Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Travel Diaries: Ninh Binh

We didn't have long in Ninh Binh and so Joss and I were determined to see as much as possible of the surrounding countryside as possible. Therefore, we booked ourselves onto a day tour to see some of the more spectacular sites in the area. But first, straight after getting off our bus from Hanoi, we popped down the road to the local market. We met many friendly local ladies who were happy to show us their stalls. Here, we came across the cutest pineapples ever! Just look! They're all so dinky!

Our tour started early the next day. We were introduced to our driver, before hopping into our car and whizzing off to our first stop of the day, the Trang An Grottoes. I couldn't wait to visit the grottoes as I'd heard they were really beautiful but also much less touristy than Tam Coc, a place near by, offering a similar experience.

Once we arrived, we were shown to a little flat bottomed rowing boat where a lady was waiting to guide us down the river and through the caves. We quickly set off to explore the waterways.

The scenery was stunning. Everywhere you looked, sheer green cliffs were rising out of flat water. Lotus flowers floated near the shore and dragonflies skimmed the river surface. Our boat navigated through incredibly low cave entrances as we entered the cliffs, only to be faced with huge, long, dripping stalactites and reaching stalagmites.

Our boat stopped to allow us to visit tiny temples set into the shore, half hidden by their leafy surroundings. Here, we started to make friends with the three local Vietnamese people on our boat. They were very chatty (despite none of us speaking a word of the same language!) and friendly, pointing out sights and encouraging our boat lady to stop at various points so we could get out and climb on the rocks!

Three hours later, our tour finished (just as the rain set in!) and we hopped back into our car. Next stop was lunch and we were excited for food!

We were taken to a roadside restaurant. From the outside it didn't look particularly exciting, but once we'd sat down, the food started coming. And coming. We must have had enough food in front of us to feed an entire family of elephants. However, due to the language barrier, we had no idea really what we were eating again, although local speciality was goat and so we're pretty sure that was in some of the dishes. Nonetheless, the food was pretty yummy and more than enough to fuel us for the rest of the day's activities.

Our next stop was the huge Bai Ding Temple Complex. Here, we were taken by golf buggy across temple grounds to the main entrance. Inside, we explored the long corridors lined with rows of arhat statues. We found that as people walked passed the statues, they touched the knees or any other prominent part of the statue. We're not sure if this was for luck or out of respect, but we walked around doing the same. After all 500 statutes our arms were ready to drop off! 

We also got to see the giant gold Buddha statues in the heart of the temple complex, before heading back to the car and on to our next destination. 

Our next stop was  interesting but perhaps our least favourite place: Vietnam's Ancient City. Here, we found some very pretty gardens with little temples at their hearts, as well as seeing some of the still inhabited houses of the city. We were unsure however whether we actually saw everything there was to see. The great thing about the places we were being taken to on our trip was that they weren't very touristy- there were not queues of people or any of the touristy junk that tends to accompany this. However, the flip side of this was that there was very little information available in English, written or spoken. Discovering exactly where we were, what was going on or what we were looking at was next to impossible. However, we managed to muddle on through, hoping that we hadn't missed the main attractions. 

Our last stop was the Mua Cave Pagoda. By this point in our trip, we were very tired and well in need of a rest. Therefore, when we saw that the pagoda was at the top of a mountain, 500 steep steps away, we weren't sure whether to laugh or cry. Hysterics ensued. 

After playing on the horse statues, we stiffened our resolve and started our hike....well, after hiding in a cave for a little with some French students wanting to surprise their teacher...!

Dying a little, we finally reached the top and looked out over Ninh Binh. The view was spectacular! We could see for miles over the paddy fields, despite the weather not being the clearest. Jossi and I even got a little adventurous and hauled ourselves up to the very very peak- a rocky platform that could only be reached by deploying our amateur rock climbing skills! 

Before long, it was time to slip and slide our way down to the bottom of the mountain and head off home. We'd had a fantastic tour and had seen so much in just one day. Ninh Binh would go down as one of our favourite places we saw in Vietnam! 

1 comment:

  1. that scenery! wow. this looks like the trip of a lifetime