A leisurely morning in Hoi An – noodles from a cart on the sidewalk, coffee brought over to us from a different cart across the street. Then I tagged along with E & J as they visited their tailors to have some final fittings and adjustments made on their new clothes.
A stop in the market for some fruit for our train ride, then a lunch of white rose dumplings, and banh mi (A tried one from the Anthony Bourdain recommended place and said it wasn’t anything special, so I tried one from another place – also just okay). Afternoon spa/massages for everyone, then we hailed an Uber and headed to the Da Nang train station.
Given that Da Nang is the 3rd largest city in Vietnam, I had expected that the station itself would be enclosed, air conditioned, and have some restaurants. That turned out not to be the case, but it was pleasant outside with a nice breeze, so we settled in at a sidewalk cafe just outside the station and waited, there. At least, until the numerous rat sightings prompted us to head back inside.
The train was fun – we had a 4-bunk cabin to ourselves, with a locking door, and plenty of room to store our bags (including a cubby above the hallway, for the upper bunk sleepers). We shared a bottle of wine, played a game of spades, and fell asleep to the steady rocking of the train.
In the morning, we had a breakfast of fruit we’d brought with us, along with a steamed bun and coffee we bought on board. The Ninh Binh station was quite sleepy, and we let ourselves be lured into the restaurant across the street, where we had some mediocre and overpriced food. Then, a taxi to our bamboo guesthouse (no Uber in Ninh Binh).
We walked from there, pausing to take photos of the karsts, and wound up timing it perfectly – our sunny and warm day turned into driving rain RIGHT as we got to the shelter of tourist shops/restaurants across the street from Trang An. Having learned our lesson at the train station, we walked past the first few restaurants and went all the way to the end, where the women were extremely excited to have us. In fact, they were so eager for business that they’d interrupt anything they were doing to wave people down if they saw anyone walking their direction. Although it wasn’t on their menu, we showed them a picture of some fried spring rolls from earlier in our trip, and they happily whipped some up for us from scratch, with a little of this and a little of that. They were great! The soups and beer hit the spot, as well.
By the time we were done eating, the rain had stopped and we had some new friends. We headed across the street to Trang An and got tickets for the boat tour (route 1, with 9 caves). A few minutes into the tour, it started raining again. Heavily. The caves provided a steamy warm respite from the cool rain. Our ponchos kept us semi-dry, but our seats and shoes got very wet. A couple of times, we paused so our boat captain could bail out rainwater. It was still beautiful, but we had to put away our cameras to keep them dry, so we didn’t get many pictures.
I think the last time I was in Ninh Binh, we must have gone to the other location (Tam Coc). The women rowing in Trang An used their arms (not their feet) to row, and there weren’t any people working in rice paddies along the way. It was still a great trip, and the caves were fun to negotiate by boat. Our captain would shout out, “head low!” (Not, “hello!” as we originally thought) when we needed to duck to avoid stalagtites.
After the boat ride, we were wet and chilled (the temperature had dropped into the 60s), so rather than walk back, we decided to get a taxi. After trying for several minutes to wave one down, we finally had someone call one for us. Back to the hotel along the bouncy gravel road, warm showers, a hot meal (and hot chocolate with baileys), another game of spades, and off to bed. The bamboo huts were fun – the walls & doors were just bamboo lashed together vertically. They let air (and noise, and little critters) flow through, but the beds had mosquito netting and soft mattresses, so we slept well.