Ninh Bình is a popular tourist spot as it’s only a couple hours south of Hanoi. The main attractions are not in the city itself, but to the east of it. It’s an area with many caves, temples and waterways. Contrary to most visitors, I arrived from the south, having spent about a week away from built-up areas. It was nice to be in a busy place again.
The hotel that I stayed in seemed to cater mostly to French tourists, but the manager there was clearly experienced in dealing with all sorts of people. It was very pleasant to relax there during dinner, after three days of fairly taxing travel.
Fairly late the next morning I rode over to Bích Động, which is actually a group of three pagodas. I could have walked from my hotel, and I probably should have as the parking fee was 20 thousand dong (this is about a dollar, but still about ten times a normal fee). I saw a couple of tourists get back on their bike and leave after being told the fee. You see this kind of opportunism at tourist sites all over the world, however I noticed that, like hot tea, army hats and those huge bamboo smoking pipes, it became noticeably more common as I entered northern Vietnam.
These pagodas lay along a path that went up through a cave to a site halfway up a stone hill. They were fairly standard pagodas, though the cave was a cool experience and I had read there was a hidden path to the top of the hill.
Aside from being extorted, I survived another classic tourist calamity – the Chinese tourist horde. One minute there was peace, and the next minute it was like the floor of the stock exchange. I just sat aside to let the wave pass. It wasn’t a shock to me as Vietnamese are quite similar in their customs (though I’d be careful about saying this to any Vietnamese). It did set my day back a little, though.
After reaching the third pagoda, I had a look for the hidden path. What I found was not actually a path but a series of traversable boulders. I probably would not have gone up if hadn’t had the trail of litter to reassure me it was possible. The view was pretty good, though sitting at the peak was rather precarious.
After Bích Động, I set my sights on Hang Múa, which is another cave/temple site. This one has a lookout that affords a view over much of the area, once you have earned it by climbing the several hundred steps. I enjoyed this place as it wasn’t busy and the view really was spectacular. The climb was tough but not nearly as much as the one in Bạch Mã. It would be really wonderful around September, in the ‘golden season’.
After this, I wanted to do a river trip but I really did not have the time. The day was over. I had a cruise in Hạ Long booked for Tuesday (it was Saturday) and couldn’t spare another day. And there was a decent chance that it would rain again. At this time I had been on the road for 25 days and I was looking forward to an easy glide to the finish; I didn’t want complications. That wasn’t to be, as I would find other things to shoehorn into the trip before it was over. Still, in this case I had to let the opportunity go.
That evening and the next morning I did some wandering around the village near Tam Cốc. Then I saddled up and set the Google to Hải Phòng.