We arrived in Ninh Binh at 3 o’clock in the morning and first of all we had a little fight with the vietnamese taxi mafia. Right at the platform a guy walked up to us and asked if we wanted a ride. The price he named was of course to high and we knew it, so we declined and walked out of the train station. Out there, all three taxi drivers refused to drive us and told us to take a ride with the other nice gentlemen. After a bit of discussion we decided to walk, even though we knew we could go the whole way to the Hotel (about 7km) - but after only a short walk we managed to take another taxi.
The nice staff at Tuan Ngoc Hotel greeted us even though we got in that early, and even gave us a room to take a nap in. Which we absolutely would have, but didn’t have to, pay for. After breakfast and settling into our new room, we wanted to take a bike ride to the Bich Dong Pagoda.
When we got on our bikes and started going down the road towards Bich Dong Pagoda, we already saw the weather changing. But we didn’t really expect it to happen quite as fast. We had only biked the first kilometer, when we saw a thunderstorm behind the limestone mountains. Then the first rain showers appeared further away, coming in our direction fast. Tim tried to take a few more pictures of the approaching storm, and then it was already upon us. We managed to pack our cameras into the drybags we kept in our bagpacks for that purpose – and then we got soaked. Really soaked. We rode our bikes back home and waited for a few moments in front of the hotel, to stop dripping. Then we went in and hung up our clothes and took a shower.
It rained for a bit more than an hour. After it stopped we grabbed stuff, got on our bikes and went out for a second try. This time we made it. The whole area around the pagoda is really, really beautiful. You enter the grounds by walking across a stone bridge over a pond full of lotus, then walk through a big archway. It feels like walking right into a Indiana Jones Movie.
The main pagoda was a lot like all the other pagodas we've visited in the last few days. But there is more to see than just the main building. Crossing through a grotto you can walk up the mountain behind the pagoda and get a great view of the surrounding area. There another path that we had read was supposed lead to a "hidden valley" on the other side of the pagoda, but that one was unfortunately closed off with a fence.
After the pagoda we rode our bikes around Tam Coc to get a feeling for the area. The region around Ninh Binh and Tam Coc ist sometimes called "the dry Halong Bay" or "Halong Bay" on land, because the limestone mountains are fairly similar to the ones in the Halong Bay. Between them though, there is no ocean but instead rice fields and rivers. It's really beautiful and we felt that this region resembled what we expected to be the "typical vietnamese countryside".
The many small rivers are what really makes everything so special. Most of them are full of lotus leaves, it's really pretty. And then everything is just so green, and fresh and full of live. Many people skip the Ninh Binh Region on their way through Vietnam because it is not so full of sights, but we think it is definitely worth a visit.