Caves and National Park

Day 22 – Ninh Binh – Wednesday March 23rd 2011

Please, Take A Safety Belt
Please, Take A Safety Belt

Our drive to the national park took about an hour (In the car above).  It cost about a pound to get in to the park, which included a guide for the primate and elephant conservation areas. Elephants and primates were rescued and returned to nature wherever possible.

We were driven to cave where ancient human remains had been found. We got to just go in and explore. There were hardly any other tourists in the whole park.

We had lunch at the top of the park and then went for an unguided walk through the forest. The start of the walk was on a concrete pathway, but it soon gave way to dirt tracks. Along the route we saw a big old tree, some scenic views and another cave. Palace Cave.Luckily I had my head torch so we were able to go into the cave and have a look round. We were only a few hundred yards in when I couldn’t even see my own hand in front of my face.

Frank went off a little further into the cave, with only a tiny LED light, which stopped working halfway. This cave seemed to be sucking the light from our torches so we made a speedy exit.

Thinking about Vietnam

If we hadn’t left Hanoi, then I would have much positive to say about Vietnam, but Ninh Binh has shown me a different side. Maybe Hanoi is just another big busy city. Maybe we were silly and unlucky. We definitely didn’t have a great time there and can’t wait to get back to happy, easy Thailand. I can’t wait for another happy Sawasdee from a smiling Thai.

Tomorrow we will hire some bikes or mopeds to have a look round Tam Coc. I am thinking of trying a geared bike, as I’ve always wanted to learn to ride. The main problem is navigating the busy 1A road to get fuel before we leave. That will be fun.

Train to Ninh Binh

Day 21 – Hanoi to Ninh Binh – Tuesday March 22nd 2011

We had a free bread and jam breakfast whilst our Hotel owner booked us a taxi to the Railway Station. We packed our bags and then forced our way through the busy daytime streets to the main road. We found two waiting taxis, but only one had a driver so we chose that one. We are smart travellers.

We loaded our backpacks into the boot and all got in. The driver ignored us and left the ignition off. We showed him a picture of a train on he map, but he wouldn’t get going. For fear of him driving off with our stuff, we opened the boot and unloaded our stuff while Frank went round the corner to get the Hotel owner.

The driver and Hotelier shouted at each other for a few minutes. Then we got the thumbs up. This time, he started the car and we were off. It was only a short ride and cost about a quid.

At the railway station, we couldn’t help think that the title on the ticket desk was a bit misleading. She didn’t seem to want to sell us tickets. We eventually coaxed the tickets out of her, but had a few hours to kill before the train to Ninh Binh was due.

We wanted to lock our backpacks in the lockers, but were told by the attendant that we couldn’t use the lockers. We would have to leave our bags with her behind a desk. We didn’t like the sound of that, so took all our stuff back out to the busy street. We needed to find somewhere to chill out and waste some time. In this part of town this proved easier said than done.

The pavements were again full of motorbikes so we ended up walking along busy roads until we reached a small park and lake. Actually more of a muddy puddle. We sat in the windy park for a while, and then took shelter in a small restaurant. It was a locals only place, but we managed to order some food and drinks. The drinks were fine but the food was awful. The driest piece of chicken I had ever seen, on a bed of raw vegetables. Lovely.

We hadn’t quite wasted enough time yet, and as we wandered around, thought we had hit the jackpot when we saw a KFC! We went in, but it was closed. At lunchtime! Madness. We ended up at another bad restaurant where Nic had some food which was almost as bad as mine.

Train to Ninh Binh

The train was on time and busy. Some people had so much luggage that they must have been moving house. They had bags, boxes, TVs, books, lampshades and anything you could imagine.

We arrived at the tiny Ninh Binh station which had no maps or guides at all. We didn’t have a clue how to find our Hotel. Frank asked in a guesthouse next to the station, and the woman was kind enough to give us a photocopied hand-drawn map of the area. She even marked off our hotel for us.

It was a few minutes walk through town and we could see instantly that this was a much more relaxed place. Apart from the massive main road, the other roads were actually quite safe to walk down, without fear of being run over.


On the way we had children coming up to us and saying hello and old people smiling as we walked past. Much nicer place.

The Ngoc Anh Hotel was exactly where our map said it would be. It was tidy and quite new. The rooms were pretty new and had decent bathrooms.

The staff here were really helpful and were happy to arrange trips too. We booked a trip for tomorrow. We get our own driver in a 4×4 to take us round the nearby national park. It cost $40 USD but between the four of us that’s pretty good going.