From Hanoi we took a local bus to Ninh Binh, thats after we got ripped off by a meter taxi who took us 10 kilometres out of our way so he could get a bigger fare! The bus journey took about 2 hours, but i think it took 45 minutes to get out of the bus station! We chose Ninh Binh because it was off the tourist route and sounded as beautiful as Halong bay. On the way there the scenery was fantatic with paddy fields everywhere and as we reached Ninh Binh we saw the familiar rock formations from Halong bay jutting from the fields instead of the sea.
After the taxi driver ripped us off Matthew decided he didn't trust anyone and when the bus went past the bus station Matthew started arguing with the bus driver telling him to stop so we could get off. The bus driver obviously didn't understand Matthew and Matthew was getting angrier and louder until the bus stopped. We got off with Matthew ranting that he was going to leave us in the middle of nowhere. I suggested that he might have been turning around as it was a dual carriageway once we had got off. Anyway it meant that we had to walk even further than we should have done to get to the hotel we wanted, and to top it off as we were walking up to the bus station, the bus driver went past us the other way and shouted to us. I then got mad at Matthew for not trusting anyone!
We only had time for a day here and wanted to see the scenery and the caves as they were supposed to be really good so when the hotel owner offered us motorbikes with drivers for only $5 each we couldn't really refuse as we couldn't have done it any cheaper and definately not as quick. We were both a bit aprehensive as neither of us have been on a motor bike since the incident in Pushkar, but it turned out to be a really good day. The drivers were really careful and it meant that we got to see everything that we wanted to including the amazing scenery that surrounded us for our entire afternoon as we avioded all the main roads. In that first afternoon we went up to a pagoda at the top of one of the peaks. It was a killer of a climb with about 200 steps, really steep uneven steps! It was worth the climb though, the views were great. They would have been even better if we were in season as all the fields would have been green,instead of just looking like fields of mud, but it was still good.
We then went on a boat ride through the peaks and through 3 caves. The guide book had warned us about the scams that go on during the boat ride so we went prepared. On the boats there is generally one main rower and a secondary rower that the book said would be an elderly lady, we had a 10 year old girl. On the way through the caves women came up on boats trying to sell drinks etc, they then tried and get us to buy the girl a drink which we knew she would sell back to the vendor for half the price so we just said she could have some of our drink instead, they also kept asking us for a tip and trying to sell us embriodery, so Matthew just gave the girl some cough sweets to shut her up and said if she kept asking he would push her over board, in a joking way of course. He has a really good way of turning everything into a joke so they like him and so we don't look to bad! The boat trip was really enjoyable and in some ways better than Halong bay as we were so close to the peaks. We even saw people rowing with their feet which was really amusing. On the way back we visited another temple and then went on the hunt for some food.
As Ninh Binh is not a touristy place there were not many places to eat, so we found a nice hotel and ate there. We tried their local delicacy which is fried goat that is cooked with garlic and fresh herbs. It is eaten with more frech herbs wrapped up in rice paper. It was lovely, the best meal we have had in Vietnam so far.
We decided to hire the bikes and riders out for the next day as we decided to catch a night bus that night so it gave us a chance to see more of the gorgeous scenery from the bikes and to visit a local village. It involved another boat ride through the Kenh Ga village. I was full of cold by this piont and being on the bike didn't help so we just spent the morning on the bikes, visited a few temples in Hoa Lu, Vietnam's ancient capital with the mountains as a scenic backdrop and then onto the boat to go through the village. We saw plenty of people on the river or by the river irrigating their rice fields from the river water and generaly just watched their daily lives. It was really relaxing and interesting, but also quite cold. After lunch we decided to go back as we didn't want my cold to get any worse. Before we set off back Matthew and his tiny driver decided to compare weight, not sure why but the driver was interested. He weighed 60kg and Matthew said he weighed around 95kgs, a modest estimate!!!! Anyway after that discussion, on the way back to the hotel the bike Matthew was on got a puncture, that made me laugh so much!
Once we got back to the centre we went in search of a chemist, hoping to get either some cough medicine or their version of beechams. The chemist couldn't speak English so Matthew did a really good role play as to what was wrong with me, this involved him coughing a lot and pointing to his throat and chest, i think she got the gist anyway. I walked away with a big bag of very colourful drugs having to take 8 tablets a day for a week. They only cost me around a pound/. Bargain! A few minutes after we had left the chemist i started to have a coughing fit and Matthew shouted at me asking why i couldn't have done that 5 minutes ago! Doesn't he realisei can't control it! I have absolutely no idea what i was taking, but it got rid of my cold in a couple of days, which was great because we don't have time for sick days!
We then waited around for another couple of hours to catch the night bus to Hue.