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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Ninh Binh - Trang An Tour

So a little history on how we got here.  In Hoi An we ran into a father / daughter from Texas / Grand Caymen.  As we compared places that we’ve been, they raved about Trang An grottos.  We decided we wanted to stop here since we had to head back to Hanoi, and it was on the way.  No regrets with this decision.  Absolutely beautiful.

Trang An was one of the locations where they filmed Kong Skull Island. Yes, I admit I watched ANOTHER King Kong remake.

We took a taxi to get to the tour.  This guy was great.  He came back to pick us up 4 hours later.
We had a choice of a tour with more temples than caves or more caves than temples. We chose the one with more caves than temples, 9 caves and 3 temples.  

We were paddled around for 3-1/2 hours seeing the sights.  It was gray and overcast and in the 50s. We were determined to see Trang An.

We stopped at some beautiful temples.

The statues of a crane standing on a turtle are common at temples. We were really curious to understand what these symbols mean.  I found the best explanation at this blog (Click Here).  Makes sense to me!

This beautiful place was literally in the middle of nowhere.  

Amazing architecture.
Beautiful temples.

Breathtaking scenery even if it was overcast and in the 50s.
She was such a nice lady pointing things out to us, making sure we did not bump our heads, etc. All without a word of english.  

We kept waiting for Kong!

We’d paddle into caves through openings like this.

The geologic formations were like they were from another world.

And came out into new panoramas!

In we went.....

Out we came - over and over.

They had one cave filled with these earthenware containers where they made wine!

The whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

With many, many tour guides waiting to paddle you around the park. 

This was a great video they showed at the parks entrance. It’s about 8 minutes but well done. 

Well worth the visit!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Ninh Binh - 1st day was rain and fog

Apparently the place we're staying is one of the hotels where the cast and crew stayed while filming Kong: Skull Island. They  filmed in the area of Tràng An and Tam Cốc, also known as “Ha Long Bay on land.” It is quite picturesque and the reason we came. Our first day though was a bust - rain and fog. Not weather conducive for seeing much. We stayed at the hotel and had an off day. We availed ourselves to the hotel sauna and steam room (really). 

For dinner we wanted to go out to eat. We asked for recommendations, and they started with Trip Advisor recommendations. We pushed to get LOCAL recommendations, but they hesitated with the caveat "not good for westerners."  We pushed back and joked we did not come to Vietnam to eat with westerners. They relented and suggested a very good Vietnamese restaurant. They also wrote us up menu suggestions. We knew this was going to be local and authentic. Ten minutes after we arrived the waiter brought us a phone. The hotel was checking to make sure we arrived. What a great meal we had all for under $20. 

This is what we took to get to the restaurant and order our meal!  What an adventure!

Quite a nice restaurant though!

Open layout in the restaurant.

Not sure what it said but it added to the ambience...

A salad with beef strips

A sesame cake with a sweet filling

Honey chicken - very good!

A side of rice!
A happy diner!

We took a gamble and it payed off well!  No one spoke english, we were the only westerners in the place,
 and we had a blast.  The staff was so patient and kind.  

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Took the train from Hue to Ninh Binh

We decided to take the express train north from Hue to Ninh Binh, Viet Nam, a mere 12 hours. We had a 5:41 am departure with reserved soft sleepers. It's pretty funny for all the times we've traveled you still find yourself checking, confirming and reconfirming, especially when you don't speak the language. 

As we entered our cabin, we found two men sleeping on the top berths; we had reserved the bottom ones. As much as you try to be quiet, it just doesn't work. Both men gave us the “stink eye.” We settled in and tried going to sleep. Low and behold the men on top also went back to sleep, and one snored with a steady resounding rumble. Pay back! About an 1-1/2 hours later the men got up as they were getting off at the next stop. Climbing down requires stepping on the lower berths. When they left we recieved a cheery bye bye, and the cabin was ours alone for the rest of the trip. The countryside as we headed north was beautiful. Viet Nam is very agricultural with lots of small family farms. Rice is grown everywhere, over 140 varieties. 

We asked each other at the conclusion of the train ride whether we'd do it again and both agreed YES!

It was definitely not designed for folks like me
A tad snug when you lay down
Laura did just fine though. We bought a Vietnamese SIM card and had internet the whole way.
They fed us several times during the trip.  We started declining the food because it was too much. I joked, it tasted just like airline food.
 Remember our earlier post in Hoi An about soccer?  Well today was THE BIG day. Soccer fever on the train was running high. Unfortunately Viet Nam lost to Uzbekistan in overtime (Uzbekistan 2, Viet Nam 1).
She was SUCH a cutie!  So inquisitive.
We had the cutest little girls who kept coming by and looking at the strange older westerners in the cabin next door. They sang and danced and were cute beyond measure.  Typical siblings though, still such sweet hearts!
Rice fields everywhere. 
They even raise corn.

So many small family farms!
We stopped in many places as the train is a key way to get around Viet Nam. People were always getting on 
and off at each stop.

What a great experience!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Hue - whirlwind visit

We took a car from Hoi An to Hue. We drove through Da Nang right along the ocean and the famous “China Beach” (very beautiful). We stopped to see a marble carving shop—I'm sure there was an incentive for the driver to take us there. We continued through the mountains and through fishing villages. It was a beautiful drive. 

We wanted to see Hue because of the history of the area. We had watched Anthony Bourdain episodes on Parts Unknown that focused on Hue. The episodes we saw and the places we visited were, let's say, different.  

We enjoyed our time in Hue although we were only there for one full day. 

There were so many marble carvings!  They shipped anywhere.  
Many switch backs on the mountain roads, on every switch back it was a passing frenzy to get past trucks.
Folks taking photos on the side of the road.

Such pretty scenery

In Hue, we took a city tour. We started with a Dragon Boat ride to the oldest Pagoda in the city.

The oldest Pagoda in the city.

The picture does not do it justice, a beautiful Buddha statue.

Interesting story behind this car.  It was owned by the monk that immolated himself on the streets of Saigon in the early 60s in protest of religious freedom. See this link The Burning Monk. You can see this car in the background. The story goes that they cremated the remains of the monk and everything turned to ash except his heart which remained untouched. His memory is venerated in Viet Nam.
Beautiful serene shrines

We visited the Imperial City which reminded me of the Forbidden City in Beijing.
The Flag Tower at the Citadel.  Iconic!
Tourists everywhere

Beautiful gardens
Water landscapes were impressive

The intricate porcelain mosaics were amazing.
Beautiful performing arts hall!
What an array of statues and cannons!

We visited Cho Dong, the largest market in the city.

Lots of food vendors

Lots of folks selling fresh produce

We visited two tombs of kings.
The tomb of the last king was quite elaborate

Very elaborate mosaics

The tomb itself was so elaborate.

The Koi in the pond loved being fed.

These are bundles of incense. We stopped to see a family that still hand makes incense.

She does hundreds of these in a day.  This is a mixture of wood fibers, spices and a binder.  I had to ask as it looked like something else...

While our visit to Hue was short, we enjoyed it very much.