Ninh Binh

25 Jan

Pedro messaged us on facebook – although it’s technically banned in Vietnam we can occasionally get on it via a proxy site – to say he won’t be in Hanoi until 26th as he’s going to Halong Bay first. We had had enough of Hanoi now that everything is closed for the New Year so decided to move on to Ninh Binh, but as Pedro is doing a tour of Vietnam, Cambodia, Thaliand and Laos, we might hopefully be able to meet up with him at some other point.

We got a taxi to the bus station for 98000 dong and arranged to get on a local bus to Ninh Binh. Tourist buses are easier – they pick you up from your hotel but they only leave in the evenings and are closed during the New Year. They are also more expensive. The local bus we got was 100,000 dong each (up from 60,000 normally due to the holidays) but that covers a 2.5 hr journey so considering the cost of the taxi, it’s still not too much.

The only problem with local buses is that they don’t go until they are full. We were the first to get on so we knew we were in for a bit of a wait, but we crossed our fingers when it started pulling off. Unfortunately it was only moving round the corner :) We waited 50 minutes until the driver and his assistant thought it was full enough to set off..around the block to see if he could pick up any more passengers. The way they invited people on board was to drive at crowds of people shouting ‘NINH BINH’ at the top of his voice until a person came forward.

Perhaps taking my travel pillow was a bit optimistic…this was before another 3 people squeezed on – there are people in the aisles and then a load up at the front by the driver

I think we ended up with 45 people in the minibus. The guy who was shouting all the time was quite nice as he gave everyone with children 20,000 dong back because it’s traditional to give children money for New Year. However all warm thoughts towards him went out the window when he weed up against the bus by the hatch with everyone’s bags in :I

The bus driver was typically mental but because it was wet and he was weaving in and out of traffic at full speed, he managed to lock up and scared himself almost as much as he did everyone else. Which was good in a way because it meant that he stopped competing for World’s Fastest Bus Driver, slowed down slightly, instead settling for a close second so we could relax a bit more. The nice woman mashed in next to us gave us ginger sweets which were so gingery they burned though!

We arrived at around lunchtime without a map, a place to stay and at a bus station littered with used needles. Definitely out of the relative comfort zone of Hanoi! We wandered around until we found a hotel. People are very friendly here and shout hello at you as you walk down the street, so asking for directions wasn’t too much of a problem. The hotel man said that as it was New Year, we could have the room for $8 (around £5 and $7 less than our discounted room in Hanoi) was that ok? We took a look round the rooms and were sold

The manager suggested eating at the restaurant downstairs as everything was still shut. Although we knew it was probably going to be a bit more expensive, we thought this was a good idea as we were fairly tired from carrying the bags etc from the bus station. We had spring rolls, beef stir fry, a sizzling pork dish, rice and a free beer because it was New Year (win).

We went for another walk after this

and then went back to the hotel to have a nap as it was freezing cold and we’d got up early to get the bus.

When I woke up I felt a little bit sick so sat up to read the news. Within half an hour I was being violently sick. This carried on until I had nothing more to throw up, then an hour of stomach cramps and then I was camped out on the toilet, alternating between sweating and being freezing :( I got into bed once I felt a little bit better but was so cold I had pyjamas, a jumper, trousers, a hoodie, my coat and my scarf and two blankets on. Very unpleasant. Managed to get to sleep only to be woken up at 1am by the local cockerel…who kept shouting all night until we got up at 8.

Luckily I felt slightly better this morning – skipping breakfast probably helped – so not letting a small thing like food poisoning get in the way, we hired a motorbike (I feel Craig took advantage of my weakened state here!)

so that we could go and explore the beautiful countryside of Ninh Binh and the national park.

We took a boat trip for 100,000 dong down the river, expecting it to be a half an hour ride…it was three and a half hours of floating into lagoons, through caves and stopping at islands to see temples

Best value trip ever! After that, we didn’t have time to go all the way to the national park as it’s 65km away and we didn’t want to get there too late in case it was dark on the way back. So we drove around looking at the countryside for a while

before turning back as it was very, very cold. It wasn’t as scary this time – much bigger roads, quieter traffic and less dogs, buses etc that leap out at you.

We had to stop for petrol on the way – there was something about this woman that made us stop here. Perhaps it was the two dead stuffed squirrely-things next to the pump.

Even if she was twice as expensive I would definitely go to her every time! What went through her mind when she was thinking up this amazing ad campaign?

We dropped the bike off and went to get Craig a coffee to see if we could warm up. Found a little cafe that did coffee – no one spoke English but handily the word for coffee is ca phe :) They didn’t have coke so I pointed at what looked like the next best thing, a can of something with watermelon on it. It turned out it was watermelon tea but tasted like Digestive biscuit juice. Yummmm. Craig ordered a coffee with rum in it and got a hot cup of green tea and a cold smoothie thing made of coffee, banana and rum. Odd but he said it was nice! Off out to brave eating something again now. Fingers crossed it won’t be poisonous this time :I

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