I took a bus with Lars from Cat Ba to a city called Ninh Binh, we weren't sure what our plans would be but the weather forecast for the north of Vietnam was pretty grim for the next seven days and we both wanted to find some sun. On the bus I got chatting to Alex, from Nottingham, who didn't have any concrete plans either and so decided to join us in our indecision. We arrived in Ninh Binh in the afternoon, and after a brief consultation with each other and the clouds, decided to take the train that night to Hue (pronounced Hway), a city halfway down Vietnam's long coast.
|Alex and Lars walking through Ninh Binh to the train station.|
After booking our sleeper tickets, we had a few hours to see what was on offer in Ninh Binh. We decided to rent some mopeds and take a little tour of the city ourselves and find some dinner. I hadn't ridden a moped for seven years, and rush hour in a Vietnamese city was a pant-shitting baptism. I really was quite nervous crossing busy highways as the chaotic traffic whistled past in both directions like bullet-fire, and I didn't feel confident on the bike at all. We didn't ride that far at all, only a mile or two, but it was enough for me, I was paranoid of hitting something or someone, as the roads were so busy with traffic and pedestrians swarming around me. Fortunately, I didn't kill anyone, and we parked our bikes in a side street and headed off on foot through a shadowy market. Ninh Binh felt a scruffy town, but I quite liked it. We took some dinner in a hotel, before heading back to the bikes, and I was trying to hide my trepidation, as now we were riding in the dark. Whilst my heart was still pounding I was slowly gaining confidence, and picking a moment to nip across a triple lane of oncoming traffic was quite the adrenaline rush. We returned the bikes to the hostel and waited until it was time to head to the train station. I bumped into the guys from Finland I had met in Hanoi, so chatted with them for a bit, before walking five minutes to the basic station and taking the midnight train.
|Street food near Ninh Binh market.|
|Inside the market.|
|The streets of Ninh Binh.|
|A heavy load.|
|Waiting for the train to arrive.|
|River boats seen from the highway bridge.|
|Boats on the way to the beach.|
|Some sort of temple we stopped to look at.|
|Rice paddies on the coast road.|
|Colourful boats in a small harbour.|
|Lars on his moped.|
|A cemetery we explored.|
|Working the paddies.|
|Underwater ox ploughing.|
|More large cemetery complexes.|
That afternoon we cleared our hangovers with fresh air blasting into our lungs by riding the mopeds out to some tombs. The tomb we visited charged $4 to enter which we felt a little pricey for Vietnam, but decided we may as well. It was only 100 years old, and belonged to a former King who ruled under the French rule of Vietnam. As it was not that old, and photographs were displayed of the dead guy, it wasn't that interesting, but some of the ornate wall decoration was pretty enough. It felt a bit arrogant though, to have such a huge and flamboyant grave constructed, when you're a puppet king ruling over peasants in shacks. In the pictures of him too he looked like a midget wearing make-up, so I didn't have the most favourable opinions of the chap.
We'd been approached by a local guy, who said he wanted to practice his English, and he wanted to invite us to his home for tea. I don't usually trust people in double denim with double lazy eyes, but there were three of us and so we felt safe enough to follow him on our bikes to his humble village home. His name was Ty, and he did seem keen to learn English, writing a few new words he picked up down. He poured us some nice tea as we sat in his one room shack, with no decor and just the simplest of furniture. He told us his life story, which had some sad elements such as his wife leaving him after their previous home was flooded, leaving him to raise his two children alone. Whether the story was true, we will never know. He also had a nice story about when he was a child, an American military base was close by, and one day he got to go inside for some reason, and was offered a short ride in a helicopter. He told us he was terrified and cried the entire flight. It was a sweet story. As we readied to leave, he said he wanted to buy an English - Vietnamese dictionary, and could we help him with money. I'd half feared and expected this to happen, so we gave him $2 each, which was enough for the tea and hospitality, though he said not enough to buy a book. We told him he'd have to invite a second lot of tourists back to get the rest for the dictionary. We said thank you and goodbye before riding back to our hotel. That night we took it easy with just a few games of pool against some locals, as we had to be up early the following morning for a trip we had booked on.
|Looking out from the King's tomb.|
|Inside the burial chamber, taken on Alex's fish eye lens I borrowed.|
|Ty, the farmer who invited us back for tea.|
|From the village our bus tour stopped at.|
|The landscapes I preferred to tanks.|
|A US military plane seen across a maize field.|
|Behaving with dignity and respect.|
|Lars in the Viet Cong tunnel.|
|Descending steps in the underground world.|