Ninh Binh Stopover

by Johnny

We were really enjoying our introduction to Vietnam in Hoi An, but unfortunately the weather wasn’t doing us any favors.  With rain, rain and more rain in the forecast for the rest of the week, we decided to leave central Vietnam and head north a couple days early.  After an, ummm, interesting overnight train ride (more on this soon), we arrived in Ninh Binh.  Ninh Binh itself is a bit of a hole, but the stunning karst landscape on the outskirts of town, often called “Ha Long Bay in the rice paddies,” makes it worth a stop.  With only one full day, our guesthouse suggested we borrow their scooter and ride to nearby Trang An to check out some of the famous caves and grottoes.  When we pulled up to Trang An, we found a handful of Vietnamese women offering to row us around in their tiny boats for a couple hours for a few bucks.  Although we were skeptical that a four foot tall, 70-year-old woman could get us very far (I nearly passed out while rowing our boat on Lake Bled), we decided to go for it.  We’re glad we did.  The scenery was incredible, and the accompanying peace and quiet (Vietnam is crazy!) was just what we needed.  Also, much to our surprise and delight, rather than row around these giant limestone cliffs, we were able to row right through them, as centuries of erosion has produced numerous caves and underground waterways.  For the next couple of hours we explored this beautiful landscape, passing only  hidden pagodas and a handful of Vietnamese locals (who somehow row with their feet).  Super cool.  So, how will “Ha Long Bay in the rice paddies” stack up to the actual Ha Long Bay?  We’ll find out soon.

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