Whilst Ninh Binh is only two hours from Hanoi we were booked onto a night bus as it was to continue on to Hue, another city in Vietnam. It was our first experience of the Vietnamese night buses and it was bizzare. The only thing I can liken them to is the knight bus from Harry Potter. They're ordinary coaches with inbuilt bunk beds! It was quite the experience. They're a bit coffin like, as each person is allocated a bed which is more like a box that you clamber into. Quite claustrophobic but you can certainly lie down and get a good nights sleep in them! The top bunks are the worst though, you've nothing to hold you in so you feel like you're going to fly out any minute. Saying that, it's not much better being on the bottom as they pack the aisle's full of the locals (I'll tell you more about this later!) The bus driver and workers were absolutely horrific, further cementing my opinion of the Vietnamese. I was still holding onto the hope I would find some people to prove me wrong!
We arrived into Ninh Binh a little later than expected due to lots of faffing around and our first impressions weren't great. Ninh Binh is very much a Soviet, concrete city. Not to my taste but we weren't planning on staying too long. We arrived at around 10pm I think and the place was like a ghost town. We really struggled to find a place to stay and had to wake the owners up to let us in. They were not impressed.
The city looked even worse in the light of the day but we decided to hire a bike and head out to the countryside. The bike was practically on it's last legs and I think that the miserable owners were trying to kill us by renting it to us! Our destination for the morning was the Tam Coc Caves, about 10km away from where we were staying.The Tam Coc area is oftened labelled 'the Halong Bay of the rice paddies' as it's got giant limestone karst formations jutting out of the rice paddies. To visit you can hire a rowing boat and a little old man to take you down the river. Our rower was amazing, he rowed with his feet for the whole two hours we were with him! Along the way you can see local fisherfolk going about their daily business, villagers who live on the banks of the river and of course the limestone karst formations that Tam Coc is famous for. It was lovely and I really felt I had finally found a piece of Vietnam I could enjoy!!
As we were rowing down the river we saw a sort of temple on top of one of the mountains. We decided to go explore the next day and it was one my favourite things we've seen in Vietnam. It was hard work, 500 stairs in 40 degrees heat. But the view from the top was phenomenal.
In summary, I liked the sights, but hated Ninh Binh!! Dan was feeling the same, and we both felt a little disappointed as we had been hoping we'd love Vietnam! We decided to head to Hoi An which was a gruelling 21 hour bus journey, I think it was certainly one of the strangest we've endured! We waited for the bus with a French chap called Damien who we'd gotten to know in Ninh Binh, at his hotel as we were all on the same bus. Annoyingly, his hotel owner was the nicest man ever! We were talking to him for two or three hours whilst waiting and he was ever so sweet. I was so glad to find a kind local! It seems that our generation Vietnamese are lovely and perhaps it's some of the elders that are slightly impolite and hard to approach! Anyhow, the bus arrived and the only available seats were the dreaded top bunks. They're terrifying but I had no choice! The company running the bus had packed the luggage compartment so full of motorbikes and animals that there was no room for any of our luggage. Some genius had the idea to put them in the toilet and then gaffa tape it up. Fantastic! No toilet on a 12 hour bus journey! Along with Frenchy we were the only travellers on the bus. The men were so lechy and I had one of them glaring at me during the whole journey. We eventually stopped for a toilet break about six hours into our jorney. I hopped off expecting to be a service station or restaurant like normal but we were in the middle of no where. I stupidly asked where the toilet was and was directed to a field. Fan-bloody-tastic. i just love to pee with 20 Vietnamese men glaring at me. Not my greatest moment. To make matters worse, this local lady adopted (though kidnapped would be a better word) me and kept dragging me to pee where she was going. Quite sweet really but she was insane. I think Frenchy got into quite a heated argument with one of the bus workers as he had rudely woken him up at about 4am to tell him to go for a cigarette. Frenchy had barely touched the ground before they were shouting and screaming at him to get back on the bus. He was a bit of a scary guy himself and Dan and I heard him screaming back 'YOU SEE THAT FIELD THERE, I AM GOING TO DIG A HOLE AND PUT YOU IN IT!!' Entertaining to say the least. And so it went on. We broke down at one point and I got off to go and do my performing pee act for the locals. I then got back handed around the legs by one of them for being too slow at taking my shoes off! You can see why my opinion of the Vietnamese isn't fantastic!!
We had a short stop in the city of Hue before continuing to Hoi An. We were told we'd have to travel by motorbike to the office to confirm our ticket. We assumed two bikes, we assumed wrong. So there we were the driver, then Dan and then me all wedged on one. With our backpacks resting on the handle bars. I was literally hovering off the end of the motorbike and clinging on for dear life!
Six hours, two buses, one motorbike and one tuk tuk later we arrived in Hoi An. Yippeee!
We learnt on our first night that the locals celebrate each full moon with lanterns. The river was beautifully lit up with tiny lanterns and the bridge was covered. There were performances and parties everywhere you looked and I must admit I fell in love with Hoi An. We spent 3/4 days there as it was so lovely and after having had a few disasters with the country we decided to play it safe and stay where we loved!
We only had one disastrous evening when we had been out with a few friends and I came home to find that my contact lens had disappeared up into my eye!! I was horrified and prodded and poked for hours to try and find it. We were stuck. It was two in the morning, we were locked in the hotel with no internet or phone to try get help. I know it's nothing to panic about to some people but I freaked. I've only had the lens' for a few months and have hardly worn them so I didn't know whether it was normal or not. With the help of Dan and his life saver of a Mother we found out it was fine to leave for the night and tried to get some sleep. When I awoke, my eye was swelled up and stinging. Dan managed to find the details of an eye Dr so we paid him a visit. Christ, I was so nervous. His surgery was so run down, it looked like an old shed. The receptionist looked high on drugs and was shaking like a leaf. Luckily, the Dr was great! He was really thorough and cleaned my eye out for me. Turned out the lens had fallen out at some point during the day. He didn't even charge me! I must be the only person to get free medical treatment in a country where you don't get anything for free!
We found a restaurant that became Dan's second home! The food was delicious. We did however also make friends with a larger than life character working in one of the other restaurants. Comedy genius. He would just come over and tell us about his Norweigan girlfriend and then be like 'you see that girl over the bridge, she my girlfriends friend, she fat and I don't like her, but she has goooooooood boobs.' Great guy.
After Hoi An we made our way to Nha Trang...
Will we ever have a good bus journey!? Vietnam - I hated you on this night! On this particular journey we were both in bottom bunks and had to put up with an aisle full of drunk locals. They were leaning on me, resting their elbows on my stomach for hours on end, putting their hands in my foot box searching for my handbag. The one next to me, tried to steal my headrest, blanket and anything he could get his hands on. His feet were resting on my shoulder and his breath was rancid. I think he must have drank the brewery dry. During one of our breaks, Dan was ambushed by one of them who had had an 'accident' if you understand what I'm saying. He was about 40 and his trousers were drenched and there he is trying to talk to Dan. I must admit I laughed but he was horrendous.
Nha Trang is a beach town and we had decided to have a few relaxin days sunbathing. I think it was the final straw when we arrived to RAIN!! By this time I was completely fed up and ready to get on a bus to Cambodia. Even when the weather cleared up a little I still felt the same. Nha Trang is a little bit like the Blackpool of Vietnam and there were much nicer places we could visit so we decided to book a bus to Mui Ne in the hope that 'thingsssss can only get better!'