Well, Ninh Binh made me like Vietnam again. Not that I didn’t, but it was a welcome change to spend 24 hours without being schemed, ripped off, hassled, yelled at, or grifted.
Ninh Binh provides a similar landscape to Vang Vieng nature-wise, but without the legions of drunken, born-in-the-Clinton-era Eurotrash.
After arriving on the night train, I checked into a joint by the train station and rented a motorbike. I started at Mua Cave, south of town, which is really more of a small mountain/limestone karst with a brutal staircase than it is a cave. After the hike up, I grabbed lunch – goat spring rolls of course, the main dish in these parts.
After towering views of the river I would soon be floating on, I rode down to Tam Coc. The main thing to do here is to take a ride down the river in a rowboat. It costs 110,000 dong, but this includes the rower. I was on my own of course, but I met a couple of Taiwanese tourists on the river and our boats generally stayed nearby throughout. Tam Coc was known for being a nasty gauntlet of pushy sales people on boats, but fortunately they’ve cleaned this up quite a bit.
Next, I rode my bike up toward Hoa Lu, an ancient capital of Vietnam, although as always on Vietnamese roads I got lost and sidetracked, and ended up following the signs to Bai Dhin Pagoda. This pagoda is obviously brand new, as much of the construction is still ongoing. This temple was one of the largest I’d ever seen. The main building was the size of a blimp hanger, and other buildings stretched down the hill for probably a mile. This temple didn’t just have a big seated Buddha inside, it had three.
After getting lost a couple times, I made it safely back to town running on fumes. Once in town, I did everything there is to do in Ninh Binh proper, which is nothing. I packed up and went to sleep early to catch the first train to Hanoi.