Bikes, boats, and jungle

Trip Start Nov 06, 2006
Trip End Jun 15, 2007

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Vietnamese flag, solid red with a single yellow star, must be a hot commodity here in Ninh Binh. It flies from every building and hundreds of them line each street, which gives the place a staunchly "Red" nationalistic vibe since that color is so predominant here. And in stark contrast to my Big Brother paranoia, the people here are welcoming and friendly. Kids and even teenagers shout a cheerful "hello!" when we pass, and locals always smile and point out a direction (even if it's the wrong direction! or a different direction than the last person!) when we're lost, and several men offered us hits from their tobacco water pipes, which are made from bamboo, of course! There were lots of wide-opened eyes and surprised smiles when we walked around, and though there was plenty of "skin whitening cream", we couldn't find sunscreen anywhere, so they must not see many foreigners here.

With bikes we explored some of the interesting sites nearby. The scenery at Tam Coc was fantastic - soaring limestone hills and cliff faces that rise straight up from the bright green rice fields. Our guide had two techniques for paddling our boat - sometimes with his hands and sometimes with his feet! We also passed through several nice caves, as well. Though we've seen enough pagodas to last a lifetime, we climbed the 350 steps at Bich Dong Pagoda to take in the spectacular views of the surrounding karst hills and rice fields. A playful group of Vietnamese youth climbed with us and got a kick out of it when I yelled "Let's go!" when they tried to take a break. They returned the favor about two minutes later when the stairmaster workout started making my calfs burn and the kids yelled "Let's go!" when I stopped to take a break. Between the pagoda and town, a backroad (on the way to Hua Lu) took us through lovely villages and rice paddies under the shadow of more limestone hills - a very scenic ride!

Our next destination was Cuc Phuong National Park where we spent two days hiking and taking in the unbelievable sights and sounds of the jungle. With every step there's so much to see that I didn't know where to look. Everywhere around us, birds sang beautiful calls, insects hummed and clicked, and leaves dropped gently from the canopy as high as ten stories above our heads. During a walk after dark, we turned out the headlight and found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of glittering fireflies - magical! Todd said they looked like Christmas lights flickering on and off into the distance. We fell asleep to the sounds of the rainforest all around.

On our way back to Ninh Binh, we took another quick boat tour, this time of Kenh Ga floating village. Not much to see and I probably wouldn't recommend a stop here, but it was nice to be on the water for an hour.

So many travelers we met in other countries warned us about scams, rip-offs, and people trying to take advantage of them in Vietnam, but our experience has been completely different - friendly people, easy travel, and a nice range of destinations. It's been a fun place to just relax, go with the flow, and enjoy!
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