04.04.2012 - 07.04.2012
Ninh Binh was a great stop on our way south. I ended up staying 4 nights there. I stayed at the New Queen Mini Hotel, which was great. The room was decent and the staff were really friendly. They advised us about tours but weren't pushy, they rented bikes, and at the end they arranged our night bus to Hue which they got cheaper for us than the price at the station. It was super relaxed and the food was cheap and quite tasty.
While there we rented bikes and went to Tam Coc which was 12km away. It was really easy to find and the cycle was nice. We rented a boat and had a young guy rowing us who never bothered us about buying stuff. Usually it's old women and we had heard they can be quite pushy. But the best part about these boat trips is they row the boats with their feet on the oars, which is fun to watch.
The river has rice paddies all along the sides with little limestone outcrops jutting up all over the place. It has the nickname of “Halong on the rice paddies” and after being to Halong, it's easy to see why. But in my opinion it's more beautiful. Everything is closer and more intimate. We went in April which was nice, and we had the river to ourselves most of the time.
After this, we rode our bikes around to Mua Cave where you can climb up around 200 steps to overlook the river, and it's stunning. The views around were amazing because it was such a nice day. A perfect place for taking photos.
Whilst in Ninh Binh we also got a tour with a driver to Cuc Phong National Park. We drove their on motorbikes and again, the scenery there and on the way was beautiful. Driving out of Ninh to the park is amazing for the first forty minutes or so, as the landscape is a lot like Tam Coc. After that it becomes a lot flatter. Arriving at the park the scenery changed again to more of a jungle / forest setting. It's about another thirty minute drive to the park centre along a winding road which was great, twisting back and forth. The road was covered in tress and there were thousands of butterflies on the road, so it was pretty impressive.
In the park we went to the one thousand year old tree which I wasn't super impressed with, although I do respect it's longevity. Visually it wasn't much to look at, but standing close to something so old was an interesting feeling. The trek through the forest was nice and easy, and we saw some monkeys on the road when we were driving back. This park is also quite famous for its Monkey rehabilitation centre, where they get monkeys from trappers and such and re-introduce them to the wild. What they're doing is great of course, but they're basically just kept in small cages so it's kind of like a zoo.
On the way back we took a different route along these makeshift roads which were like elevated roadways between the paddies, something like dykes in the Netherlands. Again, the scenery here was beautiful. My battery was dead at this point unfortunately, but it was really beautiful, and different. We saw more rock formations, children playing football on a makeshift pitch where they were ducking around water buffalo who were grazing on it, and we saw glimpses into the lives of the Vietnamese living here as we drove by. We also had to navigate through herds of water buffalo and cows on these narrow, and often bumpy roads, which with my questionable driving skills, was an interesting experience.
The last day we had to wait for our night bus. It was raining so we did nothing, which was great. That evening we got the night bus to Hue, which was fine. Nothing bad to report on the bus.