On the morning of our departure to Ninh Binh I woke up feeling ill. The dreaded travelling tummy problems had finally got me and to put it bluntly… I didn’t think I could make the 2 hour journey to the our next stop gracefully.
Ninh Binh has rapidly become a top tourist attraction, offering the unparalleled beauty of the Vietnamese countryside whilst being a practical distance from Hanoi. Being the ‘safe’ traveller, this was the most adventurous part of our trip, staying in a homestay accommodation run by a local family, basically in the middle of nowhere. With my newly developed illness, I was not looking forward to it and seriously considered cancelling. However it appeared that fate wanted us to go and so we found ourselves heading to the train station for our afternoon train.
The guys on the front desk at our hotel could see I was unwell and kindly sent a member of staff with us in a taxi to the train station. We were amazed and it took a lot of stress away from the situation. He took us straight to the platform and even put us on our carriage, only leaving when we were sitting in our seats.
I had noticed reasonable toilets on the train so I was instantly more relaxed (and relieved). The train ride was easy and by mid afternoon we had arrived at Ninh Binh station and was picked up by our taxi driver who had been prearranged.
It was a ten minute drive to Tam Coc where the scenery just seemed to unfold out in every direction. Our homestay was called ‘Tam Coc Sunshine Homestay’ and it was located behind some rice paddy fields amongst the mountains. It was the best of both worlds, it felt remote and peaceful but was a mere ten minute walk to Tam Coc centre where there were numerous restaurants and ‘minimarts’.
We were greeted by the host and shown to our room which was effectively a bamboo cabin built off the main house. It was very comfortable with two single beds and a modern bathroom with good air conditioning. She asked us if we wanted dinner that night, so she could go and buy the food from the market. We said yes the first night and what a feast… there was so much food! We were served five dishes of traditional Vietnamese food all served with steamed rice and we just couldn’t eat it all. For only 100,000dong each (around $4), it was a steal!
During our stay we loved exploring the area of Tam Coc, most of which we did by bicycle. There is so much to see and do and if the rain hadn’t’ been so much of hindrance (and the threat of my illness), we would have been able to see more. That is probably my only regret of the whole trip. The views wherever we went were just beautiful and it was peaceful minus the cockerel from the neighbouring farm who started to sing from 4am each morning.
It was even nice just sitting outside our room watching the people working in the rice paddies. There is something for everyone and if you are into boat rides, they have some pretty scenic ones to experience.
Our homestay was run by the whole family and we met pretty much all of them during our stay. The older children had excellent English and were very involved in the day to day running of the family business now they were off school. Our host’s husband was always floating around and although he was very pleasant and welcoming, he was nervous when speaking English and so our conversations with him were very short. They had a pet dog (I should probably say puppy really) called June who one day decided to follow us to town. There is a busy road going through the centre and we were worried it wouldn’t be safe for her so we took her back before heading out again. She had taken quite a liking to Rob!
Our stay in Tam Coc was short but beautiful. The place is stunning and although there were tourists everywhere, it still felt remote and peaceful. There is evidence that the local people are invested in developing the tourism there and it would be interesting to see what how much it will change over the next few years… I hope not too much!
This part of our trip was the cheapest of the entire holiday. It cost a total of $75 for two nights in our homestay, our transfer from the train station, two bike rentals for a day, a (5 course) dinner and two delicious breakfasts with the most incredible mango jam I have ever tasted! It was ridiculously cheap for what we got and it was above and beyond what we had imagined. I am glad that we risked it and can say with absolute certainty that the risk paid off. If you ever find yourself in Hanoi then I would highly recommend taking the plunge and making a side trip to Ninh Binh before it really takes off as a tourist hotspot. It is super easy and I’m certainly glad we did.
With that, this sadly brings us to the end of our ‘Great Asian Adventure’. After our two night stay, it was back to Hanoi for one night before our flight home early the next morning. It was an uneventful evening but it was nice to pack everything away without having to worry about what should go where.
I was nervous about this trip and honestly, when we landed in Bangkok on that very first morning I thought I couldn’t do it. I thought I had pushed myself too far and it was all too much. Too many new and unknown places, different accommodations to our usual bookings and such varied experiences all in one go! However, somewhere along the way I began to relax and appreciate what we were doing and what a huge opportunity this was for us. I think it was in Cambodia when I truly realised how lucky I was to be able to go on a trip like this. Talking to Dine and how he valued his ability to speak English to guarantee him a good job. How he dreamed of travelling and how in his eyes when he asked us about our holiday, there appeared to be admiration. It was then I realised I was being selfish, focusing only on the negative and not on the positive. I realised I had been waiting for something profound to happen to me, for my ‘Eat, Love, Pray’ moment when in actual fact you have to make it happen yourself by going out and meeting new people not hiding in your room afraid of the unknown. I became more adventurous and less nervous around people and I truly started to enjoy every minute of it. I have come home with memories that will not only last a lifetime but I hope have impacted greatly on my attitude to what used to be the mundane and everyday. I am so thankful that Rob said ‘Yes’ when I told him my crazy idea and I am thrilled that we got to experience it together.
For anyone wanting to explore Asia but unsure because its your first time doing something this big or you’re a nervous traveller like me… I say do it! I did and it has been one of the best things I have ever done!
Until next time…