In addition to Halong Bay, my expectations were also high for Ninh Binh. The landscape resembles a movie set and is worthwhile. I had no idea, but my boat guide, from the few words he knew in English, referred to “many Americans” and “King Kong”. Therefore, the conclusion is certain, this location was the setting for the movie King Kong.
No wonder this paradise was chosen as it is an idyllic location. The mountains thousands of years old, all the vegetation around, and the feeling that there are not many humans around make this place a trip to past ages when large animals dominated the earth. The vegetation in the mountains is dense. It looks untouched.
I went from Cat Ba island to Ninh Binh and left at the last bus station, in Tam Coc. I would recommend you to do the same. Tam Coc is a cute little place in such a quiet village that you will feel very welcome. The village center has no more than 10 restaurants and there is basically nothing going on. It is a place for pure relaxation. Not even many motorbikes are seen here! People greet you with a smile as there aren’t many tourists around.
From here it is easy to catch a boat as the pier is just nearby. It is 2 minutes away on foot and most of the accommodations are in the surrounding area. Boating the river through the glistening green rice fields surrounded by limestone cliffs that make my neck ache to admire them to the top, is a must-do while visiting Ninh Binh or Tam Coc.
I and my friend did this boat trip very early, in fact, we were the first to arrive at the ticket office even before it opens. There was only a couple to do this trip, which was great. We had all the silence of the lush landscape for us. Only the sound of birds that sound like monkeys accompanied us. And the sound of the old wooden boat that carries us. With us goes an old gentleman who paddles with his feet. He paddles two hours of travel this way. It’s inspiring to see and excruciating to think about what it would be like for me to spend two hours in that position. His toothless smile is warm and comforting. The people here are very kind.
We crossed two caves along the way which left us without any vision for long seconds. Remarkably, he knows where to row, otherwise, we would stab our face at the stalactites protruding from the cave roofs. As light allows us, we can see how the stones glow in the darkness. It is a beautiful route. We could spend a lot more time on that boat enjoying the sounds of nature and its grandeur. This place is absolutely stunning! And I can state that I preferred my trip to Ninh Binh rather than Halong Bay. I think it’s because the locals warm welcome here feels better.
The old man paddles 1 hour each way. The first hour, and because we did this trip very early (we started at 7 am) was super quiet. On the way back we could see many more boats disturbing the view of the beautiful landscape. So, good thing we got up with the chickens. Some of these boats that are now seen carry ladies that sell from fruits to drinks. As one stops near our boat, she tries to sell stuff and says it is for our boat paddler. We didn’t want to buy anything for ourselves so we ended up buying a pack of things for our kind guide. That included a beer… His ravishing smile was delightful. He was saying some English words along the journey. Even pointed us where to look, and at some point took us a picture.
He ended up the boat trip asking us for a tip, and we gave him.
When the Ninh Binh boat tour finished we had a second breakfast and decided to explore around by bicycle the rest of the day.