Monday, April 29, 2019

Vietnam Diary - Mua Caves in Ninh Binh

Happy Monday, everyone! Did you all have a relaxing weekend? Mine was quite busy but today I finally have time to post again here on my blog. Even though it may not seem like too much work to my readers but preparing blog posts, especially travel posts, takes quite a long time. Between 200 to 400 photos I take every day I'm on vacation I have to choose 15 to 25 good ones and edit them. Sometimes I need up to a full day just for selecting photos. Once these are edited and uploaded I start writing a text with some travel tips which may take another hour or two. So I need more or less an entire day for one post, can you believe it? 

How to get from Da Nang to Ninh Binh

Today's post is about the beautiful province of Ninh Binh that amazed us with stunning nature, tranquility and endless space. We reached the town of Ninh Binh early in the morning after spending the night on a train that left Da Nang around 7 pm the evening before. Let me tell you one thing, you don't really appreciate a comfy bed in a quiet bedroom until you've spent a night on the train in Vietnam. Even though we had a private four-bed cabin for ourselves (lucky us!) I felt like sleeping in the middle of a steel factory thanks to all the noise and movement. The train's bathroom was also the worst I had seen in Vietnam but the cabin and beds were thankfully very clean. Furthermore, it was a quite inexpensive option to travel such a long distance. We paid about 30 Euros per person. Eventually I surprisingly slept a few hours despite the train's noise and movement. After a 14-hour ride we finally reached our destination Ninh Binh.

Visiting the Mua Caves in Ninh Binh

After the hotel check-in and some yummy pancakes for breakfast we rented a scooter from our hotel and headed to one of Ninh Binh's most popular (and most instagrammed) sights, the Mua Caves. At first we got a bit lost and ended up in the middle of some rice fields which was also a beautiful experience I have to say. The area of Ninh Binh is free from all the distractions of a big city. There are no neon lights, traffic noise and hectic crowds. Even though the town of Ninh Binh is quite gray the surroundings are truly stunning! Large rice fields, impressive mountains and free animals including goats and water buffalos wherever you look. 

Eventually, with the help of some locals, we found the way to the Mua Caves. Once there, we parked our scooter for less than one Euro, paid the 100.000 Dong entrance fee and started exploring. The Mua Caves are not actually caves but rather a complex of two pagodas, a dragon statue, a simple altar and an impressive staircase that reminds of the Great Wall of China. 

Be warned, it's not an easy hike up to the site with an outside temperature of 34 degrees. We got there around 11 am, so it was still pleasant despite the sunshine. After climbing about 500 partly knee-high and narrow steps we enjoyed a fantastic panoramic view over the so called 'dry or inland Halong Bay', its rice fields and surrounding mountains. The view is even so beautiful that it attracts many bridal couples who come to take spectacular wedding pictures. In general, we had to wait at several viewpoints to take photos. Especially Chinese visitors like to take thousands of pics which can cause a waiting line. We made our way from one pagoda to the dragon statue and altar that sit on top of a huge mountain. It was quite tricky to walk around the dragon since there were no steps, only spiky rocks and no safety precautions. However, if you have a bit of hiking experience as we do, it's totally doable. Just watch your step and always hold on to a rock, a friend or even the dragon.

Visiting the Mua Caves was an indescribably beautiful experience I would recommend to any traveler! Get here early in the morning or right before sunset and allow yourself a few hours to enjoy this stunning complex. Just one side note, I wouldn't recommend this challenging hike to people with a fear of heights or health problems.

Afternoon in Ninh Binh

After an adventurous morning at the Mua Caves we headed to the area of Tam Coc to have a late lunch and relax a bit. We enjoyed some tasty spring rolls and fried veggies at a local restaurant before driving around and exploring the area. Ninh Binh is such a perfect place to just hop on a scooter or bike and enjoy a ride through the scenic and quiet rice fields and hills. We ended our day watching the sunset over the lush fields while soaking in the beauty, peace and tranquility of Mother Nature.

Back home in Spain, my boyfriend and I have recently watched the biographical war drama Heaven & Earth by Oliver Stone. A shocking yet moving and beautiful movie about a Vietnamese woman who grew up in her home country during the Vietnam War and later moved to the USA with her American husband. The movie reminded me so much of our days in Ninh Binh since the landscapes depicted in the movie were so similar to the ones we had visited. Watching the movie instantly took me back to our days of peace and tranquility in Ninh Binh, which is undoubtedly a hidden gem in Northern Vietnam and will always have a special place in my heart!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Vietnam Diary - What to do in Hoi An

Hello there, travelers and adventurers! I hope you're enjoying my Vietnam posts so far. Every time I write travel posts I'm trying to explain our vacation days as best as I can throwing in some tips here and there. If you need any more advice on a specific topic or place let me know in the comments below or even send me a message on Instagram if you like :-)

What to do in Hoi An

Except for exploring Hoi An's exceptionally beautiful Ancient Town which you could read about in my last post, there are a lot more things to do in and around the city. One great option is spending the day at one of Hoi An's numerous beaches.

On our second day in Hoi An we decided to rent bikes from our villa to explore the city's surroundings. After a short morning stop in Hoi An's Ancient Town we paddled to An Bang Beach crossing rivers and passing rice fields, what a beautiful ride! I loved getting out of the city and admiring the surrounding green fields. Watching the local life is one of my favorite things to do when traveling. So seeing the Vietnamese people work on the rice fields made me very happy. 

It was an easy, only 20-minute bike ride from the ancient town to the beach. Once we got there we were asked to pay for bike parking but you can really leave your bikes anywhere on the street without paying. The beach was pretty crowded that day and since there were high waves we couldn't go swimming. Thus, we decided to get a sun bed in the shade for the day. A great choice, this turned out to be our most relaxed day in Vietnam, haha. We did nothing but sleep, read and watch the wild sea. For lunch we went up to the Dolphin Kitchen & Bar beach restaurant to enjoy our first European meal after spending more than ten days in Vietnam. I had tuna with mango sauce and Miguel had duck, both served with fries. It was delicious and the beach views from the restaurant were awesome! We decided to leave An Bang Beach in the afternoon to head back to the center and do some sunset shopping at the market before going home and enjoying a good night's sleep.

Long Tuyen Tu Temple

The next day we left for Da Nang to take a night train from there to our next stop Ninh Binh. When we headed to the local bus which would take us from Hoi An back to Da Nang we randomly passed by the stunning Long Tuyen Tu Temple. This temple doesn't seem to appear in any tourist guide or on any travel blog because there was not a single person. It was beautiful! We had the entire temple complex for ourselves and walked around a bit soaking up the Buddhist spirit and admiring the beautifully painted buildings, unique sculptures and plants. Undiscovered places like this little oasis of peace and tranquility make any trip extra special!

Friday, April 19, 2019

Vietnam Diary - Hoi An Ancient Town

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you're enjoying the Easter holidays with your family and friends. Today I have a new post for you about one of my favorite places in Vietnam, the charming town of Hoi An.

We left Phu Quoc Island early in the morning via plane. For more comfort we booked a flight with Vietnam Airlines from Phu Quoc back to Ho Chi Minh and another one from Ho Chi Minh to Da Nang. By train or bus this route would have taken us several days and probably lots of stress. We spent only one night in Da Nang because it was our stopover on our way to Hoi An. Da Nang is very modern but quite industrial, there's lots of construction going on, and other than a beach and a few cool cafés there's not much more to see in the city. We had a great hotel there but didn't want to spend too much time in Da Nang so we left for Hoi An the next day with a local bus which took us only 30 minutes.

Hoi An Ancient Town

I have to say that of all Vietnamese cities and towns we visited Hoi An was by far my favorite! Side note, it was also one of the cleanest places we had visited. The city boasts a beautiful and charming, well preserved and pedestrianized ancient quarter where you can admire colorful historic buildings of Chinese, Japanese and European influences. There's an abundance of cozy cafés and restaurants, museums and temples, tailors, shops and market stalls. I'd recommend to simply stroll the old town, grab delicious street food, buy some unique souvenirs (I got coconut bowls and Vietnamese tea), take photos and soak up the spirit of Vietnam. Even though the ancient town gets super crowded with Chinese tourists in the afternoon (come early in the morning to avoid crowds), it is surely a stunning town that's especially magical at night when hundreds of lanterns illuminate the streets. Hoi An is just dreamy and the right place to go if you wanna get a feeling of the historical Vietnam. Have a look yourself!

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