2009 holds many aspirations, desires and a greater hope. On the blog front, I've decided to give it a new "skin" and revamp it altogether to make it more personal. I'm moved from my Blogger account to the more versatile & robust, Wordpress. Thanks Blogger for being so user friendly.
31 December 2008
29 December 2008
28 December 2008
Our last day in Ninh Binh before we head back to Hanoi and onto Sapa. Woke up nice and early as sunrise was about 5ish. Breakfast as usual – baguette and omelette and Terence tried something different, pancakes with banana and honey. It was a good thing we had a filling breakfast as the day proofed to be energy draining.
The weather today was a disappointment – it drizzled the entire day, with little sun light and lots of fog. Visibility was poor on the road but we were determined to get on the bike to visit at least one village.
21kms from the hotel, Kenh Ga boasted of its floating village and narrow canals along the main river stream. The ride there was an adventure in itself. From the main highway we turned into narrow gravel roads, dirt terrain along paddy fields and rich vegetation. Did I just mention dirt roads – after being here for 4 days, I can officially say that Vietnam is full of dust. It’s everywhere, on cars, bikes, shops, alley ways – you name it!
Getting to Kenh Ga, was a mean feat as we stopped a ‘million’ times to ask for directions. Since locals can’t speak English, directions were almost incomprehensible. All they could do was point and advice us in Vietnamese. It was a great relief to finally reach the village after 45mins on the bike.
We paid 40,000d per person and hopped onto a mean looking motor boat. The ride started, I was expecting lots of life but only found ourselves cruising into a quiet village small houses on the right and left. The weather wasn’t helping either as it was freezing cold with droplets of rain coming into the boat with winds billowing. There wasn’t much to shout about, perhaps Lonely Planet overrated this place.
After 1½ hours in the boat, we decided to head back to the hotel with not much time to spare as our van back to Hanoi was in the afternoon. The rain got heavier and this time we used raincoats – it was a smart move but not enough to keep us dry. Back down the narrow alley, this time puddles of water formed on the roads. Terence had to swerve to avoid muddy splashes – he did quite well except for one or two.
Alas we survived the rain, unfamiliar terrain and merciless traffic. Here’s a victory picture after the “war” on the road.
27 December 2008
We exited the city for some needed peace and quiet. Ninh Binh was where we headed to.
We hopped on a tour van heading down south and they dropped us off at Ninh Binh enroute. It’s almost a three hour ride there. We made one stop at a highway souvenir shop that sold everything overpriced. These highway stops are one of the reasons why we stay clear of tours. They will try to con and fish whatever money you have from selling super expensive drinks to excessively priced souvenirs! Touts swamped at us the moment we got off the van selling plastic bags of mandarin oranges for USD2! Skeptics as we are, we both think they probably plucked the mandarins from stray trees. Did we say we do not fancy going on tours?!
Ninh Binh is a quiet town with its own affections. There’ plenty to do here from canal rides to trekking at the Cuc Phong National Park to visiting the local floating village. Not to mention Ninh Binh is has more than a handful of temples that come in all shapes and sizes. We soon found out that behind every limestone cave there’s bound to be one of two.
Without hesitation this time, I agreed to sit pillion while Terence rode the bike to explore the small town. We hired a motorcycle from our hotel, got hold of a map as it was definitely necessary. Sign boards are sparse and people literally remember roads by landmarks such as a mountain or a small bridge! Having two choices at hand – Tam Coc or Thrang An cave, we decided on the latter. Tam Coc as locals put is a lot more touristy and less serene. Thrang An on the other hand is quieter and more peaceful, and definitely less touts. We scooted our way down about 20kms, paid 60,000d per person and was ushered to a small green boat with a lady rower. We were both so amazed by her endurance and strength and did I mention, her muscles must have been that of Mike Tyson!
The canal ride took us about 2 ½ hours cruising along narrow rivers and into 4-5 different caves. Towering limestone mountains hovered over us. The ride into the caves was something else as the canals were extremely narrow at certain times and we had to watch our heads while careening in. The waters were green and emerald. Little life was found in the water, only a variety of sea weeds and grass. We were rewarded with sights of mountain goats and white stalks along the way. Hopping in and off the boat we climbed to different temples, that was where we discovered that all the trails led to one temple or another. Nonetheless the climb was worth it just for a stretch.
The hotel receptionist advised us to be back before nightfall, that’s about 530pm. Since we still had an hour to spare, we whizzed around the town to look for some street food. After some rounds and corners we found a night market tucked away in an alley. We didn’t get any street food from the market but we caught some bizarre pictures of what they sold in the market. Take a look!
They sell DOGS!
25 December 2008
Blessed Christmas everyone! It sure doesn’t feel like Christmas as we started roaming the streets up and early in the morning. People are onto their own business. Where we stayed – the Old Quarters there are rows and rows of shop houses each specializing in their separate trades. There were some shops selling silk & linen, others selling flowers, still others displaying all kinds of stainless steel tools and wares. Sandwich in between these shops are Pho (noodles in Vietnamese) stalls. They need little to operate a business like that, just a large pot, some bowls and chairs for sitting. Locals often sit in a circle slurping in hot soup and chatting up. Life is busy and laid back at the same time.