Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Navigating Ninh Binh

With only two weeks left, we don’t want to waste any time. So we booked an overnight bus from Da Nang to our next stop in Ninh Binh. Our first leg, from Da Nang to Hue, was 3 hours in a standard coach bus, winding through Vietnam’s beautiful mountains and rice paddies. It was one of those bus rides that in and of itself can an experience. It was just beautiful.

We stopped just long enough in Hue for Nick to run and grab us a family meal from the local KFC and then we were in for the long haul. An 11-hour over night bus ride on a “soft sleeper” bus. It was really unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The soft sleeper bus can sit 36 people. But you’re actually not sitting in your seats, you laying in one of 36 bunk beds just wide enough for a single person. 
Nick in his sleeper bed

They beds are almost completely horizontal and are pretty comfortable considering that you’re ona bus. When we were on the bus I wondered aloud to Aimee why we don’t have anything like this in America. But really, there’s no way we could have something like this in the states. American’s are just too big. It wouldn’t be economical.
Needless to say, the seat was a bit small for Nick. Aimee and I were able to just fit into them and I actually slept pretty well. I would have really enjoyed the experience if it wasn’t for the bus driver incessantly honking the horn of the bus the entire night! It was like trying to sleep with a blow horn going off every few minutes just 6 inches away from your head.
writing a blog on the bus

O well, almost 15 hours after we departed Da Nang, we arrived in Ninh Binh – and promptly went back to bed for a nice 4-hour nap!

When we awoke, the sky was over cast, things were foggy, and it looked like it might rain. In spite of the weather, and thanks to Aimee’s motivation, we decided to rent motor bikes and head out to Cuc Phuong National Park.
The park was about an hour and a half from town and while we were there we did a very short hike (5 minutes) to a cave where people lived some 7,500 years ago.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have any flash lights and it was pitch black inside, so we didn’t get to see much, but it was still nice to get off the bikes for a bit and get the circulation flowing back into our hindquarters.
We got a bit of a late start, so by the time we got out of the cave it was already 3:00, and we decided to head back to town. In total, we only spent about one hour actually inside the park, but it was nice to drive through the damp jungle and enjoy the fresh air and a road free from traffic and honking horns.

The best part of the day wasn’t the national park anyway. Despite the insane traffic here, the best part of the day was our drive to and from the park.
The town of Ninh Binh isn’t anything too special in and of itself, but it is surrounded by limestone mountains and karsts shooting out of Vietnam’s endless rice paddies. That is why we came to this town, and today we got our first glimpse of this area’s natural beauty on our way to the park.

Although ear-splitting at times, the drive was pretty amazing and it just whetted our appetite for our big visit to Tam Coc tomorrow!

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