Ninh Bình, VietNam

Tam Coc

Day 45, May 26th.
I arrived to Ninh Binh and found numerous motorbike taxis outside of the station. I was a bit overwhelmed and needed to have breakfast. I walked past all the soliciting drivers straight across the street to a little coffee tourism place. From here I connected to WiFi and had an iced coffee. The food was pretty expensive and nothing appealed to my taste buds. I searched the distance to my bungalow; it was more than a walk. I then searched Grab to at least have an idea of price point. The waitress told me her dad could take me for the same price as a motorbike and would use an air conditioned car- this sounded great! We were off to my bungalow. And this girl got to check in early!!
It must’ve been about 10 or 11. I actually slept well on the train so was easily capable of getting on with my day. I didn’t know where to start and so I took a shower. Then I began researching some things in the area. I knew I wanted to hike. I also wanted to get some pictures of the rice fields and water buffalo. Good thing I booked to stay in Tam Coc. I could see all of this just outside my window! I charged my camera and went to have lunch. It was far too late to call it breakfast now.

a vietnamese man dries rice on the sidewalk infront of my bungalow- the shot is captured from the ground level. I am right outside of my bungalow.

I first went to the reception desk. There were a few chairs and I thought maybe a cafe but no one was around. Then I remembered she said there was a bar at the pool and a restaurant nearby. I went in that direction. Still I could not find anyone. I went upstairs in the restaurant and found a man sitting at a table- set to eat. So I sat, too at my own table. Then I waited awhile before asking if he’d actually placed an order or seen anyone.
He assured me he had. And pretty much recapped exactly what I went through. Right as he wrapped up his own story of my same experience. looking for a cafe on site, a man walked in. He took my order and brought the other man drinks then left again. Another man joined. This was the French mans husband.
I introduced myself to both of them: Patrice and Brian. I bet you can figure out the French one. They had just arrived, too. I ordered a delicious chicken meal while they had ordered banh mi. They’re going in the opposite direction of me and hadn’t yet been to Hoi An. They were met with disappointment on a plate. The server brought them a plate with sliced bread and vegetables calling it ‘Banh Mi’. I really did enjoy my meal.
We discussed their plans and mine and decided we would ride bikes together to see sunset over Mua cave’s overlook.

Hang Múa

It’s called Hang Múa. This was quite a hike. We rode the bikes for about half an hour. Then we reached the base. I had read ahead of time about parking. There are many ‘attendants’ telling you to stop, saying park here… etc. They have official looking uniforms. I read to keep riding all the way to the stand where you’ll purchase a ticket to the cave areas.
We must have rode another 5 minutes. Happy we didn’t stop too soon; we gladly paid the ticket booth and they informed us the price to park so we didn’t feel scammed. The lady at the ticket booth informed me, we would pay the guy across from her- at the lot and recieve a ticket to corrrespond with our bikes.

View from the top of Hang Múa

Next, we would climb 500 stairs. Wow. I of course am drenched by the half way point. Brian is about in the same shape as me while Patrice is just loving the stairs! He bounces up them at a quick pace, barely sweating. I just decided to get some pictures of the view. No one needs to see this look… I literally have boob prints from the sweat. I’m so embarrassed. I don’t think I mentioned it, but these guys are most likely in their 40’s. I may have embarrassed them by my profusive sweating. They yelled up to me that they would head down and wait at the bottom. They went to grab a drink. I stayed a little longer to catch more of the views but did not want to keep them waiting. It was too cloudy for a sunset and still worth every step.

Another view from the top of Hang Múa, the opposite direction.

Good thing I didn’t have them waiting too long. We rode back as the sun continued to dip lower and lower. Eventually riding in compete darkness. There were no street lights. I used my phone flash light but it didn’t provide too much visibility. I can only imagine how much harder the ride back would’ve been if I’d taken an longer. I’m also really glad I had met these two. I don’t know if I’d feel safe riding back this far in this darkness alone. We made it back and decided to go swimming. The pool wasn’t as cool as I was hoping then I heard Brian complain that it was too hot. We are same same but slightly different- haha.
We finished with dinner in the same place we met. Originally we thought about grabbing a taxi back to the town. It was late though, we decided to just stay. I didn’t want to intrude on their travel plans so I sat alone. They asked me to join them anyway. Of course I obliged, I liked their company. I decided before I’d met them that I would do the Trang An boat ride through the 9 caves (option 1) in the morning. I wanted to get it done before the sun was too much and the crowds would be there- they agreed to come, too. We would split a cab and leave around 06:30. The boat tours start at 07:00 and I wanted to be one of the first in line.

2 goats stand on the cliffside of the hike.

Trang An

DAY 46: May 27th
I messaged my driver from earlier. He had provided his contact details to me when he dropped me off. He said he could pick me and the guys up at 06:30 and then bring us back around 09:30 and then take me to the train by 12:15. I had everything planned. Then there was a big storm. I’d just hope my phone would charge for my alarm and the AC would kick on. The storm was loud but peaceful.
I fell asleep rather quickly. When I woke up I had texts from my driver that he could not make it. He had texted the night before but I was asleep. When I woke up the WiFi was still out from the storm. I had haggled a great deal. Instead, the guys and I met up, grabbed our bagged breakfast and called a cab. I sat in the front watching the meter. We didn’t spend much more than what I’d arranged.

A Lady pulls a boat to the platform where the line of ticket holders will board.

We were just a little behind schedule but still there was no wait. Most of the crowds will form in an hour- they typically drive in from Hanoi on day trips. I think Nanh Binh/Tam Coc is worth a trip in itself- it’s a lesser known site reminiscent of Halong Bay. It’s actually sometimes referred to as Halong Bay on land. When we arrived Brian and Patrice searched for coffee, with no luck, we continued on to find our boat. Tickets are 200,000 dong- less than $9 USD.

tour option 1, the longest

We found the boats and a solo traveler in search for 3. Boats leave with a minimum of 4 people- so he joined us. His name was J.R from Arizona. He seemed like he was military. Regardless, he was nice enough. Brian and Patrice took the front of the boat alternating as we would get on and off, JR and I behind them. Me and the guys chatted majority of the time. JR was pretty quiet and the rower seemed to hate me. Or maybe he just hates pictures but every picture he is in makes him seem unpleasant- I guess I might be too if I was rowing people around for 3 hours. I had no idea how long the boat ride would be. We went through 9 caves and hopped out to see 3 temples.
The caves were not cold like the Phong Nha caves. These ones were very short and quite muggy. It seemed much more authentic, and less toursity- even though there were still artificial lights. It was nice to be in a small group with the landscapes to ourselves. There were massive limestone karst paeks covered in vegetation all around us. Then we would quickly duck through a cave. The second temple on this route was my least favorite stop of all. I had just climbed 500 steps yeaterday for an epic view. Today I climbed at least 200 (there and back) for what? I don’t even know where the actual temple was. It was very confusing. I also assumed the temple was at the top of the stairs but then we ascended to the bottom and a lady said there is the temple.
At this point I began to realize that regardless of the water in front of me, I’d be walking back up and down those stairs again. I was not impressed by temple 2: Tran Temple. I also came to the conclusion that Vietnamese people took the ‘higher power’ worshiping to another level. PUN INTENDED. I was the first one back to the boat. I sat waiting patiently to continue. The guys took their time to get back but there was no way I was going to trek the stairs again to look for them.
I knew where I’d left them and it involved all the stairs. I did really like our 3rd and last temple. It was a UNESCO site: Khong Palace, Bao Hieu Temple. This was the original capital city of Vietnam and the temple was very sacred to those who visited. They would worship the seven righteous dukes of the dinh dynasty. The gate here had significance, too, but the internet is failing me at the moment.

Me and the guys on our boat tour
Brian, me, Vietnamese rower, J.R. Patrice.
Brian and Patrice duck while we navigate through a cave.
A picture taken of me on the boat, rower behind me looks ahead.

As we were on our boat tour the sun got higher and hotter. It was beaming down on us now. All 4 of us grabbed some paddles to help our rower get back to shore. I didn’t do much rowing but I helped. It seemed like I wasn’t rowing quick enough to keep up with the actual rower. I’d hit his paddle but if I went too fast Patrice would hit mine. I gave up and took pictures instead; I’m a bit better at that.
When we got back we went to find a taxi. Somehow this meter ended up being more than the route there. Either way I am splitting my fairs in 3 now, saving me some money and I got to pick and enjoy the company on the enevitable 4 person boat. I said my goodbyes with intention to have some pool time with the guys. Instead I spent my time packing and napping. I didn’t get an official farewell but I will keep in touch with them. They’re from San Francisco, CA. USA.

Tips in Hindsight: stay for more than 2 days. I stayed here and would recommend the accomodation: I booked thru HostelWorld, bikes are included.
I enjoyed the culture and lack of toursits I found in Tam Coc- very authentic. Definitely make sure to go to Hang Mua- veer left at the fork in the stairs if you have the energy (this is the higher point), perfect for sunset (arrive early). Choose to bike for transportation! There are so many places to see and stop and this will allow more freedom.
Make sure you also have time to do the Trang An boat tour- there are 3 options: 1 the one I did (longest), 2 and 3 include the Kong: Skull Island move set. They’re also shorter routes. WHICHEVER route you choose, have sunscreen to reapply, water, and wear long- loose fitting pants and bring something to cover your shoulders if you plan to go into the temples, etc. These are still active temples for worship. I did not go to the Tam Coc boat tours as I read they were a bit more scammy and touristic- this is there they row using their feet.

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