29 November 2008

Same same but different!

Yesterday, Friday, we headed from Hanoi to Ninh Binh on the train. Ninh Binh itself doesn't have much to see but is very handy as a base for several day trips. The two and a half hour tain journey was quite noisy and ended with a woman trying to set up her bed on my feet! Luckily we weren't staying on for entire journey which would have been 41 hours to Saigon. We found a really good hotel in Ninh Binh called the Thanh Thuy and they quickly sorted us out with a great room and a car and driver for the trips we wanted to do. First we headed off to Tam Coc. Rather like Halong Bay, it features huge rock formations jutting out of the rice paddies rather than the sea, and the scenery is just as breathtaking. Tam Coc means three caves. You get to these by rowboat and luckily you don't have to row yourself as the lady rowers will take you on the trip for two hours with two people in each boat for just 5 pounds. They can also rather cleverly row with their feet or their arms, I don't think I could ever be that co-ordinated! The two hour journey was fantastic, the river was really calm, it was pretty much silent (a great break from the incessant honky horns!) and the scenery was stunning.

After this our driver took us to Bich Dong Pagoda which was a temple set up in the limestone peaks. To end the afternoon he took us to the Mua Cave. While rowing we had seen a carved dragon and temple on top of a huge peak, and this is where we were heading. After a particularly steep climb, and much panting and puffing on my part, we reached the top and the view back down over the limestone peaks and rice paddies was amazing.

The journey back to Ninh Binh was also very scenic as it was rural, so we saw people working by hand in the rice paddies and lots of cows, water buffaloes, chicken, ducks and geese, which all needed to be dodged by our driver! We ended the day with a nice Vietnamese meal washed down with some local rice wine which I think is an acquired taste!

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