After securing jobs in Hai Phong we had a week to play with before starting our new contracts, deciding on making the most of it we decided to check out more of Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. We booked ourselves onto a day trip which would take us to Ninh Binh province to explore caves, rice fields and small villages. We had to get a bus for around 2 hours to get there which is usually no problem what so ever, however one thing you notice about Vietnam is just how bad the roads are (which might also explain why it takes 3 days to drive from HCMC to Hanoi!) they are full of pot holes, bumps and mad drivers with a love of their horn which does not make for the most comfortable of journeys!
Our first stop was Hoa Lu, the old ancient capital of Vietnam during the 10th and 11th centuries. It is set in the middle of rice paddies and giant limestone cliffs covered with moss and trees, it is spectacular! We visited the Dinh King temple and Le King temple dating back to the 10th century. You can walk in and around the temples and the surrounding area before being hassled by tiny ancient ladies trying to sell you pineapple!
It was just a quick stop, and after about 40 minutes we were back on the bus heading for Tam Coc where we all sat down and had a lovely lunch which was all included in the price of the tour!
After lunch we headed down the road to the boating station where we would be rowed down the river, into three caves with time to take in the scenery. The caves were pitch black and even though our driver gave us a torch we crashed into another boat heading in the opposite direction!!
The scenery going along the river was beautiful, all around were huge green limestone cliffs and rice fields as far as the eye could see. (It is not surprising that Vietnam is now the top producer and exporter of rice in the world!!)
Although the scenery was majestic, the boat ride was an hour and a half long which was just a bit long to be sitting on a low seat with a bad back!! I felt sorry for the lady driving as it would have been hard work, however when you turned round she was sitting back rowing with her feet (We took a video… check it out below!) It was rather impressive!! It was quite overcast which was actually lovely as it meant the sun wasn’t beating down on us the entire time however it almost meant that there was a mist covering the mountains making the pictures come out a bit funny! We both enjoyed the boat ride but it was just a little long for us!
While we were waiting for the rest of the group to finish I saw a family trying to get a picture of themselves and noticed they were Thai from listening to what they were saying, I asked them if they wanted a picture and the picture must have been brilliant as I shouted “nung, song, sam!!!” (1,2,3 in Thai) and they all opened their mouth in shock that I had realized they were Thai and spoke to them in Thai! They were lovely and we chatted away about Thailand and Songkran which was on that weekend, despite having left Thailand 2 years ago it is still one of my favorite countries!
Once everyone was off the boats we jumped on bikes and rode right into the
heart of the rice fields, after living in Asia for so long, especially Thailand, I thought I had seen enough rice fields, but these were beautiful!! They were so green with a back drop of stunning limestone cliffs and due to the overcast day the pictures just don’t do it justice of how beautiful it actually was!! We got stuck behind a herd of goats which was funny as they clearly didn’t know where to go with 8 bikes trying to pass them. You could also see and hear escapees who had obviously decided to go off on a little hike as they were right at the top of the giant limestone cliffs!!
We all boarded the bus again and began the trip back to Hanoi where we decided to try some of the local delicacy street food of BBQ frog and baby bird! As disgusting as they might have looked they were actually incredibly tasty!
It was a fun and enjoyable day, and although it might not have been as cheap as the tours in HCMC (This tour was $27.50 each!) it was still a nice way to get out the city, see some of the surrounding area and see the famous limestone cliffs up close!