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Ninh Bình, Vietnam - the missing post

 

Ninh Bình, Vietnam

"The missing post"

November 2013

 

 

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This was a really good trip and I am not sure why it fell through the cracks in getting posted.  Ninh Bình is a city in the Red River Delta of northern Vietnam and has some amazing scenery.  It is about a two-hour drive from Hanoi.  D had a business trip to Hanoi and while we were there we took the weekend to explore Ninh Bình.  We were not expecting the area to be so picturesque.

 

 

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Ninh Binh is much less touristy than its nearby "big brother" Hạ Long Bay.  We found it to be as beautiful with equally impressive views of the Karst Mountain formations.  But to really see the Karst Mountains properly at Ha Long Bay, you have to take a two-to-four day cruise.  Ninh Binh can be done via a car or motorbike with a few short trips in a small boat. 

 

 

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In fact, Ninh Binh has been referred to as “Ha Long Bay on Land.”   And along with the Karst Mountain views, you experience winding rivers, rice paddies, ancient settlements, and everyday life in the countryside.  

 

 

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We visited in November, which is the tail end of their cold & rainy season.  And yes, it was rainy and cold.  But this did not stop us.  We had planned a two-day motorcycle ride, but it was too rainy the first day so we had our driver bring a car.  The next day, even though it was very cold, we bundled up and rode on the bikes!

 

 

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In all of our travels we have never seen a raincoat for a calf.  Adorable!

 

 

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Our guide needed to stop by the father's house of his best friend, and he asked us if we wanted to go along.  The older gentleman's wife had passed a few months earlier and our guide had not been able to visit to give his condolences.  What a unique opportunity.  Other than our guide, no English was spoken.

 

 

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Moments like these make me realize why I love traveling.  They were as interested in us as we were in them. 

 

 

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They offered us tea.  I always do my "pretend tea drinking" when we are offered tea in an area that I feel the water might be questionable.  It would be rude to say no, but I also can't risk getting sick.  So I just put the cup up to my mouth and act like I am taking a sip.  

 

 

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 It is always fascinating to me to see how hospitable they are to complete strangers.

 

 

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The inside of the house was very simple.  It was one large room with fabric hung to separate the rooms.  It's hard to tell from this picture, but the wall directly behind us is the family shrine.  Every Vietnamese house has a prominent family shrine with photos of all their relatives.  The owner was very proud to tell us stories about notable people in his family. 

 

 

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Next, a boat ride at Tam Coc to see the Karst Mountains...

I have to say that I think Karst topography is one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world.  We have seen them in Vietnam and China, but there are many countries around the world where you can experience them.  The mountains are formed from soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite and gypsum.  They have unique underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves.

 

 

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D steering our boat.

 

 

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... an interesting hay stack.

 

 

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In this area they have a very unique way of rowing... look closely at how the locals use their feet on the oars to row.   Interestingly, most are older women rowing, especially on the tourist boats.

 

 

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As I mentioned, it was very cold, so I had on two pairs of pants and four layers of tops.  

 

 

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A great Pho stand near our hotel.  We ate here a few times as there were very few restaurants.

 

 

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 And we had to sample local Banh Mi.

 

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With the local salted lemon mineral water.

 

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The next day...

The rain stopped so we decided to hop on the motorcycles with our fabulous guide Toan.  It was still very cold, especially riding bikes!  D wore three pairs of pants (really) and five layers of shirts/sweaters. He basically had on his entire wardrobe at once. 

We stayed at the charming Vancouver Hotel in Ninh Binh.  Many guides will tell you to stay in Tam Coc, but since this is not a touristy area good hotels are scarce.  We highly recommend this hotel but book early, because David (the owner) only has two rooms.  He was hoping to expand and may have done so since we stayed.

 

 

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I have shared with our readers that I am not a fan of motorcycles, but I do love riding them in Vietnam!  Okay, technically these were only motorbikes.

 

 

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I was enamored the poinsettia trees (Trang Nguyen flowers) that grew wild in this area.  All in full bloom.

 

 

Flower

 

 

As of 2014, Tràng An, a scenic area known for it's boat cave tours near Ninh Bình, was included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.  

 

 

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This time we were in a boat steered by a shoe-less woman.  It was a bit cold so she had socks on.

 

 

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Get ready - we are going in.... there are about ten different caves on this two-hour boat ride.

 

 

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 It was an amazing view when you exited the cave.

 

 

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Below - a packed boat of friendly visitors.  We were very lucky because this time of year is a low travel period so there were very few boats on the water.  At peak season the waters are full of boats with locals trying to sell you soda and souvenirs.   We did not experience any of this so it was a very pleasant experience for us and we highly recommend it.

 

 

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Back to our bikes for more rice fields and local characters...

 

 

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Always a favorite of ours, visiting the local market. 

 

 

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 And a few photos of the local people.

This might be my favorite photo - notice how the girls are all bundled up with coats, leggings, and hats but still have on their flip flops!

 

 

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I thought this was a parade but our guide told me it was a funeral.  But he said it was a time to be happy and to celebrate the life of the deceased.

 

 

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The local barber...

 

Barber

 

 

Ear cleaning is an art in Vietnam.  I think I would be afraid to let someone dig in my ear like that!

 

 

Ear cleaning

 

We went to a very old amusement park.  It was closed for the winter; at least we think it was just for the winter.

 

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Can you image and old rusty ride like this in the US?

 

 

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Bái Dính Temple and Cultural Complex is a series of Buddhist temples on Bái Dính Mountain.

 

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The compound consists of the original old temple and a new larger temple. It is considered the largest complex of Buddhist temples in Vietnam and has become a popular site for Buddhist pilgrimages.

 

 

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We really enjoyed our three days in Ninh Binh - we would love to go back when the rice fields are green.