After a boozy Christmas at the Downtown Backpackers hostel in Hanoi and a shamefully low amount of sightseeing (one pagoda…) we had to get out of the city for a while before New Years Eve came around. So, we navigated our way through a couple of local buses to Ninh Binh, to the South of Hanoi.
Ninh Binh itself is a medium sized industrial town along the main highway and is almost completely devoid of charm and soul. However, it’s one redeeming feature is the outstanding limestone scenery nearby at Tam Coc and Trang An.
We had a bit of time in our first afternoon which we spent attempting to find a nice side to the town and at least we did find a market to browse. We also came across a good Pho (noodle soup) restaurant and ate with a lovely Kiwi couple from New Plymouth.
However, we were there to see the scenery so rented a mediocre Chinese motorbike (Attila, while a great name for a terrifying Hun, is not applicable to a crappy motorbike) which hits your knee when you turn left, and set off to Tam Coc.
We arrived at a small wharf and bought tickets for a small boat to take us down the river. Having heard that it would be full of tour groups we were pleased to find that we had beaten them there. The ride itself was beautiful, taking us through three small grottos and between spectacular limestone cliffs and very wet rice paddies. It was slightly detracted from by the nagging sales people and insistent requests for a tip, but otherwise stunning.
We rode further along to a pagoda built into the hillside and climbed the rocks (next to the sign saying ‘do not climb rocks’) to the peak above for a stunning view.
Just around the corner, we were waved at by an ancient Vietnamese lady and headed down a short path before her son appeared from nowhere, dropped his wheelbarrow and enthusiastically took us on a tour of the limestone cave in his garden (all conducted in quick fire Vietnamese), which he was halfway through building a concrete walkway through. Presumably, it will be the next big attraction in northern Vietnam if all goes well!
We managed another hour or so of riding around the area and getting lost, before worsening drizzle drove us home.
Feeling that we had ‘done’ Ninh Binh in its entirety, we returned to Hanoi the next morning, adamant that we would be better at sightseeing this time.