Ninh Bình is a small village area in the Northern Vietnam area. When you google the name, this stunning view of a winding river through rice paddies among towering limestone boulders shows up, and it inspires anyone to visit who loves a good view. After my 24 hour stint in Phong Nha, I took the only bus available and went on my way.
The only bus left around 10pm. I was developing major symptoms from my water contamination, and slept soundly through the overnight bus trip. Around 4am, the driver came through the bus yelling Ninh Binh, and motioned for me to get out. Knowing that I reserved a bed in Tam Coc, I was suddenly worried that we had gone too far, and I slept through my stop. Luckily, a guy traveling on the same path as me from Hoi An was on the same bus. To my relief, he was still there. The bus stopped in the middle of a dark empty street. There were four of us, and an eager taxi driver left on the side of the road. Another taxi showed up, and the drivers proceeded to sort us into our destinations. It was another 20 minute car ride to the hostel. I got in with another guy going to Tam Coc, and said goodbye to my friend. He was going to Ninh Bình.
There is a beauty and mystery to night-time arrivals, you never know what things will look like when you wake up. I arrived to the homestay, and the sleepy family made a comfy blanket and pillow set up for me on the reception couch. They told me I could get my bed in the morning.
I woke up to odd sounds of splashing paddles being pushed through water. After wandering outside, I discovered the house was on this cute river lined with palm trees, and a plethora of boats taking tourists through to the river tour.
This is a view from the breakfast terrace. Most "drivers" were using their feet! I thought it was so strange, but later discovered that it relieves their arms from the work. Talk about skill. I had only seen two boat drivers in the entire two days who used their arms. I witnessed several checking their phone, taking photos, and working on to do lists. Multitasking creativity for the win!
When I woke up and had breakfast, one of the homestay family members took me via motorbike to the pharmacist for medication. Since the location was so remote, no doctors were nearby for treatment. I took the medication, and slept ALL day, and ALL the following night.
The second day on medication, my whole body was covered in a rash, and my palms and feet felt prickles of knives when opened and closed. Knowing I only had one more day, I persevered to see the hallmark view above Mua Caves. I knew I wouldn't be discovering the classic photo that is found online. The host explained some paradox of it not being available. I didn't understand why, but he told me the Mua Cave view would still satisfy.
Taking a push bike from the rack, I endured a 3+ mile bike ride. Getting lost on the way, and working with a rusty chained bike with loud brakes, I arrived. The ride was beautiful. Though completely cloudy, there was infinite rice paddies. It was surreal to ride through a long narrow road surrounded by endless fields stretched beyond what your eyes can see with tall boulders in the mix.
I started my ascent. Normally, climbing a steep mountain isn't an issue for me. I was experiencing what Mono had felt like in my college years, and that climb was a feat! I stopped multiple times to catch a breath. But, I got the view. Albeit, not the same as the classic image, it was still breathtaking.
The struggle with travel is timing. You aren't able to be everywhere at it's prime. The grass was still brown, and I was leaving the next day to Cat Ba, so waiting around for a week for clearer weather wasn't an option.
Can I tell you a secret? My favorite view was the entrance facing side, overlooking a small park, and the road leading up the the cave. Tell me what you think in the comments!
Below are some of my favorite images along the river walk near my homestay. If you ever decide to visit, make sure to choose Tam Coc River Homestay. The family went above and beyond to help me. They not only took me to the pharmacist, but brought me water from town, and provided fresh squeezed orange juice for my breakfast. They were incredibly hospitable, and I can't express more gratitude for such a wonderful family.