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!

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