The Enchanting World of Ninh Binh

I want adventures. I want to climb the Macchu Picchu in Peru, kiss beneath the Eiffel Tower in Paris, experience the never-ending hike in the Great Wall of China, swim in the clear blue waters of Santorini in Greece, ride the blue train through the tea plantation in Sri Lanka, or surf the waves in Hawaii. I might sound so greedy but as I age I realize how big the world is, of how little I know, and how many places I have yet to go, and I want it all! I want to see the world!

My trips were usually based on my itinerary because it’s what I do best. I research before I go, read articles, talk to bloggers, take in recommendations, and stick to the plan. But unexpected, beautiful things don’t happen if you stick on your rigid itineraries, so this time I ditched ’em. I allowed things to happen and look at where the serendipitous road had led me – the magical place of Ninh Binh!

I was backpacking alone so it was easy to change courses. The helpful hotel manager of where I was staying in Halong booked a bus for me going straight to Ninh Binh. After 4 hours of a bus ride, I reached the place and was already dark. But since I did not ask the host to pick me up, I had to find my way to the homestay. From the bus stop, I walked using a GPS so buying a sim card wasn’t a bad idea after all. And there it was, in the middle of the rice field, in between mountains, where fogs were low, and the visibility was close to zero, stood my homestay, and I started laughing! I’m really weird when happy but I’m not afraid to look like an idiot.

Explore. Experience. Enjoy. Examine.

Explore Trang-An by boat.

If you have watched the movie KingKong: Skull Island, then I bet you are familiar with the scene and yes, the film was shot in Ninh Binh, Vietnam.

Trang An is 10.2km away from my homestay and my host urged me to just use the bicycle. “Good exercise”, she said. An hour of cycling meant pain (LOL) but the scenery was out of this world. My GPS let me took the highway so my view was different, more appealing than those who took the shorter route and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

With a 200,000 VND boat fee, you could choose 1 out of 3 routes. I decided to take route 3 for Skull Island but since I was alone, I had to join a group of 3.

And though I was a writer and a vast reader, I could find no words while exploring Trang An. It was like how Anthony Bourdain put it, “In the end, you’re just happy you were there — with your eyes open — and lived to see it.” 

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“It’s a soul-searching journey, so take your time.”

Experience a precipitous trek at the Highest Viewpoint.

Hang Mua, which meant the dancing cave, was previously considered as the place where King Tran used to come to enjoy dancing and singing, hence, the name. It was constructed following the Great Wall of China with 500 steep steps on both mountains.

It was a hard trek up due to its uneven steps but it ( and the 100,000 VND entrance fee) was worth it because you will be rewarded with the most beautiful panoramic view of Trang-An, Tam Coc, and Ninh Binh City upon reaching the top.

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I conquered the Lying Dragon Mountain!

Enjoy being free at Thung Nam Bird Valley.

This was another recommendation from my host but she said that the best time to go would be in the afternoon, maybe 4 or 5 when all the birds were back from scavenging for food. However, I didn’t have enough time since I needed to be back in Hanoi in the evening, so off I went.

It was raining, with lots of mist, so I first opted to have the boat ride to get closer to the birds should they be in the bird garden, yet they wanted to charge me for 2 people (100,000 VND each) and I didn’t want to do that, so I decided to take the trail up to the bird garden – all on my own. I was not disappointed and here’s why…

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My name is Rio, A river that runs free, A bird that soars high, Tamed birds sing of freedom, But wild birds like me fly

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Examine one’s belief at Bich Dong Pagoda. 

At the end of the day, we are nothing but people with our own perspective about the world and with different beliefs about who made this beautiful creation.

Visiting the temple would not let you reassess your own faith but would teach you about other people’s credence, cultures, and traditions; how little we know of it, and how much are still to learn.

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As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful.
– Anthony Bourdain

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There is no perfect vacation, no perfect meal, no perfect itinerary, but – and a big BUT at that – I met wonderful people who made this trip remarkable; I had fun enjoying the time I had without looking at my watch and following directions (except for my GPS); I adored eating local dishes and drinking local beer at the corner with a small table, just like in the movies; I met new friends I never expected to bump into and I loved it!

If I look back on this trip, I smile because it was life and I allowed it to happen. Itineraries never work. It was always the spur of the moment that needs to be savored and lived.

Most of all, I had the adventure I always yearn for…

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