We leave the hectic City of Hanoi behind and travel south to Ninh Binh (cool name huh?!) We'd hoped to travel by train but there is a public holiday so the train is fully booked. Instead we pay US $5 each and join a tour that's visiting some sites near to Ninh Binh, that will leave us there. In fact we get a free tour with a great guide who explains the sights we visit- we just have to buy the entrance tickets. First stop is an ancient capital of Vietnam (968-1009 AD) where we visit the 2 surviving temples, before we go to Tam Coc for a boat trip. The boats are rowed by coolie hatted women rowing with their feet - very clever (but looks like they are giving birth! ) The river meanders around paddy fields and past large steep rocky karsts- it even goes through some, where we have to duck to go through some low caves. When we arrive at our hotel in Ninh Binh we find that we've been upgraded to a huge room at the front of the hotel. Unfortunately the hotel opposite is setting up for a wedding and we have to endure several hours of very bad and very loud karaoke - Craig downloaded an app that showed the noise was at 80db with the windows closed! The next day we were woken at 5am by loud speakers in the street -apparently providing news and propaganda to the locals! That was followed by more (bad) karaoke at 8am - they sure know how to party!! We escaped to nearby Cuc Phuong National Park (after changing rooms to one at the rear of the hotel-away from the noise). We visit a primate rescue Centre where they have Gibbons, langur monkeys and lorises that have been confiscated as pets or from poachers. They hope to release them into the wild but after contact with people it is hard for them to survive. Then we visit the turtle rescue Centre - same same. Hunting is still a problem with a high demand for animal parts for Chinese medicine. There are several national parks in Vietnam which we'd hoped to visit to see resident wildlife but unfortunately very little wildlife is left. The war wiped out a lot of nature; as has deforestation; the local people are big meat eaters and eat anything that moves (they even catch birds and butterflies) and the Chinese are willing to pay for whatever is left for medicine. . Very sad. We did enjoy a trek through the forest to 1000 year old tree and were greeted by many Vietnamese doing the same- they are very friendly people. Next stop was Van Long nature reserve where we enjoyed another boat trip through paddy fields -a very tranquil spot with very few tourists and we did actually spot some birds including kingfishers and storks. The next day we took our first Vietnamese train to Hue - an 11 hour journey. We opted for the 'soft chair' class which was similar to a small airplane seat- it even reclined a little (but was not particularly soft , but the hard seats were wooden benches so I guess it's all relative! ) The scenery was. . you've guessed it, more paddy fields, rocky karsts and coolie hatted farmers with their water buffaloes, and still stunning. Numerous buffet carts came through the carriage selling food and drinks- we turned down the cooked chicken pieces, sausages and other strange dishes and opted for some spicy pot noodles. We arrived at Hue at 8pm and took a taxi to our hotel, the Saigon Morin Hotel. A lovely colonial building that apparently Charlie Chaplin stayed at. At check in we're told that the hotel is full and they have upgraded us to a suite! We have a huge lobby/lounge in addition to a large bedroom and massive bathroom with a bath (that Vanda makes the most of). Dressing gowns, slippers, fresh fruit and a lovely display of fresh flowers are all provided. Not bad for £40 (the suite should have cost £200). Glad we've booked 3 nights. ..