Hotel Star in Hoa Binh. Where to start? On the outside, it looks like a modern hotel. When you walk into your room, it looks perfectly normal. But if you look closely, the carpet is disgusting. There was an air conditioner that should have also served as a heater. I turned it on, and when it finally decided to start, it blew out several months of accumulated filth, almost like soot. Fortunately, it fell mostly on to the extra bed. I immediately turned it off. There was no hot water. Dinner was a joke. I had to ask for eating utensils (any kind would do) five times, before I got a dirty fork and spoon. Breakfast was no better – moldy bread, a cold, fried egg, ….
We left the hotel, all anxious to be on our way to a ride in an ox-cart and then a bark in rice paddies. Little did we realize it was a four-hour ride on rough country roads to the restaurant for lunch (very good lunch, but cold) with the ox-carts that came by to pick us up and take us through the village to the rice paddy. It was a slow ride, nice to see the interior of the village, though. The houses are not so dreary as along the main road. In fact, some of them are quite nice. But the ride is long and uninteresting after a while. Also, the minimum per person is $1, which makes the woman who drives the ox-cart disproportionately rich with a few rides of 4 people per cart several times a week. After a long while, you get to the dock where women are waiting in their bamboo barks to take you for a glide in a rice paddy along the mountain. It's beautiful and there is a cave (ah, la Grotto Azura? Not quite. You take a little tour of the cave and then head back. The whole ride takes a little more than an hour. We were freezing by the time the whole thing was over.
The driver kindly turned the heat on in the bus and we headed back to Hanoi, three hours away. Well, with traffic and bad road conditions, it was more like another four hours, with a stop to see the temples of the founding dynasties Dinh and Lê. Dinh founded his dynasty in the early 10th century and named his son as heir, but he was assassinated and the prince was too young, so his mother became regent and married Lê, the head of the army, who became king and named his own son heir. Sounds like a pretty familiar story, very Shakespearean.
We got back in time to go straight to dinner, which was good. There seems to be a system. At lunch we had pumpkin soup; at dinner we had pumpkin soup. Yesterday, we had vegetable soup at lunch time; at dinner we had vegetable soup. The same repetition happens with desserts; we have watermelon day, pineapple day, crème caramel day and so on.