A Surprise Holiday in Ninh Binh!

In November, I had a surprise long weekend, when all of my Friday classes were cancelled (with notice!!). This was a rare opportunity for a long weekend, so we grabbed it, rented a big motorbike, and head for beautiful Ninh Binh.

Halong Bay to Ninh Binh Travel Map – Hanoi Explore Travel

Our drive there was so beautiful and so much fun. We opted to take a longer route there, because it took us along part of the Ho Chi Minh trail, which has many breathtaking sections.

The karst mountain side, fields and trees allowed for spectacular views.

We stopped now and then to stretch, get some water, or to caffeinate, and each time we stopped, we were greeted by locals (often children), who were excited to see friendly foreigners.

We stayed at a gorgeous little guesthouse in Ninh Binh. It was family run, and everyone was so helpful and friendly. The guests were all really nice too. We ended up chatting with them both evenings we were there, which is why I never posted about the trip until now.

We stayed at Viet Anh Homestay. They have the CUTEST little puppy named Moon and they adore him. He went missing our last night there and they were out searching for him for hours. Just as we got back to Hanoi, I got a message from the owner saying that she knew how much I loved him and so she wanted to tell me that he had been found. He spent the night in one of the guests’ rooms.

We only really had 1 day in Ninh Binh, because the drive took up a lot of our time (but was very worth it!). We decided to focus on the natural side of the area, and avoided the bigger tourist activities (you can take little trips down the river on boats… With lots of other tourists… So we skipped that). Here’s what we did do.

Hang Mua Peak

Mua Peak (also called Mua Cave) is located about 10km South West of Ninh Binh city. We took our motorbike out there, which is definitely the best and cheapest way to travel.

The area has been important throughout history. Historically, the peak was used to spot Chinese invading armies, as a royal holiday location, and also as a triage hospital to help wounded soldiers during wars against the Americans & the French. The area has been in use for nearly 1000 years.

Before going up the peak, there are some cafes and shops to visit. There’s also a public bathroom. There’s supposed to be a fee but no one was there collecting it.

If we had read a bit more about the place beforehand, we could have saved a few thousand dong and parked for free near the entrance. Instead, we were flagged down by a local for paid parking a little ways out. We did see some cute goats as a result though, so as far I’m concerned, it was money well-spent.

The second piece of advice we should have followed was to go early in the morning. It was brutally hot and humid that day (yes… it’s still quite hot in Vietnam in November) and climbing those 500 steps up to the peak was no joke. We saw several people turn around and give up. By the time we made it to the little shop near the top that sells ice cream, my legs were pretty wobbly and I was starting to get dizzy. I sat down for a bit, using the handy fold up fan I bring with me everywhere (I have like 10 of them haha!) and enjoyed a Haagen-Dazs. Dave continued to climb and then came back down to tell me that the peak wasn’t too far off. I’m glad I mustered up the energy to finish the climb!

We hiked back down and then head back to our hotel to enjoy the swimming pool, until the sun was a little lower and we could go out again.

The hotel had a pristine pool and they made a good lunch, so we were happy to chill here for a while.

Thung Nham Bird Park

Once we cooled down, we hopped back on the motorbike, looking for some of the cool pagodas that we knew were nearby. We saw some more of Ninh Binh’s natural beauty as we cruised around.

Thung Nham Bird Park

Finally, we head for a tourist site that isn’t as popular or well known. We read online that it is a nature lover’s paradise, and well… that’s us! We made our way to Thung Nham Bird Park.

When you walk in, this is what you see.

Tickets seemed a bit pricey (140,000 dong or $8 Canadian), but we figured that seeing as how it was a sanctuary for birds, the money is probably put to good use. We were correct. The price also included 2 boat rides which ended up being really cool, so it was really good value for money.

The whole park is beautifully maintained, with walking paths everywhere and gorgeous trees. We were there right before sunset so it was pretty empty, and it made for some really nice photos.

The final stop at the bird park was a boat ride to an area where hundreds of birds nest. We honestly went into this park without knowing much about it, so we were really surprised at the number of birds flying overhead as the sun set.

Our guide didn’t speak any English but she did speak some French! We were rowing along and suddenly she said ‘beaucoup, beaucoup oiseaux!’. That threw me off!

She was right… There were a LOT of birds! 45 different species of birds call this sanctuary home. I couldn’t get many pictures because the sun had almost completely set by the time we made it to the nests, but I did find some photos online so that you can see the kind of birds we saw.

My own pictures didn’t turn out as well:

Ninh Binh is definitely somewhere I’d like to visit again. We can hopefully make our way back there some day to do a river tour and see more of the beauty this area has to offer!

Maybe I will even be able to find this little boy again, and bring him a gift! We got them some potato chips but I felt so bad that I didn’t have anything he could keep.

My next post will be about our Christmas trip to Thailand! Stay tuned!

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