Trains in Vietnam are a lot like the ones in China but cost less. The nice thing is that even with a hard sleeper you have a door that you can close as long as you don't mind being in the company of the locals. The real downside is that the sleeper bunks are really hard and my sides were sore from sleeping on the almost thin piece of padding that passes off for a mattress. I met some Vietnamese doctors who were attending a conference in Hanoi, which is probably the best paid legitimate job in the country but couldn't get a lot of details but their main desire was of course to make just as much money as their counterparts in the US.
While in Ninh Binh, we went to Cuc Phuong, a national park dedicated by Ho Chi Minh himself, which contains a lot of hikes through primary rain forest and a 1,000 year old tree but a highlight is the Endangered Primate Rescue Center, which has monkeys rescued from illegal traders. About 140 primates are bred in captivity and sometimes released back into their native environment to go on with their swinging lifestyle. Another cave was supposedly habitated by man 7,500 years ago and stone tools along with axes were found at the site, all we found was the cave huge opening and some trash.
The country is laid out north to south and there are booking agents in all the towns to get you to your next destination with just a small commission fee charged for the convenience makes it a breeze to travel and is a cheaper option than the trains. So following that orientation, Tam Coc lies just south of Hanoi and its highlights includes the vegetation covered karst peaks and caves that you get rowed through on an open boat. Once on the working river with fishermen, women picking snails, and kids on the banks fishing, the rower picked up another woman, who I think was his daughter and we began our trip. The boatmen don't always row the boat with their hands but instead sometimes use their feet, which must require some coordination to get it right. The experience goes through several dark caves with stalagtites and sometimes the dripping sound of the water percolating from above. As we emerged into the sunlight, the daughter began the obligatory sales pitch as tourists are constantly hassled to buy everything. This woman was selling handmade embroidered clothing and paintings, which were beautiful but we often turn down a lot of such offers due to our limited space and the length of our travels.
The place is littered with caves and there is one called Bich Dong, which has a buddhist temple inside and looks like something out of an Indiana Jones movie set. The place is dimly lit with high cave ceilings and more stalagtites above. There are also columns supporting the cave walls and which will sadly someday fall and take the entire thing down with them.