Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ninh Binh #2...March 25, 2009

10:00 Tues night in the Hanoi train station. We're scheduled for an 11:00pm all nighter to Hue. Joe said we'll have a sleeper, but with him, John, and me, the fourth berth is open to whomever gets it.

Riding out of Ninh Binh this morning we rode out to an ancient Buddhist/Confucian temple from the 13th or 14th century. Hieu said it was one of the largest and oldest in the area, and therefore a major attraction for daytrippers from Hanoi, local and foreign. The day was grey and misty, which was a welcome reprieve from the heat of the last few days. Continuing after the temple, we took a small metal boat, just big enough for the woman paddling, the woman poling, and two passengers, down a canal system created when they built a dike to prevent flooding. The canal was just wide enough for a couple of boats, and shallow. The canal led to a cave in the bottom of a limstone karst. They paddled through it, with us needing to duck our heads to avoid the stalactites, and out the other side to a quiet spot surrounded by karst. We sat in the silence for a minute before they started the return trip through the cave. The land here is very wet and green, with very few houses, but all the land seemed to be being worked. A young woman was taking our pictures on the way out, and when we got back her boyfriend tried to sell us the very bad photos. We said no thank you, and they seemed really displeased.

After the boat ride I had a flat tire and found a local guy with a bike shop in his front yard who patched it in short order. While he was working, we were surrounded by 8-9 year old boys who showed us their whistling skills. I showed them my eyelids inside out, and one of them showed me that he could do it, too. We headed back through Ninh Binh, on a heavily populated dirt road, no cars but dozens of bicycles with mostly jr high students in their blue and white uniforms, either going home after a morning session, or going to school for an afternoon, crowding the road. They were all yelling hello, giving high fives, and giggling. This road was the old main road from the temple mentioned above and the ancient Le dynasty capital, Hoa Lu. We were going to visit the old capital complex, but Joe said it would be dirty and crowded (we were already surrounded by hawkers) and suggested we skip it. We thought we had seen enough temples, so easily agreed. The air conditioned, two hour ride to Hanoi sounded pretty good.

We arrived in Hanoi at about 4:00pm and did not need to meet Joe for dinner until 7:00, so we had time to shower and try a massage place that the Dutch couple on the junk had told us about. We opted for a two hour massage for $23 US. This felt great after five days on the road.

The train left right on time and the sleep came easily. At 7:00 this morning they rolled through with carts of coffee and rice soup, which had some chicken and herbs in it and tasted good and healthy. We stopped briefly at a little town just on the northern edge of the DMZ. The view from the train is similar to that from the bike on remote roads, lush, green fields, farm animals, and people working hard. We will be in Hue in 30 minutes

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