Three friends were on a motorcycle journey from Hanoi to Saigon. They had just rented cheap motorcycles for USD$200.
Their next city from Hanoi was Ninh Binh. As the trio rode away from the city, they witnessed a beautiful change in landscape immediately. The Ninh Binh province was near the Red River Delta. An intricate river system connected the river deltas and they exit out into the South China Sea. It also boasts beautiful hilly regions where limestone karst peaks stood out from the low lying rice fields in an unworldly manner. These karst peaks pervade through the area, forming valleys that are partially submerged with steep, vertical cliffs. The formation of these hills created amazing limestone caves in the process. Additionally, Ninh Binh also has a substantial amount of coastline areas and beaches that are recognized as a world biosphere reserve by UNESCO. It is an experience in itself to take in the varied formations, emphasized by the changes in color from dark green tropical forests, stone grey limestone, turquoise waterways to the warm hue of the rice paddies in Ninh Binh.
The riders had to make several stops to rest and stretch from the long hours in the saddle. On one of these stops, they entered the driveway of what they thought was a shop house. It was a dirt track off to the side of the main road, with green plantations on either side of it. In the front porch, there were tiny plastic stools that were about as tall as a scooter’s tire, sitting down on it felt almost like a squat. No one there could speak English but the universal language of beer was understood. The three friends watched as the owners went about their daily lives while they sipped on their beer. The father sat in front of the television with his son and the wife going about the house chores. There was not a care in the world as three complete strangers sat on their front porch, savoring the chilled beer on tiny plastic stools. A different world of hospitality.
As they made their way towards their home stay in Ninh Binh, Marcus who was on the lead bike, found themselves directed towards a dirt trail far off the road. Google maps showed a clear road leading towards their home stay. But what they saw was vast plains of rice fields and limestone karst peaks in the horizon. Their dirt trail meandered behind those peaks, what laid ahead seemed mysterious. They ventured forth with a tinge of hesitation and found the home stay nestled just at the fringe of the limestone peaks. They were surprised at the finish and decor of the home stay. It was a great relief for them after a day of riding.
The city of Ninh Binh was a beautiful place to explore, non-existent traffic was a nice change from that of Hanoi. The weather was cool, which made for an enjoyable ride into town. As they rode along, the three friends saw how the impeccable landscape was the backdrop for a few couples, who were taking their wedding photos. Wandering into the tourist area, they spotted some all-over print t-shirts that had been seen everywhere since they landed in Hanoi. The team bought matching shirts just for laughs, it represented their light-hearted approach to this trip and life philosophy.
It was not long till CW’s bike ran into trouble again. They came to a stop alongside the road and discovered it was a flat tire. As they gathered around the motorcycle, several curious Vietnamese people surrounded them, wanting to help. They could not understand a word of English, but were genuine in their desire to help others in distress. The team gestured to the nearest pedestrian, pointing to the contorted rubber and gesturing an air pump’s motion. One old man pointed down the street and another in the other way. The trio acknowledged, and traveled gingerly down in search of a mechanic, which they eventually found along the way.
Lying Dragon Mountain
They spent the next day exploring Ninh Binh’s mountainous region. Slightly north of Tam Coc, the Lying Dragon Mountain stands tall. Ascending the 450 stone steps that lead up the contorted shape of a dragon’s back, one would be greeted with incredible views of Ninh Binh. It provided a panoramic view of the rice paddies contrasted with the limestone karst peaks with rivers flowing through the area.
They found a beautiful bar near their home stay. Being the only customers, they were beloved for their patronage. They drank to their heart’s content and wandered back in their drunken stupor that night. The three friends found themselves alone in the padi fields, with the silhouette of limestone peaks against the night sky. A single dirt track led back home. As CW laughed for the world to hear, the echoes reached nobody and only the stillness of the night replied. They felt at peace and surreal in that moment, without a care in the world, nor worries about the journey ahead.
As they left Ninh Binh, they were in high spirits. Their next stop was Vinh and they rode along the Ho Chi Minh trail. It was a long straight highway and their bikes could only average 60 km/h. There were trucks everywhere and they attempted to make good time by limiting each rest point at the 3 hour mark. It was a tough mental game, to keep concentration in the same position, to watch the unchanging landscape, all amidst the droning sound of wind and engine noise. During one of their pit stops, they lamented how this was the worst part of the trip, not knowing what laid ahead. They rode for 300 kilometers that day to Vinh.
Vinh is the biggest city in central Vietnam. It became an important industrial area under French rule. With the extensive damage from wars later on, much of the city was damaged and it was the resilience of the people that rebuilt it into the high-rise apartments today. The unique Soviet-style architecture that exists today was because of the influence of East German aid and ideas on town planning. The pastel colored houses and city-scape was unique to Vinh, and easily recognizable because of that.
The three friends deployed their drone to capture this moment, only to have it crash into their balcony before it landed on someone else’s roof top. The zinc roof looked precarious to climb on, so they employed the help of a young Vietnamese boy who was more than eager to take on the challenge. It was these amazing moments that cemented the impression of the Vietnamese people.
They had to change the engine oil on their leaky bikes before settling in for dinner. They saw first hand how the mechanics chose not to drain the oil conventionally through the drain bolt, but extract them out with a mechanical pump. It intrigued Karl who had never seen such a contraption in his life. At dinner, the challenge was deciphering the menu. They pointed to anything that was in their budget and eagerly awaited their meals. It turned out to be instant noodles as the base on all three of their plates. It was edible, but not what they had expected to end off their long journey to Vinh. They did their best to get enough rest for their journey to Phong Nha the next day.
Till next time!