Thursday, September 22, 2011

More mopeds... more boats...Ninh the Bin and Sneaking into places

We had lunch in Hoi An and left for the train just after 3pm. We had a short wait at the train station which we spent watching a Mr Bean movie on a TV in the waiting room. However it was really annoying as the film was on for no more than 1-2 minutes before it went to an ad break lasting twice as long. Honestly, I actually timed it and one time the film was on for 55seconds, before 2 minutes of ads, followed by just over a minute of the movie. It was so frustrating and we worked out that it would take over 3 hours to watch an entire 1hour and 30 minute film.

Our view in Ninh Binh

Chopsticks to eat lovely potatoes

What we DIDNT eat on the menu

Ninh Binh

The train left on time and we were lucky to have a 4 berth soft berth cabin to ourselves. We settled in and a short while afterwards a local bloke came around with a trolley of food and drink, but the food didn’t look too good, so we asked for beer and he showed us only cans of beer at room temperature. No good for us in a hot train. However, the bloke looked at me knowingly and a few minutes later he arrived back at our cabin, with a bag full of ice cold beer! We bought 4 of him and thanked him, before settling in even more and watching a movie on the laptop. It was a long overnight train journey and so we got some good sleep, before being woken by a guard just before 8am. He said 'Ninh Binh', the town where we were due to get off and it turned out he had woken us especially so we didn’t miss our stop.

It was an hour early though and we didn’t expect to be able to get into the hotel, but again, we were surprised as the staff led us up to the 6th floor and a beautiful room, large and spacious, overlooking the city. It was great and we relaxed for a couple of hours and got washed and changed before we went out into the city for lunch.

There didn’t seem to be much to see or do and we couldn’t find any restaurants until we came across a large yellow Minotaur, stood in the street outside restaurant. It was full with locals and we went in and ordered some potatoes with tomato and some fried rice. It turned out to be a great decision as the food was good and cheap. It had started to rain by now and we had a few locals shout hello at us as we walked back to the hotel in the downpour, but they were all really friendly and happy to see some western people. Back at the hotel, we booked a couple of motorbikes for tomorrow and then had another nice mellow afternoons rest. In the evening we had a meal next door to the hotel, where the guy who tried to sell us trips today, also made us dinner. I guess this is a small town, with a few people trying to make a buck!

In the morning we got our bikes after breakfast and after filling up with fuel we headed out using a map, drawn by someone at the hotel and photocopied and given to guests by the hotel receptionist. It turned out to be an OK map, as it got us there, but only after a few minor issues (Rivers in the wrong place, roads that don’t exist etc..) But we got to the boat dock OK and after getting tickets we spent the next 2 hours being rowed on a little boat by 'Ham', our lady rower. She started normally rowing with her hands, but kept swapping and rowing with her feet, which is apparently quite normal here -but bloody amazing to watch! The trip through Tam Coc was spectacular – a beautiful valley with massive limestone peaks caves running under them, through which we passed in our boat. We saw goats high on the peaks, with seemingly no way to get down. The views were amazing and you can see why this area is nicknamed 'Halong bay on land'.

Goat on a ledge

Same goat same ledge!

Foot rowing!


On my bike

Dragon mountain path, from the boat
On the dragon at the top!

Wayne Rooney on a fish!?

Getting told off by a local woman! No mopeds here!!

After the boat trip we zoomed around on our mopeds for a while until we passed through a local village, where all the kids stood waved and said hello. We then discovered a place called 'Dong Hang Mua'. Translated as 'Dragon mountain road'. A 1500 foot ascent up 477 steps, to one of the peaks that we passed earlier on the boat trip. We got up there in about 15 minutes and took our time taking photos and looking out at the views as well as testing the brilliant echo's that reverberated from the walls surrounding us.

The view from Dragon mountain road

Back down at ground level, we ventured into an old park, where a cave runs through the rocks and decrepit old park looks like it is being rebuilt for future visitors. For now though, there is a lot of broken glass, but a few old statues to look at and play with. There was also a figure 8, driving test simulation in the car park – exactly the same as what the guys rode around on Top Gear Vietnam, so we had a go and failed abysmally.

The rest of the afternoon was spent riding through the local villages where the local people waved and said hello as we passed. Then we rode right out into the countryside, through more and more of the limestone peaks until we finally reached Chua Bai Dinh – an old Buddhist site, that is being transformed into the biggest Buddhist site in Vietnam . It is going to be huge, complete with a 13 storey high pagoda and a massive temple. They are even building a brand new road to reach it.

Our last stop was at Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of the area. We didn’t have time to stay, but did have time for the local women to almost drag me away from the entrance, saying I couldn’t go in on my moped!! I didn’t even want to, but just wanted to see the entrance itself.

We rode back to town and saw a few sights – like the blokes holding a ladder above their heads, with a cable strung across the road – not quite the correct way to sort out a road crossing cable –as trucks and buses passed by underneath the cable. Then we had a couple of dodgy junctions to negotiate before getting back to the hotel about 4pm.

All in all it was a great day out – boats, goats, bikes and peaks. A really busy, tiring but fun day.

Today has also been good. It didn’t start brilliantly though....We had breakfast in the Hotel in Ninh Binh and got to the station in time for our train to Hanoi. But as I climbed aboard the train, my bag caught a steel plate that is lifted so that the passengers can climb aboard the train. It fell down, hitting me one the back of my right heel. I screamed out in pain and swore very loudly, as everyone saw what had happened, but luckily, my flip flops have a bit of padding around the back and that took, most of the force, leaving me with nothing but a sore heel and small cut.

The train journey was fine, most of it spent watching a small kid playing with his mums phone and we arrived in Hanoi at half 11. A short walk to our hotel brought the next disaster! The Hotel we had booked looked really shit from outside and when we tried to get in, we saw that it was closed and under refurbishment, with builders coming in and out. One of them pointed us to a small sign that told us to go to another hotel around the corner. When we did we were pleasantly surprised to find and gorgeous little hotel, with a great little room, including a cupboard with a light in controlled by the doors! Class! Plus the exact same 'Bear' shaped bathroom bin that we had in Ninh Binh. Now simply called Ninh The Bin.

We went out for the afternoon, having a spot of lunch, wandering around the lake, where we saw more old dudes playing the local Vietnamese chess like board game. One of them had the worst wig I have seen in ages. We also had a sneaky look around hotel for next week to have a nosey around and then walking down Railway street to show Buffy. On our way back to the hotel we saw a new shopping centre, so we went into have a look around only to find out that it is due to partly open tomorrow. Nobody stopped us though as we went from the 1st floor, where most of the shops are finished, to the top floor where the workmen were still cutting tiles to lay on the half finished floor and walls. It was a bit if fun though and we wandered out again, past the security men who didn’t really care a lot.

Back at the hotel we had a well deserved rest before going out for a few beers and dinner. We are hoping for nice lie in tomorrow as we have a quiet room and so far in Vietnam, we seem to have been woken up early every day by everything from banging workmen, dustbin truck, trains and noisy traffic!! A nice lie in would be lovely!!

Wiggy playing his game

Yeah!! Kwickie mart Hanoi

Ooops...not open yet!

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