February 6, 2019
A quick day trip from Hanoi, Ninh Binh is a beautiful province in Northern Vietnam surrounded by limestone mountains and lush greenery.
After realizing that every shop, tour, and main attraction in Vietnamese cities is closed during Lunar New Year, I hitched a ride with a fellow backpacker’s day tour last minute. And I am so happy I decided to join them on the trip to Ninh Binh.
At the first rest stop, we stopped at a small souvenir and crafts store. Usually I wouldn’t consider buying anything from a tourist stop, but they sold beautiful handmade silk thread pictures that depict the beauty of life in a Vietnamese fishing village. What made these pieces of art even more astonishing is that they were all made by disabled children who were born to Vietnamese parents who had been affected by Agent Orange.
Our first few stops on the tour were to some ancient Hoa Lu temples built to honor kings of the Dinh and Le dynasties. Then, our tour guide took us in a surprise bike tour through the valleys of the limestone mountains. This was also my second time on a bike in 15 years so I count that as quite an adventure in itself. Then we visited Tam Coc, a world heritage site, and were treated to a bamboo boat ride through the mountains and caves. Not only was this one of the most serene and beautiful boat rides I’ve ever taken, but also I was impressed that every boat driver steered the boats with his/her feet on the oars. No hands necessary! The final part of the tour, also a surprise, was a steep hike to the top of Hang Mua Peak to see a shrine and amazing views of Tam Coc. I couldn’t even feel bad for how winded I was by the time I got to the top because there was a bride and groom taking wedding photos in full attire, heels, and makeup at the peak when we got there. And the bride’s dress train was at least 6 feet long. That was some serious wedding photo dedication, but I can understand the desire to have such a beautiful backdrop.
Ninh Binh was a pleasant surprise overall. Not only did I learn a lot about Vietnamese history and culture while taking in some of the best mountain views, but I also made a new friend along the way (a New Yorker, no less). Pretty good day’s work, if you ask me!