Ninh Binh is a small city about 90km south-east of Hanoi. It's sheer
beauty deserves it's own entry. The city itself is nothing to write
home about. But once we peddled our rented bicycles a mere five
minutes down the main street we were greeted by endless fields of
emerald rice fields, towering karst mountains and bathing water
buffalo. Forays down smaller dirt roads led us to some of the most
magical scenery we have seen on the trip thus far. People have built
their tiny houses right into the bedrock and live in tiny niches at
the bottom of the magnificent mountains. Small carved out wooden boats
float (mostly) amidst lush pond vegetation and rivers cut through
narrow gorges and into atmospheric caves.
On the second afternoon of biking we got caught in a bit of a downpour
and found ourselves peddling through a nice, thick layer of mud. We
just spotted a restaurant to hide in when Jonathan's bike became very
hard to pedal. We made it to the restaurant and his bike was
immediately dragged away by the owner and no less than three friends.
'Flat!' they pointed to the tire. And, so it was. Perfect timing,
really, if we were going to get a flat anywhere. Right where a NASCAR
crew is standing by to patch it up. By the time we had finished lunch
our tire was all patched up (the patch matched perfectly the five
other ones on the tire), the rain had stopped and we were ready to
move on. Grand total for tire work of the team? $1. I love Vietnam.
We pedaled to Tam Coc, one of the most touristy sights for a trip down
the picturesque river. For $7 total, including admission, you get into
your very own private row boat and rower for an hour and a half
adventure down the winding river and through three caves. The
acrobatic rowers use both their hands and feet to row the boat, which
makes for half the fun. We happened to be there on a Saturday and the
river was lined with boats full of Vietnamese school children. Despite
the absolutely stunning scenery, the kids were all more interested in
waving frantically at us, shouting greetings, making faces and taking
our picture. And we thought the river was the tourist attraction. It's
probably just our uncanny resemblance to a couple famous, incredibly
attractive movie-stars. Right.
The other outing we opted for in Ninh Binh was a trip to the National
Park Cuc Phoung, which is about 45km out of the city. Our hotel was
more than happy to arrange two motorbikes and drivers to escort us.
The air was so wonderful and fresh in the park, and the jungle/forest
was dense and very, very green. The park is one of Vietnam's most
important natural areas. Ho Chi Minh himself took time off from the
war to declare the area a National Park. The ride itself, despite the
very sore motorbike bottom, was wonderful. We stopped at a pineapple
plantation, and a few other fantastic view points before making it to
the park's entrance. There, we visited monkey and turtle
rehabilitation centres. The animal situation is incredibly sad here.
There were originally a plethora of species of primates in Vietnam but
illegal hunting has left many populations depleted and very near
extinction. People just don't understand, or simply don't care that
hunting the monkeys will have long term effects. The turtles, on the
other hand, are mostly hunted for parts that are used in Chinese
medicine. The illegal export/import of animal parts from Vietnam to
China is a massive problem that it complicated by wide spread
corruption. And we thought the CITES training was boring. This stuff
is fascinating (and infuriating)- in a horrible, brutal way. The idea
behind the medicines themselves is perhaps even more disturbing, as
they aren't based in any sort of fact whatsoever (in my opinion). For
example, people believe that drinking turtle blood will make them live
longer, just because turtles have long lives- so they kill countless
turtles! Its so bad that even common pond turtles are rare!
We drove another 20km into the park, stopping so my driver could yank
a weird looking plant/flower/thing from a tree for me, for no
particular reason. He didn't even know what it was- all he knew is
that he wanted me to have it. Thanks... I think.
We visited a cave where remains of a person from 5000BC were found and
went on a beautiful (but steep) hike to a one thousand year old tree.
Now that's ancient- like you, Dad.
The ride back provided even more unbelievable scenery. Seriously surreal.
Our vote: Ninh binh- Worth the overnight bus ride.
P.S. We are now also having problems with logging into our current flickr account with our google log-in. Sooooo we now have this temporary Flickr account that we will post our latest China pics in until we figure out all these technical issues. Hopefully its not too confusing.
Temporary Flickr Account : http://www.flickr.com/photos/53996375@N07/