We arrived (after a few frantic Google Maps checks to make sure that the previous 2 stops weren't Ninh Binh) around 11:30am (took the 9am out from Hanoi) and found ourselves not as close to our hotel as we had liked (apparently the train now stops at the new train station and although Google showed that the hotel is close to the train station, it didn't show both stations, just the old one).
It's a little bit eerie, stepping into this industrial countryside town. It's not quite as bustling as Hanoi and is way more spread out. It almost felt like a ghost town. I kept seeing all these folks waiting at their stores-- which made me wonder (because we did see a lot of people just sitting and relaxing in Hanoi too)-- what exactly is a typical day in the life of a Vietnamese person? Do they work? Or is it like they have specific seasons where tourists come by? In any case, it was odd, and it was a little strange to have so many pushy people try to get you to take a cab or go to their hotel. We had a tough time differentiating between who was trying to get us to buy something and who was just trying to help.
But hey, we came here for the view. (Or at least, that's why I dragged everyone else along-- I wanted less-touristy Vietnam and I certainly found it.) But as my cousin put it as we hiked up the ~500 steps to the top of Hang Mua to get a good view of Tam Coc: we tortured ourselves so that we too could take "stock photos."
It so happened that we found a Vietnamese BBQ/Hot Pot restaurant (heated by real charcoal)! Missing my summer BBQ I decided we'd eat BBQ (meat!!). If we could only decipher the menu.... Many Google searches later, I'm still at a loss as to what these places are called, and what exactly it was that we ate.