We next visited an unremarkable town surrounded by stunning natural beauty – Ninh Binh.
This wasn’t planned at all, since we were originally going to visit Sapa, but unfortunately we realised time just wasn’t on our side due to the 9+ hours it was away from Hanoi. Ninh Binh made more sense as it was on the way from Hue, and only 2-3 hours away from Hanoi.
We arrived by train around 6am to what seemed like a very wet and slightly miserable looking town, this was our first taste of weather in the north. The part of town we had arrived in was fairly quiet, the rest was a lot busier but with very little in the way of sights. But we hadn’t come for the town, we had come to see some natural beauty outside of it.
We immediately knew that we needed to get a bike to get around as everything was located several kilometres from town, so on the first day we rented some push bikes for and cycled out of town, through some villages and into the countryside, passing several ‘thit cho’ (Dog meat!) signs on the way. Soon the landscape started to look spectacular.
After a 7km ride we reached Trang An, a picture perfect site with limestone casts and rivers running through caves, much like Halong Bay but inland.
We arrived, parked our bikes and bought the ticket for the boat, a 2-3 hour tour, costing about 150,000 dong each, about £4, we unfortunately didn’t get a boat to ourselves and were bundled in with a few guys on what looked to be a work events day. It was an interesting experience, unfortunately my poor Vietnamese skills didn’t really come in useful as the language is a lot different here to in the South. But this was OK as it was all about the sights and spectacular views.
We rowed through loads of caves, and had to watch out we didn’t hit our heads – the caves were really low!
The boat stopped off at a few temples and shrines along the way, so our rower had a chance to rest her hands and feet (yes, she rowed with her feet!).
We were skeptical about the ride really being 3 hours long, but it really was, it was almost dark when we finished and had to rush back to the town before we got stranded in the countryside with no lights.
The next day started off relatively well, we woke up early and rented a motorbike this time. We wanted to visit Mua cave which is famous for it’s viewing point over Tam Coc, a site much like Trang An. The ride wasn’t the easiest, for quite a while we had to ride down a bumpy dirt path and through tiny villages, so much so that we wondered whether we were actually going the right way, but eventually there was a sign for the cave.
As we reached the entrance and paid a small fee, I started to feel really ill, but decided I wasn’t going to sit at the bottom and do nothing while Greg climbed the 500 steps to a fantastic viewing platform! I was going to do this whether my body wanted or not. After viewing the rather unmemorable cave we started our climb.
It was tiring but I made it up without a problem, however once at the top I started to feel worse and worse. The view was spectacular, but I couldn’t appreciate it at the time because I felt so ill.
After the mist came in we slowly descended, and that’s where I didn’t just FEEL sick any more. Let’s just say I’m sorry to those people who went up after us!
The rest of the day was spent indoors, drinking plenty on fluids. I couldn’t even eat lunch or dinner! It was tragic, Greg had to eat out by himself, but I think he enjoyed the alone time away from his pukey girlfriend. We had hoped to see some more sites but had to abandon any further plans.
All in all despite the slight disaster we enjoyed Ninh Binh its well worth a visit! I’m still not sure why I was sick but I can only think that it was due to over exertion and having a bit of a dodgy belly!
Where We Stayed
We stayed at Canh Dieu hotel There were only a few options available online for Ninh Binh but honestly, considering how few people got off the train with us, we would have been fine looking when we arrived. Canh Dieu was nice with helpful staff, but it was round the back of the train station which meant a lengthy walk until a level crossing. Our room was also quite damp and we were woken various times by trains in the middle of the night. Overall though it was ok.