Monday, September 12, 2011

Ninh Binh


Today is a public holiday in Viet Nam and VAIE is closed for 2 days!!!  Woo-oo!  So I headed off to Ninh Binh with Gene and Becki (who made all the arrangements, bless her!).  We met on Van Cao and piled into a taxi for the bus station at 8am. The bus left at 9 and it was a sleeper... now there's a sight... crawling into a recliner at floor level built to fit little Vietnamese people...  (and yes, they were all very amused watching us)
The bunks are double decker... At first we thought we would be reclining the whole way, then realised that you can raise the back of the seat up, so it was quite confortable lounging back with our legs stretched out. It was about a 3 hour ride, with pretty scenery and the usual hair-raising driving... gotta love it!
Check out the buffalo in the cart on the right as we head over the bridge in this next video... that's why we're on the wrong side of the road...

Along the way we pass numerous little roadside stalls where travellers can stop for a rest and refreshment

We arrived in Ninh Binh at around mid-day, and caught a taxi to our hotel, Xuan Hoa Hotel, which turned out to be just around the corner, pretty much. We were met by the owner who has an engaging personality and a great sense of humour. He assured us that he had our room ready as booked..."Small room, one bed, no windows, yes?" We shared a triple room on the 5th floor:

After settling in, we headed downstairs to the foyer / dining room for lunch

Our host suggested an afternoon tour to take in Tam Coc (Three Caves) on the Ngo Dong River, followed by the Bich Dong Pagoda, the Thai Vi Temple and the Mua Cave travelling by private car for $7 each. So we headed out for the riverside wharf where there were lots of people and lots of boats.

There was a sign stipulating that the maximum number of tourists per boat was two, but our driver slipped some money to the hapless young lady rowing the boat we were directed to and we three (very large by Vietnamese standards) gingerly piled in. We had about 3 cm clearance from the surface of the water to the gunwales, but fortunately there are no power boats on this river... We obviously created a spectacle, so we spent the next 3 hours laughing, waving and calling "Hello!"  to the people travelling in the opposite direction.

There were very few buildings along the river

Those two looked deserted, but this one was a farm

The scenery was spectacular... It's called Halong Bay on Rice Paddies on account of the jagged limestone outcrops that jut out from flooded rice paddies.
It soon became apparent that our rower was getting exhausted as our overloaded little boat wallowed along, being overtaken by every other boat going in the same direction and after half an hour or so her young brother, 12, got into our boat from another and brought a paddle with him. We had to stop for them to take a breather and bale out...

Amazing to be seemingly in the middle of an inaccessible canyon and then there is a huge rice paddy on one side and wild goats on the other!

While we were stopped our rower called over another boat that was slightly bigger, and we swapped boats with the boy rowing and our rower paddling... turns out she's 4 months pregnant... then a bit further downstream the boy climbed out and another lady took over the rowing, so by now we were going as fast as the other boats... The river flower under three caves...
just like in the guide books (and Rossi's holiday snaps!)

On the way back I picked up the spare paddle, but only managed to keep it up for about 10 minutes, then Becki took over and we powered home! This is our rower/paddler. She was delightful and spoke some English... enough to sell us a couple of embroidered bags on the way home at least...

When we finally got back to shore we were accosted by photographers who had been paddling up and down taking photos. They had printed them off and wanted to sell them for exorbitant prices. I ended up paying 20% of the initial asking price just as we got into the car for 4 photos of us laughing in our overloaded boat... I will have to scan them so I can add them to the blog.

Next stop was the Thai Vi temple

and we arrived as a service was in progress. You get to hear a little of the music in this short video...

The complex was very clean and tidy..  The man in the pink outfit was presiding..
There was a couple fishing in the ornamental ponds with simple rods of bamboo with a length of fishing line and a small hook ... jigging for fish for dinner with some success...
He told me that 10 of these little beauties would be enough for dinner and I don't think he was pulling my leg...

After that we headed off through the farmland sharing rough roads with livestock

It was after 5pm by the time we got to the next place... that's out driver in the yellow T-shirt. You can see the outline of the temple on top of the hill in the distance, and we headed off on foot.

The garden and lake at the foot of the hill were picturesque...

There was a long stair that steeply wound up the cliff face to the top decorated with dragons and carvings

We made it to the first landing and enjoyed the view

It was quite hazy and dusk was falling, so we decided not to go further because coming down that rough stair in fading light held no appeal and it was a long way to the top...

We didn't realise that half way up is the Bich Dong Pagoda which is built around a cave and looks great in the guide books and we were half way there... but it was getting dark... I took this photo of a cave and only then realised that the flash revealed a statue of a native cat that we couldn't see in the dark

We finished off a delightful day having dinner outside the hotel in the balmy evening. Across the road is a small lake, so it was very pleasant. The weather was great today, considering it has been over 40 degrees for the past 3 days, 30 degrees felt quite pleasant!


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