Photo Essay: Floating through a poem

I’m always afraid that a well-known place will be a tourist trap.  The nagging, cynical voice at the back of my mind whines, “Do you really want to spend the weekend with a hoard of foreigners who can’t even count to three in Vietnamese?”  Usually, the answer is yes.  Well-known places that are popular among tourists are usually popular for a reason.  Besides, travel challenges that cynicism.  My sense are heightened.  I observe things more sharply, feel things more acutely, am more awed by my experiences.  To say that I was awed by Tam Cốc in Ninh Binh province, however, would be an understatement.  Tam Cốc, meaning Three Caves, is one of those places of such exquisite tranquility and beauty that you are convinced of its holiness.  Silence reigns and you sink into the landscape as you do a good novel.  The silences swallows thought and you feel the place the way you feel poetry.

People live and die along the river.  This tomb was the largest in the little cemetery on the bank.  I’m not entirely sure, however, that it is not also a pagoda and doesn’t serve some other religious funtion.

In the marshy areas along the shore, women fished for something.  We couldn’t figure out what it was, possible some kind of crab but most likely just fish.  The river is also home to duck farms.  These ducks were allowed free range but a man followed along in a boat, herding them.  I suppose it is the literal meaning of the idiom, “Get your ducks in a row.”

Entrance to one of the caves.  We literally went under a limestone karst.  The river seems to have eroded the rock over the millenia, leaving these caves.  The caves are cool and dark but nowhere near as wonderful as the river itself and the countryside around it.

There is no green like rice paddy green!  My new favorite color.

Don’t worry–the cows always come home.

And I thought Hanoi was proudly Communist…

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