Ninh Binh

When a sleeper bus says it will arrive somewhere at 6am you think that is okay, we can find somewhere for a coffee and breakfast then make our way to our accommodation to drop off our bags. When the bus actually arrives at 3am it is a different story, Tam Coc is the town where the bus drops you off and it is not a lively place, by not lively I mean everyone is asleep. Luckily I started talking to a really kind man who said we could sleep in his travel agency office until morning, this was a blessing but it didn’t stop him trying to sell us tours for our future time in Vietnam, I would have been more open to it if it wasn’t 3am. We managed to get comfortable on a couple of sofas and snoozed.

At 6am we felt it was a sensible time to start making our way to our accommodation. We had booked to stay in a town over from Tam Coc called Trang An, apparently less touristy and more beautiful, our walk took about 1.5 hours and was through some of the most beautiful landscape we had seen so far in Vietnam, we walked through paddy fields along rivers and around limestone mountains.

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We eventually arrived and were greeted with breakfast and showers. As we didn’t have long here and our room wasn’t ready we decided to get straight out and start exploring. We hired a bike from next door and made our way out to find a boat ride.

There are a lot of different boat rides, each with its own pros and cons, the Tam Coc ride is the most famous however it is supposed to be the most touristy and we had heard stories of people trying to hussle you the whole way around so decided to opt for the Trang An ride instead, which was meant to be a less corrupt operation. When we arrived, we picked our route from one of three options and boarded our row boat. the boats sit about 4 people plus the driver so we shared with a Vietnamese couple, luckily we had managed to bag the front seat so our views were uninterrupted. The tour took us through caves, to pagodas and to the film set of the King Kong movie which was partly filmed here.

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After the boat ride and some lunch in town, we rode over to the Bich Dong Pagoda, it is a beautiful setting, built into the rock face and surrounded by a lily pond which we had to cross a bridge through. The Pagoda itself wasn’t much to look at but the views were nice.

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Back on the bike we wanted to go and check out the Paradise Bird Park we had seen on the map. We rode out through some lovely scenery until we reached a ticket booth, we didn’t know what the park was but we knew we didn’t want to go enough to pay for it so we turned back and decided to just ride around the area in the search for ice-creams.

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Our hunt for ice-creams brought us nicely to about 4:15pm, we had been told that the Mua Hung Cave viewpoint was the best for sunset so we made our way over, after around a 500 step climb we made it to the top. It was very crowded but we managed to climb onto some rock away from too many people to watch the sun go down over the mountains. With the sun now set we went back to our homestay to check out our room and join them for dinner, which was yummy.

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As our first day was our only full day in the area, we had made sure to pack most of the stuff we wanted to do in. Our train onwards to Hanoi was at about 5pm so we still had the best part of a day to explore, we arranged to keep the bike for a few more hours before heading off to visit the Ancient Capital of Hoa Lu, it was the capital of Vietnam during the 10th Century and mainly comprised of Pagodas and a cool bridge, we didn’t spend long as we were a bit over Pagodas.

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Back on the bikes we rode out to Van Long Wetland, it was a long way out of town but the drive was beautiful. We joined another boat ride and had the whole place to ourselves, this was no way as impressive as the Trang An boat ride the day before but was still pleasant and we got to see a lot of kingfishers and dragonfly’s.

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After a spot of lunch we had to start heading back, we took the scenic route which was going smoothly until we had to wait for 20 mins to cross a swing bridge which had been opened to let a load of boats through. It was really fun as when the rope barrier was pulled back it was like a game of Mario Karts with everyone racing off. Unfortunately this now meant we were running late; it was time for our little bike to do the work! In one piece, we pulled up only 5 minutes late and jumped straight in our waiting taxi to the train station.

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Lining up to cross the bridge.

Although our time in Nihn Binh was short we had an amazing time, for me it goes on the list as one of the most beautiful places in the world.

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