October 12, 2011 Wednesday Ninh Binh

Today starts with breakfast at a four star hotel.  But it is not good – No cereal for breakfast.  Not even a ‘wheat pillow’.

We leave the hotel on our pushbikes with a tour guide who knows where he wants to go to but not sure how to get back on the track that he knows.  It is fun to ride through the back part of the towns, down alleys and beside fish farms.  Many of the lower level of the houses are used as either restaurants, workshops, hairdressers, trade stores, motorbike repair shops, iron gate makers, many houses were doing renovations so it was ‘use the street as a place to get the concrete ready’ sort of thing.  We venture more into the countryside where coaches never go.  We are impressed with the innovative ideas on how to farm.  Just simply, it is delightful.  A farmer ushers his 1000 ducks across the road in front of us.

In the distance, and silhouetted on the ranges, we can see a pagoda of immense proportions.  It is not on the list of things to visit for the day but we ride there anyway.  This pagoda is to be the largest in South East Asia.  We park our pushbikes and have to walk through the building site.  Ten years in the making, this pagoda is impressive.  It has been available for viewing for 12 months or so.  We climb stairs, lots of them.  There are two stairways separated by 100-200 meters of gardens.  Along each side of the walkways, are large carved statutes of men who are Buddhist followers who have a story to tell.  They number 500, 250 on either side.  Halfway up the walkway is a large open building that houses a bell and a drum.  The drum is 40 ton and 70 ton of bell.  They are enormous.

We move further up the walkway; another even larger building.  As we make our way over knee-high ledges (to stop evil spirits getting in), we see an enormous golden Buddha.  On each side is another golden statue.  There is so much gold around, the building doesn’t need any lighting, the natural lighting coming in reflects on the statues and provides a ‘golden light’ effect.  We venture still further up the walkway.  Another temple.  This one with three enormous golden Buddhas.  Lyn says, “What a lot of wasted money.”  Michael finds a standing Buddha at the top of the hill just near this large temple and returns with “magnificent, you should have come up”.  “What?  More stairs?”  This will have to be considered as one of the most impressive temples or pagodas around when it is completed.

After so many stairs, it is a little hard to get the cycling rhythm going again, but we enjoy the sights along the way.  People fishing for snails, farmers guiding ducks, rice harvesting is taking place.  Immediately the rice is thrashed, it is set out on the roads to dry while the husks and stalks are milled to be used as silage, or to put back into the soil.

We find a place for lunch (one of Heyun’s cousin brothers we assume).  There we find a single girl from Perth that we saw at the sidewalk restaurant where we ate yesterday.  She is travelling alone around Vietnam on the back of a motorbike with the non-English speaking driver as her guide.  A group of 4 French couples are eating here too.  They have been trekking up in the Sa Pa region where we will be going in a couple of day’s time.

In the afternoon, we take a motorboat ride around the river system that ends up being part of the Red River that flows through Hanoi.  Today we have a cover on the boat so we don’t get wet when the torrential rain arrives around 3:00pm.  It is very interesting as the scenery is picture book stuff if the sun was out.  Most enjoyable, after riding pushbikes in the morning.

We arrive at the Cuc Phuong National Park and have two hours free time to have a sleep before dinner.  We retire early at 8:30pm because we have an early start tomorrow.

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