Sorry guys its that time again, I know its only been a few days but we had an unexpectedly short time in Ninh Binh, I will explain.
The sleeper bus was horrendous as always, we were at the back again, no suprises there, but at the bottom this time so we were in what looked like a hole at the back of the bus, there were three seats so Damian got to have some nice night time snuggles with a local man :)
When we arrived at 6:30am there was a man from a hotel who said we could have a free coffee at his hotel, if its free then we are'nt going to say no, good tactic for getting you to stay at their hotel I guess, but oh my goodness we wished we had'nt! At first glance it all seemed ok, ok room and breakfast included so we said yes, the room was really damp and so the bed was also damp and it smelt really musty. The owner of the hotel was a very scary and in your face aggressive woman who almost demanded that we book certain trips, eat certain foods and do things her way. She tried to sell us a ticket to Cat Ba island which was our next stop for $60 which we knew was way too much but she insisted it was the only way you could get there, she also tried forcing us into eating a certain dish off the menu at dinner, we didnt eat there in the end beacuse the menu was naff, when we got to leave she practicaly interrrigated us to find out why we didnt want to eat, she then watched us as we walked down the road to find somewhere else to eat. We met a couple that night who had just done the same trip we wanted to do but the other way round and paid half the price we were being asked to pay so that made our minds up for sure we were going to have to do this one solo and get back to the local buses. We ended up leaving the next day and the manager again was asking why we were leaving and making us feel like we couldnt go, Damian said in the end we dont have to stay here just because you tell us we can do what we want, I then ended up having a barnie with him as he carried on and on asking why we were leaving and why were we not booking the ticket with him. We looked on trip advisor after we left and pretty much every comment complained about the rude staff and hotel owner who gets very cross if you dont book things through her or eat at her restaurant.
So that morning after we had finally got it through to them we wanted a taxi we made it to the bus station, at first we were just going to look for a place to stay by the station and leave first thing the next day but there was a bus leaving there and then so we just hopped on. The bus dropped us off on the outskirts of the harbor town where we would get a boat to Cat Ba, the taxi men at the stop were charging way to much so we decided to be stubborn travellers and walk the 4 miles to the port....yeh that idea only lasted a mile before we flagged a taxi down. We had read in our book and on line that there are people at the port who try to sell you a fake ticket, when we pulled up we were swammped by people trying to sell us tickets, we walked over to the ticket office but they just said that they were real tickets and to buy from them, I ended up having my second barnie of the day with a very rude local lady who decided to get right in my face and quite angry when I didnt want to buy the ticket off her, we eventually baught a ticket off a man and luckily it wasnt fake and we got to Cat Ba on a speed ferry. A very long, stressful and argument filled day!
So anyway thats my rants over, back to Ning Binh itself. Normally on the day we arrive anywhere on a sleeper bus we spend the day in a bit of a daze walking around like zombies not really up for much, but this day was different, we made use of the whole day which looking back was a good job with us making a fast exit the next day. We took some bikes from the hotel and cycled all day, we went to a temple in a cave and then to a temple at the top of 500 steps, the view was worth the 500 steps just to be able to look down on all the karsts and the Tam Coc river that winds around them, the place looks flooded in the pictures but its just the wet rice paddies that blend into the river.
On the day we left we decided to do a trip along the Tam Coc river which is a huge tourist attraction and people make an 8 hour round trip from Hanoi to get there lucky for us we were staying right next to it. During the day its really busy, there are hundreds of boats that go up and down the river all day long. We were super lucky though because we were literally the first ones on the river at about 8 in the morning so we had the whole place to ourselves, just us two and the local lady who was rowing the boat, with her feet! yes her feet! It was a really magical experience winding in and out of these enormous karsts that are just standing there so big you almost expect them to move or make a sound. It was still really foggy and drizzily but it just added to the whole feel, when you get to the end you just turn back and thats when we went passed loads of boats, big groups being very load and then some had guides speaking an a microphone, so we were really lucky to have been out on our own for so long. They have food and drink vendours on the river, little ladys row boats full of food and drink and then your pretty much made to buy a drink and she even had us getting one for our little lady rowing the boat, a little cheeky but we didnt mind too much, she even made sure to ask us for her tip too...they definatly are'nt embarressed about asking for your money! We really liked Ninh Binh, well Tam Coc vilage where we stayed anyway, wet and cool which came as a relief from all the heat and we got to use our new rain jackets so bonus! Just a shame our time was cut short and we felt we needed to leave.
We are in Cat Ba now and are going to be here for about 5 days so you will get a rest from all this blog reading!!