October 11, 2011 Tuesday Ninh Binh

Saying goodbye to friends we have made for life is often hard.  Today is no exception.  However, we manage, and our ways separate; seven back to Melbourne, two staying on in Hanoi and Val, Michael, Lyn and I boarding a Mercedes bus for our trip to Ninh Binh.

Prior to leaving Hanoi, we have to find the place where we are hiring our bikes.  It takes an hour to locate and unlock the secure padlock.  Huyen has trouble unlocking the padlock and you can tell he is getting frustrated.  Huyen moves away for a short time and I grab the padlock and key, turned it and we are in.  Huyen couldn’t work that out and I’m not going to tell him what makes the difference.  Ha Ha!

We have mentioned often in these posts that the traffic is a real problem.  Today is no exception, but worse.  We travel on a divided ‘highway’ for quite a distance before the road changes dramatically.  A main road that is riff with potholes is there to ‘enjoy’.  Cars, trucks, buses, motorbikes and cyclists; all with one intention, “I am coming through, and no-one is going to change my mind.”  We come close many times to having a major accident.  At one stage, the traffic is banked up and travelling slowly.  A cement truck comes roaring up the inside on the gravel; dust is being thrown up in the air like a tornado and would you believe it? Sellers on the side of the road have racks and racks of shirts for sale.  “Want a dusty shirt, $2 sir.  The only one covered with dust.  No one else will have one like this.  Please sir!  Buy from me!”  Gorgeous.

We finally stop at Hoa Lu, which has been the capital of Vietnam in years gone by.  Hue was the original capital, then Hanoi, then Hoa Lu, and finally since 1945, Hanoi again.  It is very interesting to hear the origins of the dynasty, and how it worked. The dynasties were sort of like our royalty – with the same sort of problems I sense.

After lunch in a ‘beside the road café’, we stand up to leave and 3 cats have plonked themselves on top of Michael’s daypack and gone to sleep.  Now that never happens in McDonalds.

We unload our bikes and start on our tour of the countryside of Hoa Lu.  We are presented with magnificent landscapes.  For those who have been to Ha Long Bay, Hoa Lu is Ha Long Bay without the water.  Our cycle tour is slow and easy with no ups or downs.  The track is bitumen most of the time but the views are just stunning around each corner.  Michael looses his newly purchased local hat quite a number of times.  He is photographing a scene from a levy bank on private property and suddenly hears that he should ‘get off my land’.  Soon after then, he notices he has lost his sunglasses and goes back in search for 30 minutes or so to no avail.  I just hope the photos depict the feelings we had about the scenery we saw on our cycle tour.

Rowboats are something, but when people use their feet to move the oars, someone has to be kidding.  We board a rowboat just outside Ninh Binh, without our tour guide Huyen.  A young lady is our rower; she must have enormously strong legs.  An older lady is helping her.  It turns out the older lady has some other work to do.  She is part of a plan to get us to buy things from her, or from other ladies ‘planted’ along the river with rowboats full of ‘stuff’ that we ‘need’.  One ploy is to move alongside another boat and the seller in the other boat, trys to get us to buy a drink for our rower and then gets the drink back.  The scenery is like we have cycled through but the superb views come from a boat instead of a cycle.  We (she) rows for an hour, does a quick ‘U’ turn, and rows back.  We pass through 3 caves which are very low – you need to ‘pull your head in’ or it will get knocked off.  As we come back, it starts raining, heavy.  There is no-way it looks like rain when we left the wharf, but the rain is coming down as a torrential downpour.  We get back to the mooring site and are asked for “extra tip” because it has rained.  When we find Huyen, he laughs and laughs at the sight of 4 of his new friends coming at him like drowned rats.  “I didn’t say it was going to rain, and you have ponchos and umbrella.  Very good!”

We get in the van, as the sun sets quickly.  Huyen has been told that we are staying at a different hotel to where he usually drops his tourists off.  We see a sign “Legend Hotel”.  We go down this road.  It is very gravelly.  It is dark with no streetlights or houses along the street.  There is a lamp ahead.  Val calls, “Careful.  Here comes a train.”  We all get the giggles.  Arriving at the Hotel, we stop and unload.  Our goods are not too tidy.  We are all sodden wet.  Bits of this and that get taken into the foyer.  The Hotel we upgraded from is a 2 star; you know the type that takes backpackers, cause that’s what we looked like.  This one is a four star with high ceilings and is very swish and commenced operations last spring.  Asking Huyen if this is the correct hotel, he laughingly says, “We always care for our customers very well.”

Our rooms are enormous, bigger than any we have had on this tour.  The bed is one you could have an argument, and keep appropriate distance the length of the night.  Or, “shall I bring a cut lunch to have on the way” if I want a cuddle?

The company that is organizing this three-day adventure is “Wide Eyed Tours”.  When we get to the dinning room, we find the menu has on it “Wide Eyed Markey”  (The Markeys are the other couple travelling with us.)  Reminiscing on the day was a laugh a minute, just one of those special times when you travel in a group.

As we will be staying in a National Park tomorrow, we will be ‘downgraded’ to the lowest grade there is, we are told by Huyen.  There also will not be a post until we find a free WiFi location somewhere between here and Hanoi.

Author: Colin Spain

The Official Blogger for Yarra Travel Junction Group Tours

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