Ninh Binh: Oct 19-25, 2015

We travelled from Cat Ba Island to Haiphong via bus/boat/bus, then a small bus/large van from Haiphong to Ninh Binh. The bus horn was set up to sound for about 4 seconds each time driver hit it, which was about every 4 seconds in Haiphong, somewhat less on the main road. This probably saved the driver from getting carpal tunnel, but maybe not from deafness. The bus was somewhat less comfortable than a full size bus, there was less space, the seats did not recline at all, but the air con worked and there were no pop music videos playing the entire trip. Total trip time was about 6 hours.

 

On the bus.

On the bus.

We were met in Ninh Binh by Tuan Duong (https://ninhbinhpuluongtours.wordpress.com/) a tour guide recommended to us by fellow travelers and who we had contacted before we left Cat Ba. He took us to our hotel (Ngoc Anh Hotel, $28/night including breakfast), which was nice and situated near the middle of the town.

Ninh Binh is in an area characterized by many limestone karsts, very similar looking to Halong Bay, but on land. The easy access to limestone has resulted in several cement plants in the surrounding area. Unfortunately air quality regulations appear to be lax, resulting in continuous haze and dust from the plants.  My  unofficial Method 9 observation put the opacity at one plant stack at 100%.

Here is a typical scene outside of our hotel in Ninh Binh, something you will not see at home!

A scene outside our hotel in Ninh Binh!

We took a one day motorbike tour with Tuan and his cousin Tuan, who both work for Tuan’s tour company. The identical English spelling of their names results in some amusing reviews on Trip Advisor as there is great confusion as to why there is one tour guide in Ninh Binh named Tuan who is older and tall (Tuan the Elder), and one named Tuan who is younger and shorter (Tuan the Younger). Is one of them the real Tuan and the other an imposter cashing in on the real Tuan’s name? Are there really two different Tuans running tours in Ninh Binh?  Conspiracy theories abound.  The simple answer that apparently only we were able to figure out after meeting the two Tuans is that Tuan the Elder owns the tour company while Tuan the Younger works for his cousin Tuan the Elder. Which Tuan you actually get for your tour is luck of the draw, unless like us you get both Tuans on the same tour.  Two Tuans for the price of one.

Lots of scenery on the motorbike tour.

Lots of scenery on the motorbike tour.

On the one-day tour we took boats through Trang An Grottos (Seven Caves), Fairy Valley temple (Secret Temple, but only a secret until the road tunnels currently under construction are completed), Dinh Tien Hoang temple and tomb (he was the first emperor of Vietnam whose dynasty was founded in 968 AD) and visited several Buddhist shrines.

Our boat trip through the limestone grottos.

Our boat trip through the limestone grottos.

 

Hard working woman on the river.

Hard working woman on the river.

 

Some lovely friends we met on the boat.

Some lovely friends we met on the boat.

 

Meandering down the river.

Meandering down the river.

 

Amazing magenta colored lotus!

Amazing magenta colored lotus!

 

The next two days we did a three day two night tour/homestay with Tuan the Younger. The tour consisted of a couple of short hikes in the area near Cuc Phuong National Park, and staying the night in local villages. The homestays were pretty basic but did have electricity, WCs, and hot showers. Views, particularly from the first nights homestay, were spectacular with rice paddies surrounded by mountains.

Our wonderful guide Tuan.

Our wonderful guide Tuan.

 

Motorbike heaven.

Motorbike heaven.

 

The trek to the homestay guided by Tuan.

The trek to the homestay guided by Tuan.

Incredibile views on our trek!

 

Denise and Tuan.

Denise and Tuan.

 

The first night home stay was at Hieu village near Pu Luong Preserve. The people belong to the Thai ethnic group, but not related to the Thais from Thailand, more related to the Chinese. Tuan cooked dinner, we had goat, beef, and “suicide” buffalo. It turns out that the local people do not kill water buffalo for meat. They are worth more as draft animals than as food, so they eat only those water buffalo that have died of injury or other causes. I thought it best to not to ask what our dinner died of, or how long ago.

Beautiful rivers on our way to the homestay.

Beautiful rivers on our way to the homestay.

 

Our home on the first day of our homestay.

Our home on the first day of our homestay.

 

Our sweet porch overlooking the rice paddies.

Our sweet porch overlooking the rice paddies.

 

A face to remember!

Our next-door neighbor.  A face to remember!

The second night homestay in was in Don village, populated with Thai people. This area had large rice paddies of sticky rice, mostly still unharvested. The fields are huge, and all sowing and harvesting is done by hand. I cannot imagine the incredible manpower required to sow and harvest so much rice. It doesn’t seem like there are enough people in the area. The rice paddies are quite extensive and there is no mechanized farm machinery except for some gas-powered threshers.

Before the harvest in the rice fields.

Before the harvest in the rice fields.

 

Rice fields forever and ever!

Rice fields forever and ever!

 

Sharing a family meal at the homestay.

Sharing a family meal at the homestay.

 

Home sweet home on the second day of our homestay with the rice farmers.

Home sweet home on the second day of our homestay with the rice farmers.

 

View from our grass home

View from our grass home

 

A time to relax!

A time to relax!

After returning from the homestay tour we stayed for one night at Mua Cave ($25/night), a hotel situated near a small cave and a hilltop shrine (about 450 steps to the top) with great views of the surrounding countryside. An unusual feature of our hotel room was a window over the bathtub/shower looking out to the limestone cliff face immediately behind our bungalow.

Our grand room at Mua Cave!

Our grand room at Mua Cave!

 

A bathroom with a view of the cave!

A bathroom with a view of the limestone cliff!

 

The view from the top of hill near Mua Cave

The view from the top of the hill near Mua Cave

 

Another great shot by Pete

Another great shot by Pete of the Tam Coc River

We took a night train (sleeper) from Ninh Binh to Dong Hoi, about an 8-hour trip. The sleeper was OK, four beds per compartment, and likely much better than a long bus ride.

After a not-so-good-night's sleep on the train.

After a not-so-good-night’s sleep on the train.  Next stop; Dong Hoi/Phong Nha National Park area.

 

7 thoughts on “Ninh Binh: Oct 19-25, 2015

  1. Wow! Thank you so much for sharing this adventure with us – I feel like I was almost there myself! Such a beautiful place! God is so creative! Love to you cousin and keep exploring the universe will one mountain and stream at a time 🙂

  2. I love it. Keep it coming. I wish I were with you enjoying the moment. Keep me in your spirits……Love you both, Nic
    Hey Dee, I keep looking for some of your beautiful art work? Keep it rolling.

  3. Hi Denise and Pete! Grandma and I were surfing the Web and found our way to your blog. We are at Madelynn’s 2nd birthday party and sharing your beautiful pictures. Miss you, stay safe! Love to you both!

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