Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ninh Binh

A couple of weeks ago, my good friends Mike, Nancy and Megan Tsoi came over for a visit. Mike and I are old climbing buddies and at a time when I was homeless-being that I didn’t want to have my own apartment from too much work travel, he took me in. On his couch I was surfing for quite some time. Anyway, he met Nancy and decided to sell his condo to go traveling and out I went. Shortly thereafter they got married and soon bore this little angel name Megan.

This I believe is the Tsoi family’s first international, real traveling experience. Vietnam and I are very to lucky to have them. The goal was to see the sights and eat. The sights are first and the food segment will appear in a later post.

The first stop on the traveling itinerary were the sites around the city of Ninh Binh, less than 100k due south of Hanoi. The guidebooks describe this area as being very picturesque, the Guilin of Vietnam and Ha Long Bay on land.....They are so right!

Trang An-Ninh Binh from Linh Nguyen on Vimeo.

On day one we were encouraged by the hotel staff to visit Trang An, a labyrinth of caves and grottos connect by a crystal clear waterway. Our immediate impression was how spotlessly clean this park is. The boats are human powered so the water did not have that oil slick sheen. Our boat had a trash can and the local operator was adamant that waste be disposed there even though we had our own trash bag. When we set foot on land for a brief hike up to a viewing spot high on the mountain side, there were signs everywhere extolling the virtues of keeping the park clean of trash. I was astonished. Still am. Only if these standards are imposed throughout Vietnam this country would be even more beautiful!

Anyway, this trip through what Megan referred to as “time-tunnels” was fabulous, a must-not-miss when visiting the sites around Ninh Binh. 

Day two dawned foggy but by the time we drove over to the township of Tam Coc, the sun began to peek through the clouds. The boat landing was a bit more touristy than the boat launch at Trang An. This is a much older attraction and has had time to “develop” the tourist support system, i.e. open more gift shops and vendor stalls. But after about a dozen pulls of the oars we were in a dreamlike state floating amongst limestone towers that are thrusting up through the swampy landscape. This trip did not have as many caves. Three in all really. But between the caves are vast expanses of craggy hillsides and lakes. The left over scattered, thick clouds from the morning fog made for incredibly dramatic lighting.

Every once in a while mountain goats could be spotted prancing the hillsides. Gaggles of ducks were seen waddling on nearby shores then hopping into the glassy lake. Women were scouring the lake bottoms for snails while men were trolling for tiny shrimps, waist deep in the water. All around them danced rays of the sun, dabbled by the clouds. can see it all right here.

Tam Coc-Ninh Binh from Linh Nguyen on Vimeo.

Towards the end of the boat ride we began to acquaint ourselves with the two local rowers, family members of Tam Coc village . They like many families in Tam Coc are registered with the local tourism board on a lottery system. Over 500 families have permits to take tourists out on their own boats, costing $300, for a measly $3 per head. The boat ride takes two hours and because there are 500 families they are lucky to receive three callings per month. I found this out when I asked if they ever get sick of this wonderful view. “Well we don’t see this all that often.” They replied. They normally farm rice and on the side they do embroidery work. And fine work they did two. We were more than happy to give them our money for all their hard work.

The price to pay for all this beauty is rather inexpensive.

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