As well as our day trips from Hanoi series we want to show you how easy it is to take weekend trips from Hanoi and have some real Vietnam adventures even if you only have a few days.
This past weekend, or rather the Sunday-Tuesday that constitutes Jade’s work week break, we took the bike down to Ninh Binh province, a relatively simple 2.5hr ride from Hanoi.
One very important point to note, if you are riding from Hanoi is that Google maps WILL take you the wrong way. The easiest route to Ninh Binh is along the aptly named DCT Hanoi-Ninh Binh road which is unfortunately a car-only, toll road. Google maps doesn’t seem to comprehend motorbike travel in Vietnam, so will not show you any other route. The QL1A, however, runs almost parallel and is the best, slow and dusty alternative.
It’s a pretty boring ride, unlike the one to Ba Vi, until you get within 30 minutes of Ninh Binh and suddenly you are surrounded by hills rising up in all directions. Try to take a right before you hit Ninh Binh town if you want a breathtaking ride right through it all.
We had booked the Ninh Binh Valley Homestay on a whim when our first choice (Nguyen Shack, a slightly cheaper option) was sold out. It turned out to be a supreme stroke of booking.com luck as I cannot imagine a better location (and we stopped by Nguyen Shack out of interest!).
The best location in Ninh Binh, of course, means it’s impossible to reach and google maps failed us once again, sending us on a hair-raising ride along meter wide paths between muddy rice paddies. There is an easier route, although still not for the faint hearted! It is, however, incredibly picturesque either way.
The Homestay sits alongside a small lake, surrounded by limestone karsts that reflect perfectly in its waters. The only sounds are those of the frogs, birds and mountain goats that call this place home and hammocks swing lazily outside each bamboo bungalow.
We stayed in the shared bathroom option for $21 per night and it was perfect. They even stock up your fridge everyday with beers at non-inflated mini-bar prices! Do not miss out on their Pork La Lot and Tofu with Lemongrass. Oh, and if they offer you mountain tree wine, you of course cannot decline!
There was little else we could bring ourselves to do for most of our trip, but sit by the lake and soak it all in.
Just like in Ba Vi, it felt so good to get back to nature again in Ninh Binh. Rather than hate Hanoi for its lack of green space and unforgiving misty days, we have decided to appreciate how it has made us all the more grateful for weekend trips and fresh air!
It turns out that there is so much to do in Ninh Binh that we would have been exhausted to fit it all into a 48 hour trip so we settled with just the one thing, promising ourselves we’d be back.
We weren’t sure what to expect from a place nicknamed ‘the dancing caves’ but we were more than intrigued by the silhouette of a dragon we could see way up on the mountain peak. You can’t really go wrong with dragons.
The first surprise was stumbling into the Pearl Spring cave, completely alone, and being able to walk barefoot along a platform surrounded and covered in water, through a beautifully lit cave system. It was absolutely amazing and made us even more excited to check out more of Vietnam’s impressive caves.
We then stumbled upon a sign for the ‘Tam Coc view’ and traipsed along an almost forgotten path, under cliffs and alongside rice paddies, to come out on the other side of the Ngô Đồng river where we could watch all the boats paddle to and from the caves. We didn’t make it onto the river ourselves but loved seeing the famous valley from a different vantage point.
Last but not least, as the sun climbed higher in the sky behind a smattering of clouds, we made our way up to the dragon, and an unbeatable view.
While April is the wrong time for those famous harvest yellow hues, the river spilled out into the green rice fields and reflected the grey sky and endless mountains. We sat up there for a long time, catching our breath, mopping the sweat from our brows and feasting our eyes on the beauty.
Cycling among the farms, the fields and the smiling locals took us back to our little slice of heaven in the valley and we toasted plenty of beers to a perfect day.
Ninh Binh was an unforgettable place for the first of hopefully many weekend trips from Hanoi and we will most certainly be back to experience more of what Ninh Binh has to offer.
What weekend trips from Hanoi, or elsewhere, have you taken lately? Did it involved any dragons? Catch up with us in the comments below.