my bike magically turned on. And it only cost 100,000 VND (less than $5). I was pretty impressed.
This, plus the bread that I bought in the morning brings the total cost of this trip to 120,000 VND or about $5.60 based on the current exchange rate. Technically I also lost some money for the hours that I would have worked that day but I'm not counting it.
Here are some of the better photos I snapped whilst being there: