The first weekend I was in Vietnam, Aren and I travelled to Ninh Binh, about an hour and a half bus ride south of Hanoi. The bus was one used primarily by local people, definitely not a tourist bus. Aren alerted me in advance that the departure time was somewhat flexible because "they leave when it's full." After we purchased our ticket at the station where a marquee indicated the time we were to leave, we were personally led to where the bus would be. When we got on the bus, we saw that we and two others were the only passengers. The man who led us to the bus got on as well and stood in the steps at the open side door where we boarded. Then the bus left the station.
We thought perhaps we would be leaving as the marquee indicated; however, rather than head out of town, we were driven around the streets near the station while the man in the stairs called out the open door to people who were on the street that looked like they may be wanting to board the bus. This went on for some fifteen to twenty minutes until the bus was close to full. Then we headed out towards the road south. For the next 45 minutes or so, this stopping to see if people wanted a ride continued until finally the bus was very full.
I'd have to say that ride was not the most pleasant I've experienced. It was hot and crowded, but it got us safely there for a very small price. A taxi then took us to the nearby village of Tam Coc where we stayed. Here's the view from our hotel window. Notice the hills in the background. These are karst limestone formations that the area is famous for.
The village is a popular destination with Vietnamese tourists. We walked a short way from our hotel to the Red River where we paid a local "rower" to take us down the river for an hour-long excursion.
Here's our "rower." Notice how she rows -- with her feet. She has a comfortable seat she leans against and has great dexterity at maneuvering the boat using her feet. She spoke almost no English, but she and Aren had a good conversation in Vietnamese. We learned a little about her family, her age -- 62, etc. She was very jovial and often called out to other rowers we passed. Most of the rowers used their feet most of the time and most were women.
As we began the trip, the river was wide and we passed some buildings, as below, that seem to be in construction still, perhaps as tourist accommodations.
We also passed this cemetery near the side of the river. Some of the graves are quite elaborate mini-buildings; others very simple. While on the bus coming from Hanoi, I had noticed single burials between rice paddies at the side of the road. I learned that it's quite common to bury family near their rice fields, and burials don't have to be in a cemetery.
The river flows through rice paddies on either side.
Here the river has carved a cave under one of the karst formations.
At one point, we saw this spot where someone was growing orchid plants. Later we saw a man in a boat selling orchids. I'm guessing this was his place.
At the turn around point, some entrepreneurial women had coolers with drinks as well as fresh fruit to sell from their boats. There were also other snacks available, but I really enjoyed being able to buy pineapple or mango, peeled and cut into bit-size pieces, as a snack.
Many tourists to the area rent bicycles to get around. We went on foot. Our next destination was a small shrine atop one of the karst mountains overlooking the area, including the river pictured in the previous pictures. On our way there, we passed cows on the street,
grazing in some rice paddies and in the paths between the rice paddies. They're a different variety than we see in the West.
Here's where we are headed. The path is stairs built and carved out, which makes the climb easier to manage.
Sights along the way.
A regional specialty is wild goat. We encountered many rather tame ones along our hike. Can you see this one camouflaged amidst the rocks?
They're quite tame, but don't stay put if you try to touch them.
The summit is getting closer.
The days were hazy because of the high humidity; however, on a clear day I'm sure the views are even more amazing. That's the river we had earlier been boating on. You can see the shadow of the mountain on the left in the water flooding the rice paddies in front of it.
Here I am with the dragon at the top. If I look a little nervous, it's because I was. The drop was pretty steep and long, but the view was fabulous.
Looking back up at the dragon at the summit.
The way down, easier in some ways, but not in others.
Another view of where we'd been.
The bus we caught back to Hanoi was a "sleeping bus" and very comfortable. There were two aisles between three rows of seats on two levels. The seat backs are adjustable from sitting upright to reclining to an angle very comfortable for sleeping. When you board the bus, you remove your shoes and put them into a plastic bag which you keep with you at your seat. This way the seats, aisles, and bathroom floor are kept clean. Quite a contrast to the earlier ride.
Once back in Hanoi, we headed out to buy food. Here are some photos from the street market we purchased from. First, a woman cutting pineapple so you can eat it easily as a snack on the street. Isn't it clever? I've tried this method since returning and it works beautifully. I've not realized before that the little spots left after you peel the fruit are in spiral rows.
Thank you, Aren, for all you did to make this a great weekend.