Vietnam – Day 9 – Ninh Binh & Hanoi

Today I woke up at 3:30am when the power went out. The room became unbearably stuffy because there was no air-conditioning or air flow from the fan. I managed to finally get back to sleep before waking up again at 6:00am. I decided to go downstairs to get some breakfast and a coffee before getting ready to head out for the day. Oh by the way did I mention that my place has the cutest puppies I’ve ever seen!

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I started to ride my motorcycle into the town of Ninh Binh so that I could get more cash from the bank, as I was running low on cash. Sadly the motorcycle died and I had to do a walk of shame for about 1.5km before coming to a gas station. I filled the motorcycle up with gas, but sadly it still wasn’t working properly. I kept stalling out unless I gunned the throttle, but even then it would start to hesitate after a few seconds. I finally figured out a movement that seemed to work; hold the throttle full blast for 3 seconds, let off for a few seconds, and then repeat. I managed to get into town and pick up more cash.

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After picking up cash I rode the motorcycle to the Danh Thang Trang An boat tours, about 10km away. The motorcycle was really starting to act up now, and even dying for up to 10 minutes every few kilometers. Again, I figured out another trick; if I bounced on the bike up and down a lot, and then sloshed the fuel from side to side then it would eventually start if I help the throttle down half way. Eventually I got to the boat tours at about 10:00am. Along the way I did see this beautiful looking temple from the side of the road, as well as a very cool gateway.

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The boat tour lasted about 3 hours and cost 200000 Dong ($12.50 CDN). The tour took the group of four people through numerous caves and to a few temples. It was absolutely fascinating!

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After finishing the tour I rode the motorcycle back to the hotel, about 10km away. It took me over one hour to get back because the bike kept on breaking down. When I got back to the hotel I explained what was happening to the owner and she said that she would take a look at it. Unfortunately within 15 minutes she had already loaned it out to someone else, which I found to be quite dishonest.

I was feeling quite hungry at this point in time, as it was well past lunch time, so I decided to walk down the street and see if I could find something to eat. I came across this nice small restaurant called Sunflower Tam Coc and ordered some pho, salad rolls, and some fresh beer.

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After lunch I walked back to the hotel, checked out, and ordered a GRAB to the Ninh Binh train station. The fare for the ride was 80000 Dong ($5 CDN), but all I had was a 200000 Dong note for which he didn’t have change for. It wasn’t a big deal for me and I told him to keep the change, but he insisted on getting me the correct change. He ran around the six different stores asking for them to make change, all the while leaving me inside his car with the keys in the ignition and the engine running. I felt pretty bad for the guy. Remember, in Vietnam it is not customary to tip and many people will flat our refuse even if its a nice gesture. Oh and safety isn’t top priority in this country; take a look at his seatbelt reminder defeat with a plastic spoon!

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I was about 1.5 hours early for the train, but ended up talking with the nice young man from Chile that was backpacking around SE Asia. The train ride back to Hanoi took about 2.25 hours. After arriving in Hanoi I took a GRAB to the hotel I was staying at two nights ago so that I could pick up my passport before carrying onto my new hotel called Hotel Golden Art. Hotel Golden Art wasn’t the nicest, but it did the trick for the night.

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After checking  into the hotel I walked down the street to a fast food Bahn Mi place called Pho Bahn Mi. The food was absolutely delicious, in fact I ordered a second because it was so good. After having dinner I walked back to the hotel and went to bed.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when I take a brief pause from the Vietnam series to share a recent hike that I completed with my father to Plains of Six Glaciers, before continuing with my Vietnam series. The next part in my Vietnam series has me travelling to Ha Long Bay, so be sure to stay tuned!

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Vietnam – Day 8 – Ninh Binh

Today I woke up at 5:30am. I’m still struggling with this persistent jet lag, a whole 8 days later. I packed my bags and got ready, before heading down for breakfast at the buffet. After breakfast I walked about 10 minutes to the Hanoi central train station.

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There’s a few ways of obtaining train tickets; you can buy right at the station, or you can buy online from a third party which charges a small booking fee on top. Unfortuneately foreigners can’t book online through the REAL Vietnam Rail website unless you happen to have a Vietnam bank card, which I presume almost everyone won’t. Also one thing to note is that there are a lot of fake websites in Vietnam, and other parts of SE Asia for things like trains, airlines, museums, etc. You need to be extra diligent and do your research as they mostly all look the same. I read multiple travel blogs to ensure that I was picking the appropriate websites. Anyways, I chose to use the third party website called Balou, as it came the highest recommended. I only paid about $2 CDN more to book it online through them than just showing up, but it was a nice piece of mind knowing everything was taken care of beforehand.

The train departed Hanoi station at 7:30am and slowly crawled its way through the city before picking up speed. About 15 minutes into the train ride I realized that I had made a bad mistake… I forgot my passport and US cash in the safe back at the hotel. I called the hotel and explained the situation, gave them the passcode for my safe, and told them that I’ll be back tomorrow evening to pick it up. Phew, disaster averted.

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The train arrived at Ninh Binh station at around 10:00am. While exiting the station I booked a GRAB, which happened to be waiting right out front. It took about 15 minutes to drive from Ninh Binh train station to my accommodation in Tam Coc, called Tuan Ngoc Hotel. The fare was 76000 Dong ($4.35 CDN). After arriving at the hotel I dropped off my bags I decided to rent a motorcycle from the hotel for two days for a cost of 110000 Dong/day ($6.25/day). The motorcycle didn’t include gasoline so I had to find a gas station before I ran out of gas, as they had drained all the fuel out minus a few drops.

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First stop was Hang Mua viewpoint, about a 6km ride away. Something to note here is that you don’t take the first parking spot that people try to flag you down to because you’ll end up paying way more, and have to walk a fair distance. If you can drive past all the people standing in the middle of the road you’ll find yourself with parking right at the entrance for only 10000 Dong ($0.55 CDN). Unfortuneately despite reading this there was an extremely persistent group of very angry sounding Vietnamese women that wouldn’t get out of the road and pretty much forced me to park in their parking spot for 25000 Dong ($1.35 CDN). Obviously we’re not talking about much money here, but the fact they were so pushy left a sour taste in my mouth. Picture down below of where NOT to park.

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After a 15 minute walk from the very end of the road I came to the entrance of the Hang Mua Viewpoint, which had a nominal entry fee of 100000 Dong ($5.50 CDN). There is a small cave at the start of the steps up to the viewpoint with a tiger statue and some offerings from the locals.

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After viewing inside the cave it was time to start the hot and strenuous journey up to the vietpoint. 500 steps and about 20 minutes later I was dripping in sweat, but looking at an absolutely fantastic view of the karst sceneries of Tam Coc, as well as the Lying Dragon ontop of the mountain. I spent some considerable time up here getting the photos that I wanted to get, before heading back down so that I could get some lunch.

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After walking back to the bike I rode back into town to get some lunch from a restaurant, which I unfortunately forget the name of. I had some beef pho soup, but it wasn’t very good and the service was quite slow.

After having some lunch I rode a short distance away to Bich Dong Pagoda. The parking attendent wanted to charge me 30000 Dong ($1.65 CDN) but I ended up negotiating down to 20000 Dong ($1.10 CDN). I crossed over a bridge through some temple gates, walked a short while to the Lower Pagoda, before ascending 100 steps to the Middle Pagoda, which is built half inside of a cave. There are roughly 20-25 steep steps to the Upper Pagoda, which is fully inside the cave, which is also filled with bats. Bich Dong Pagoda was built by the two monks Tri Kien and Tri The in the early 18th century.

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It was starting to get extremely hot as it was mid afternoon, so I rode back to the hotel and hung out in the pool for a few hours.

For dinner I rode to the Bia Minh Beer Garden, which was just down the street. I probably could have walked but I was feeling lazy from my hike up all those stairs earlier today. For dinner I had a Hawaiian pizza, and a pork Banh Mi sandwich, along with a mini keg of fresh beer. I’ve never seen anything like it before; it’s a combination between a growler and a keg. This was some of the freshest beer I’ve had in SE Asia so far. During dinner it started to pour rain. After dinner I rode back to the hotel in the pouring rain and ended up going to bed at around 9:00pm.

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Be sure to check back tomorrow when I explore more of Ninh Binh before heading back to Hanoi.

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Vietnam – Day 5 – My Son Sanctuary

Today I woke up at 5:00am with an alarm. Why so early? Well today I was heading to My Son Sanctuary; about an hours drive away.

The My Son Sanctuary is a cluster of abandoned Hindu temples that were constructed between the 4th and 14th centuries by the kings of Champa. Champa was a collection of independent Cham societies that extended in roughly the same area that today is central and south Vietnam from the 2nd century until 1832, when Vietnamese Emperor Minh Mang absorbed and annexed it.

The temples at the My Son Sanctuary are dedicated to the worship of the god Shiva. Some of the temples lay in partial ruin. Restoration began in 1937 by the French and ended in 1943. Unfortunately many buildings were again destroyed in the Vietnam War in August 1969 and the surrounding area became dangerous due to unexploded land mines. Restoration began again since being recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1999, with the majority of the money being funded by the Italians and Japanese, as well as some money from the Ministry of Culture of Vietnam.

I had rented a motorcycle from the villa the previous night for 110000 Dong ($6.85 CDN). I set off around 6:00am and stopped at a local coffee shop close to the sanctuary called Café Que Huong (Liberty Café). I had coffee with the owner and took a selfie together. After having the coffee I continued towards the sanctuary.

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Parking at the sanctuary was 5000 Dong ($0.32 CDN). After parking I ate some hand pulled noodles in a chicken broth at the restaurant at the entrance before walking to the electric tram that would drive me to the start of the ruins.

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I explored around the ruins and it was pretty quiet until about 10:00am, when the tourist groups started showing up. I finished walking around the site at around 11:00am and was hungry again so I decided to have more noodles at the restaurant before getting my motorcycle and heading back to the hotel.

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The ride back to the hotel was very hot and the traffic was heavier. It took a lot of concentration and it was pretty slow going. I stopped on the way back to the villa for some more beer and some more Doritos. I spent the afternoon hanging out at the pool.

At around 6:00pm I decided to head into town for dinner. I went to a restaurant called Vinh Hung Restaurant and had the famous local Hoi An dish called Cao Lau Noodles. Cao Lau Noodle dishes typically contain pork and greens, with rice noodles that have been soaked in lye water, from a famous local well, giving them a unique texture and colour that sets them apart from other traditional Vietnamese noodle dishes. To be honest I absolutely love the flavour and texture.

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After dinner I walked around and explored the night market, before riding the motorcycle back to the villa.

Check back tomorrow as I dive head first into a Vietnamese cooking class and take a tour on a traditional Hoi An Basket Boat.

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