My first adventure was to Ninh Binh and I decided to experience the train. I was so scared about missing the train that I couldn’t sleep! I left the hostel at the hideous hour of 5.30am to catch the train. I love the experience of Vietnamese Trains as they are polar opposite to Western Train Systems! There is no belief in Health and Safety here, it all comes down to Darwinism. You just have to walk over the tracks to your platform. If you are stupid enough to mis-time it then thats your problem!
I successfully caught the train where I sat in First Class (the seat had a cushion.) I despaired at the weather as I am now a Southern Fairy with little tolerance of the cold. On arrival at Ninh Binh the realisation hit me that I had told the guesthouse the wrong time of arrival and I didn’t have their phone number, fail! I managed to overcome this problem by stealing someones internet and finally arrived at the guesthouse. I decided a xe-om for the day was the best way to proceed in order to see all the sights.
I chose to visit Hoa Lu (the old capital), Tam Coc (river through caves and past limestone rocks), Hang Mua (cave and observation point) and Phat Dien (catholic church with vietnamese architecture.) Apart from freezing to death, it was an enjoyable day. It saddened me that Tam Coc has become over ridden with tourists and you now get severely harrassed and threatened.
The second day I hired a xe-om to travel 45km to Cuc Phuong, one of the main National Parks in Vietnam. My xe-om driver was fascinating. He is a trainee doctor and he has taken a year out of his degree to earn money. He loves to travel and feels that every place is the same – they all have good and bad people.
I decided to cycle round the park, thinking it would be a relaxing bike ride – big mistake! It was a 1 hour uphill bike ride and this was made worse by the fact my handle bars were too low! I was baffled why i was struggling so much and i dreaded the cycle ride back to the entrance. I stopped to visit a cave before cycling back. My legs were further battered by a steep climb to the cave. I then mentally prepared myself for the difficult ride ahead. Then, eureka, it finally dawned on me if I had cycled uphill on the way up, it would be downhill back!! Yay! I then visited the turtle and primate rescue centre, it was heartwarming and a big step for Vietnam. They are finally starting to realise the importance of wildlife.