We travelled overnight from Sapa and arrived at Hanoi at 4.30am. I didn’t sleep well as Mr 3 woke up a couple times during the night. Unfortunately I tend to sleep lightly when the boys are in the same room as me 😣
Up until the morning we were not quite sure where we were going after arriving to Hanoi. Our options were to go to Ninh Binh or continue further south to Dong Hoi. We decided last minute based on people’s opinion that we met along the way, that Ninh Binh would be a good place to stop at first.
We also considered that after travelling the entire night by train it would be wise to only travel another 2 hours to get to Ninh Binh rather than travel another 10 hours to Dong Hoi.
So Ninh binh it was. 2 x adult tickets for $78VND (roughly $4USD) on a soft seater carriage. These were reasonably comfortable seats (better than what I expected) and we got to meet a couple nice locals on the train – despite them not knowing a word of English.
We quickly booked our accommodation in Ninh Binh at the Viet Nhat hotel – right across from the train station for convenience. This was $30AUD for the night. It wasn’t what you would call out of this world, but when you’re backpacking, this was definitely a bargain and great value for money. The staff were very friendly and they really took a liking to the boys. I wonder if the boys’ sweeping the entrance to the hotel had anything to do with it? 😂
The hotel arranged two motorbikes to take us on a day tour to the Bai Dinh Temple and Trang An. I was so tired, especially since I was awake since 4am but we were only spending one day in Ninh Binh, so there was no time to waste.
The drive to the temple took about 50mins and we stopped along the way to take some pictures. The temple is HUGE and fairly new, opening in 2012. It may explain why the place wasn’t swarmed with tourists. The amount of plated gold and detail in woodwork was unbelievable. There are plenty of steps leading up to the pagoda so be prepared to walk. We thought we would need to walk to the top of the Pagoda and I certainly wasn’t looking forward to it. But thankfully this is a modern Pagoda and after one flight of stairs you can catch the lift to the top at level 12 😊
After the temple we went to Trang An.
For some reason Trang An is not as common for most tourists as Tam Coc. When speaking with the locals they all choose to go to Trang An because:
1. It is cheaper, $150 dong per person, while at Tam Coc it is $190 dong per person.
2. You get to enter 9 caves instead of 3 as you do in Tam Coc.
3. Tam Coc is quite touristy and busy, unlike Trang An, which seems to still be a hidden gem amongst tourists.
Trang An is very impressive and very much like Halong bay, only you hop on a little, six-seater boat and have a lady driver who paddles you all the way around. Our motorbike guide told us the Trang An tour would take roughly 2.5 – 3 hours, but I didnt understand at the time what the tour involved.
Basically these ladies are really fit because for the entire journey they paddle the boat around the large river and through small caves that appear to lead to he other side of the limestone mountains. We enter a cave and come out the other side completely surrounded by these beautiful limestone peaks! There appears to be no exit as it is all enclosed by mountains. We somehow enter another small cave, only this time we need to duck as the entrance to this cave is narrow and low. And so our boat in the tour continues to weave in and out of these small water havens, emerging to the other side of each mountain we enter.
We feel sorry for our boat guide as we also notice her switching to feet paddle. We all help paddle, when we have a break from taking photos. The boys also love the paddling. As we reach the end of our tour and can see the dock, there are a few boats nearing the end. We have a stare out and start to paddle quickly in a race to the end. Excitedly we are in the lead and win. Who would have thought that the paddle of a 3 and 4 year old would help!
We arrived back to the hotel at night, just in time for dinner and bed. We were all tired after such an exciting day!
Tomorrow we have an early train to catch at 8.20am for Dong Hoi.