Ninh Binh was the place that was on my must do list in Vietnam during our year of travel. I’ve been to Vietnam before and have visited most of the hotspots in the country except for this tiny city. Ninh Binh was new on the list of places to see in Vietnam for me. So you can imagine my excitement when we were able to visit this beautiful place during month five of our travels.
After a bus ride from Hanoi to Ninh Binh, we arrived at this paradise
Sometimes there are places where you imagine them to be much more beautiful than they turn out to be; Ninh Binh is not one of them. Ninh Binh is often overlooked in favour of Halong Bay or Sapa when people make plans to travel in Vietnam. Perfect for us because that meant we were away from the tourist trail.
On our first evening in Ninh Binh, we borrowed bikes from the hotel and biked towards Bich Dong pagoda. We had no set itinerary, so we just biked around any trail that looked interesting. Ducks and locals were biking from one place to the next alongside us.
Biking around the area brought back so many memories of when I was in Vietnam with my family. I spent two months living in similar conditions – nothing can beat that authenticity.
Just when I thought I saw beautiful landscapes, I come here
I cannot believe the beauty and peace that comes with Ninh Binh. There is very little tourism here, which means few buildings obstruct your view. The locals let you be – none of this twisting-your-arm to get you to buy their goods that happen in touristy areas.
Seeing so many ducks made me miss my ducks from the motherland. I once raised 20 ducks and chickens in Vietnam – it was a lot of fun! Don’t ask me what happened to them when I left Vietnam…I was left in tears when I found out.
We caught a beautiful sunset before heading back to the hotel. We were excited about what’s to come.
Of course, it rained like cats and dogs the next day
Good thing we were spending five days here. Ninh Binh is one of those places where I don’t think it’s enjoyable during the rain. It’s too wet, there’s so much grass, and it gets foggy. I’d definitely be sad if I was staying here for just a few days and it rained throughout our stay.
Luckily, the rain stopped at around 3:30 pm and we went back to the Bich Dong Pagoda.
While the pagoda is free, there is a man dressed up as an official who will charge you a parking fee.
What was disappointing was when I saw a group of tourists arguing with the parking attendant that they won’t pay. Why does it have to get to that point? How do you know you wouldn’t do the same thing if you grew up in harsh conditions? I get it; feeling scammed is the worst feeling. But at some point, you have to let things go and treat it as a part of travelling to a developing country. It’s not much different from donating to the family and hoping it will help raise their economic status. What frustrates me when travelling is how people lack so much empathy for those who are less fortunate. The judgment on their behaviour is too much, especially when they don’t see that some people are born in less fortunate conditions.
We spent hours exploring the Bich Dong caves
After spending two hours at the Bich Dong caves, we biked back to the hotel. Tomorrow is going to be an eventful day as we rented a car to take us to the distant places in Ninh Binh. We could have rented a scooter to get around, but I was too scared to ride one.
Trang An boat tour
The boat tour is one of those “must-dos” when in Ninh Binh. There are two locations you can choose from – Trang An or Tam Coc. Tam Coc is the popular one that has gotten so touristy that people don’t enjoy the experience. So the obvious choice for us was Trang An.
Because we went bright and early, we were able to get on the first boat of the day, and we were the only ones in the water.
It was super peaceful with the boat rowing lady and another Vietnamese couple.
Our butts were super sore by the end of the ride.
Ninh Binh Travel Blog | Hoa Lu, the former capital
Hoa Lu was ok, nothing too exciting about the area. But if you recall during my five months highlights, I wrote about a terrifying moment that happened at Hoa Lu.
We saw a set of stairs and decided to climb it, without knowing the end destination. We met an elderly lady who wanted to sell us incense, but we said no. Once we got to the top of the very steep climb, another lady tried to pressure us to buy incense. Once we refused, she went batshit cray cray on us and started screaming as we continued to climb further up the mountain.
Despite us walking away, she was yelling at us not to go up further. She kept saying that there’s nothing to see (she lied!) and why the hell would we climb all the way up to the top of the path and not light incense? We ignored her and kept walking until we found an incredible viewpoint with not a soul in sight. Once we started heading down, we ran into this elderly lady again, but this time, she was very very sweet. Too sweet.
“Please, give me a tiny bit,” she said in Vietnamese with a smile
I was stunned by the stark contrast in personality. She went from Viet rage into this sweet little grandma begging for money, and I was scared. I had no idea what she would do next and wanted to get away from the situation as much as possible. She was shaking like crazy while walking towards us.
We could have outrun her, but something felt wrong about leaving this lady, and I was scared she’d hurt herself. So I handed over some money to her, which calmed her down. But then she started breathing so hard and looked like she was about to fall. Gary quickly grabbed her hand and eased her down so that she could sit on the stairs. We then immediately left because I didn’t know if it was all an act for a bigger scam – my gut feeling told me to jet.
Instead of feeling repulsed or upset about the situation, I felt sad for her
Filial piety (hiếu or 孝 in Chinese) is significant in Asian culture, and I could not help but wonder why a woman her age has to beg for money. Where are her children or grandchildren? How did she get up this steep hill? Does she live there?
Sure, she could have pulled a scam on us, but my heart broke just thinking about how a woman her age has to resort to this behaviour out of desperation.
I know poverty quite well and the strain it puts on a person’s life. But it still makes me so sad to see people in this situation. No one should ever have to live like this, especially as they get older.
Climbing up Hang Múa caves
The next day, we climbed up Hang Mua caves. The hike up was ever so tiring, and we had serious concerns at how out of shape we were because we will be doing a 20km trek in New Zealand the following spring.
But we made it to the top!
We also met a fellow Canadian up at the mountain, which was quite lovely. He travels full time and has been doing this for years. Can’t help but feel a bit jealous of his life.
On our way back to the hotel, we decided to bike around Ninh Binh and took whatever path looked interesting
We stopped by every so often because of traffic jams.
One time, we heard some funny grunting and stopped to see what was going on. The sounds were coming from two pigs who had their heads deep in mud.
We then continued biking and saw glimpses of poverty
Like a woman who was doing her laundry in the middle of a not so clean river. It reminds me of the times when I lived in Vietnam with my family. We had no running water on certain days. To prepare for the situation, my uncle would have to wake up early to store barrels of water for the family. I will never forget how grateful I felt to have water coming from the faucet when I returned to Canada from that trip.
Like all things in life, our time in Ninh Binh came to an end.
It was time to head back to Hanoi.
Have you been to Ninh Binh? Share your comments below if you enjoyed Ninh Binh!
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