21.05.2012 - 21.05.2012
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The trip to Ninh Binh started at Hanoi's train station. We had booked the most expensive seats on the train which wasn't the flashest I've seen however for $7 each it was fair value. It started with us piling on to the train super organised an hour before we were due to leave. It was hot and had some extremely loud traditional music playing. I thought Rach was going to pack it all in at that point however after half an hour the music went off and the air-conditioning on. I sat opposite two elderly Vietnamese men, Holly and Toby sat together behind Rach and Bellie. We got more than a few strange looks especially me when a young girl came and sat next to me at one of the stops. Her seemingly anxious father stood outside peering in at me. I felt as though I may have been on a first date and was very uncomfortable at which point Rach was nearly in tears with laughter as this set of eyes kept popping up over the window edge. Throughout the trip the locals slowly warmed to us and by the time we got off even the elderly gentlemen were having a laugh at Bellie as she told them in Vietnamese how old she was. The 100km trip took 2 1/2 hours.
We got to our accommodation at the Legend hotel, a monstrosity in the middle of rice paddy fields. Our room though was brilliant. For the first time we had space and the hotel had a pool. A great base for the next 4 nights.
Our first excursion was to Tam Coc and a 2 hour row boat trip up the Ngo Dong River passing through three caves. The longest was 127m. With 5 of us we had to take 2 boats so Toby and Holly joined me while Rach and Bella had the guide who was with us. The trip through the rice paddy fields and limestone karsts that line the river was amazing. It is really quiet on the boats with only the oars splashing through the water making any noise. The time passed pretty quickly but with the heat two hours was long enough. At the end of the trip we walked to the 13th century Thai Vi pagoda and then it was back into the van and off to the Bich Dong pagodas a 20 min drive away. They are 3 pagodas at different levels on the hill. They were very impressive but with it getting to midday the heat had knocked us all over. The kids had done really well but with it being 35 degrees and the humity at 90% it was time to head back to the hotel.
Setting off on our journey - Bellie excited to be winning the race
The stunning scenary along the way
Rach - The boat rowers had this amazing ability to row the boat using there feet leaving their hands free. Our guide explained that the rowers were often women and needed to do other jobs so developed this technique so that they could peel the veges for the family dinner or do handicrafts (good old multitasking again girls!
Time to head home for the hot and bothered Watson5
We were straight in the pool back at the hotel with the kids in first. Unfortunately the hotel staff were quite alarmed at the Holly and Toby in the pool unaided and half a dozen came out of the adjoining restaurant looking concerned and asking if the kids could swim. We assured them that they are ok and within 5 minutes we had 10 or more staff out watching and giggling at the kids. There is a sign up at the pool telling guests that children under 12 must use the paddling pool with is 1 foot deep and fenced off!
The next day we went to Hang Mua. There is a cave there but we went for the walk to the top of the hill where there are amazing views back down to the river we had been on in our row boats the day before. On the top of the hill is a dragon and a altar to the Goddess of Mercy (Rach tee hee). The trek up there was energy sapping. Some of the steps were 50cm high. All our clothes were soaking by the time we reached the top. Rach had Bella in the backpack so did it worse than the rest of us. Standing at the top for 15 min the water just poured of of us but it was worth it. Rach - I was feeling like one of those crazy sprinklers you plug the hose in and the water comes out at crazy angles It's was an incredible view and the one that sold me on coming to Ninh Binh.
After we cautiously got down it was back to the hotel for more swimming and rest.
The bottom looking up to where we were heading
The stunning view from the top was well worth it
That afternoon we headed into town for a look and some tea. The wander around was interesting with no other westerners around and the kids sticking out like dogs you know what's. Everyone was in for a cheek pinch or kiss. Bella was picked up and passed around plenty much to her enjoyment. Fruit and yoghurt was offered to the kids with lots of smiles. The kids do react well and with their picking up the lingo the locals enjoy the hellos thank-you's and goodbyes in Vietnamese. The only issue we had was getting out of the taxi 2 men begging had there hand out asking for money. I said no but Bella seeing notes in their hands went to take some from them for herself. She wasn't happy when Rach pulled her away "but He was giving me some money and I have none" she said.
After a walk went to get tea. We didn't find many options so went to Huong Mai - one of only two restaurants listed in the lonely planet. With snails, eels and tortoise on the menu it didn't excite us to much.
The opulence of Huong Mai
Some fun at the Bia Hoi - the kids get excited as they seem like kindy seats
We ate what we could then headed to a Bia Hoi (fresh beer) and sat down on the tiny plastic stools to have a rest. The owner didn't speak English but you only go to a Bia Hoi for one thing. He bought out a plastic jug with a litre or so in it and a couple of glasses with coke for the kids. We also got some sesame crisp bread and peanuts which he offered. All up it was $6. The entertainment for the hour we were there was great. Another lightning storm no rain but plenty of flashes and thunder. Kids loved it this time which was a change from the tears we got in Halong Bay. Rach -When it was time to leave we paid our small bill and told the owner to keep the change (which was 10 000 Vientnamese Dong - 60 cents NZ) The owner however really wanted to give us our change so tried to pass it to Bella who was only to happy to put out her hand after feeling she had already missed out that day. I passed the note back to the lady only to get the fithiest stare and dressing down that only our 3 year old can give her Mum.