Asia / Vietnam

Ninh Binh – row like a pro!

I’m out of breath! Climbing Hang Mua viewing point, although it only takes like 20 minutes, in this weather is a real killer cardio. It’s already 7pm, but the temperature is still around 40 degrees. My heart is pounding but it’s not the fatigue, I’m simply amazed by the beautiful view from the top of the hill. At the end, it’s always worth to sweat when you travel!

The symmetry of those perfectly squared green rice fields, disrupted only by some lazy herds of water buffaloes and little shrines hidden in the grass, is spectacular. The river winds through the karsts and you can see so many tiny rowboats disappearing into the mouths of caves. It’s hard not to be won over by the mystical, watery beauty of this place.

It’s a must-see place” – I know I keep on repeating this particular phrase over and over, but I swear that ever step we take, Vietnam keeps on pampering us with its beautiful views!

Around Ninh Binh.
The buffaloes were everywhere – even in the graveyards! 

This is my last post from Vietnam. It’s going to be a decent one. I will tell you how we got invited to play some sort of Vietnamese board game, we will relax together in rustic bamboo bungalows and then you will try to survive with me the worst storm ever. Go and grab your coffee before I start spinning the yarn!

We travel from Hanoi by train (I feel like a pro if it comes to Vietnames railway connections!) – the aircon in our carriage is broken so it’s a painful 2 hours journey. We get to Ninh Binh, take a cab and… here we are! We stay at Nguyen Shack – do you remember their cool bungalows in Can Tho? If not click here for the post from our Mekong Delta trip. In brief we had a fantastic time with them and were super happy they had free rooms and could accommodate us. I already told you how I loved the idea behind those shacks and bungalows in Ninh Binh were simply outstanding (and this is not a sponsored post!) – the location, the crew, the food, the room – everything was perfect. You should definitely stay there if you plan to visit Vietnam! Just have a look:

I couldn’t dream of a more romantic location off the beaten track. 
Some of the bungalows are connected, the others are separate and there is a wooden bridge between them.
Now tell me – doesn’t it look spectacular?
This is the view from the viewing point – those green squares are rice fields and you can see Ninh Binh town on the horizon.
I would climb those 500 steps again and again for this view! 

Most people visit Ninh Binh to enjoy a boat ride in Tam Coc.

It’s a truly amazing experience to be able to appreciate those limestone outcrops amid serene rice paddies on a languorous rowing-boat ride and this is why most of the tourists visit Tam Coc. Not only foreigners, it seems to be extremely popular among the locals too!

We rent bicycles and cycle there in the morning. It’s only around 8km from Nguyen Shack. Mario is super sick but he doesn’t want to give up as we are going home soon anyways.

Vietnamese people are very entrepreneurial – everyone seems to be a businessman of its own kind. Example? We get to the pier, thinking where we can leave our bikes when suddenly a random dude shows up taking the bikes from us and saying “parking 1 dollar” – but wait a minute… what parking? Where is the parking? There is no parking here. It’s too late to complain so we give him the money as we don’t want to spend the whole morning arguing about stupid 2 dollars and 5 minutes later we are on the boat ready to admire the surreal karst scenery along the Ngo Dong River. To spicy up the experience our boatman paddles with his legs!!!!

Just look at this picture and tell me you don’t want to go to Tam Coc. 🙂
Local folk doing laundry in the river. 
I don’t know when Mario turned into such a skilled photographer but this pic (and the one above with the view) are in my humble opinion, very good indeed!

You have two options for your boat trip – Tam Coc or Trang An – both equally beautiful the only difference is Trang An seemed to be more crowded but the trip is also a bit longer. Tam Coc is much quieter but bear in mind you have to get here really early in the morning before 1-day trips from Hanoi start arriving.

The “mass-tourism” virus is already spreading like crazy in this area. When we get out of the boat our boatman start repeating “tip, tip, tip!”. I’m not saying he didn’t deserve one – he definitely did, it’s one of the hardest jobs to do but demanding it in such an obvious way is really putting me off. We don’t have much cash on us so we give him what we have and in return he says something in Vietnamese. I bet it was like “those damn stingy tourists” but we don’t understand so hey! whatever, life’s still beautiful!

The best part of the boat ride was observing the boatmen who was maneuvering their boats with their legs rather than their arms.
This is one of my fave pictures – I really like the contrast between the violet outfit of the lady and her silver hair. 
Going into the caves was so cool!
This is a small floating shop in case tourists need something on the go…
… and another one!
I loved this man! Such a happy guy and a great portrait.

In the afternoon we cycle to Trang An. If you are not planning to go on a boat trip you can skip it – there is not much to do apart from the cruise. The bike ride was very enjoyable but you’d be better off heading to Ninh Binh town. It’s a fairly grim industrial looking town that would never deserve a mention if it was not for the fact it is located next to a very special piece of countryside. This is what they say. They seem to forgot that it’s also where the real life happens. Just put your “explorer” hat on and bravely turn into one of the small, dark alleys… (Ok, you got me – it’s the middle of the day they were nothing but dark). The fun starts now!

We got invited to play some sort of Vietnamese chess – we politely declined but spent some time with those guys, observing them, laughing and taking pictures. We grabbed a beer in a local pub tasting some sort of steamed peanuts (weird) and everyone there was not-so-secretly looking at us. Mario was constantly bugged. Men in Vietnam don’t have much facial hair so when they saw Mario’s beard (and after 3 weeks it was at its best) they were pointing at it and even trying to touch! Ha! This is amazing, and no, he didn’t feel harassed in any way. When we were about to head back to Nguyen Shack a group of 3 young girls in school uniforms started chasing us – I tried to use my language skills but boy, Vietnamese language is hard! So we were just laughing and at the end they asked if they could take a selfie with me. So you see, we were sort of popular in Ninh Binh. 🙂 It was funny to observe how they prepared themselves before taking the picture, making their hair, striking the “duck face” (so international!) and then there was sweaty and red ANNA FROM POLAND in the background.

Observing the locals in their natural habitat is every photographer’s dream. They invited us to play with them!
I almost screamed when I saw that guy – gimme that coconut man!

Our bungalows were situated in the middle of a valley surrounded by the multiform limestone pitons. Sounds serene, doesn’t it? It was until we experienced the biggest monsoon ever!

The wind was blowing like crazy and it was raining all night long. Those monsoon rains are just insanely intense. The rooftop of our bamboo hat was about to fly away… I was terrified! We were on the water – we gonna die! we gonna drawn! In that moment our bed felt like a tiny boat in the middle of the ocean… 

I wake Mario up screaming “dude, wake up, this hut’s gonna be blown away in any minute, we have to run away”. Now do you see the threat here? Can you feel my panic? So imagine Mario now, turning around like a fat lazy seal and saying to me “sleep, por Dios”. This is what we always say to each other when we don’t want to talk in bed. :p I just can’t accept the current status quo so I’m quickly packing and I try to fight the sleep sitting on a chair in upright position for the rest of the night.

We didn’t die that night, we weren’t probably even close to it, but at least my backpack was already ready for the trip back to Hanoi!

I’m so sad that our adventure draws to an end. Vietnam will always be that “special country” for us. It was in Vietnam when we came up with that crazy idea of “let’s just leave everything behind and move to Asia”. Time will show where we gonna end up next year so follow the blog and keep your fingers crossed for me. I will need it! And if you are considering Vietnam as your next travel destination, don’t think twice. It is a wonderful country. I would not hesitate to go there again… and again!

Post scriptum:

A post wouldn’t be wild if it hasn’t been for a story. There is always some sort of story behind each post. The WILD thing happened to us just before boarding our plane. It turned out there was overbooking on our flight and we were FORCED to stay in Hanoi for one more day with paid food, accommodation, pocket money and then we were flying back to Europe the next day in business class – FULLY RECLINED SEATS GUYS! How can I not be in love with Vietnam if life treated me so good there? 🙂