Ninh Binh! Ninh Binh! Wake up! Wake up!
I cracked open my eyes, Vietnamese men screaming at me, I had obviously gotten on the wrong bus, because I was supposed to arrive in the day and it was pitch black outside. The taxi drivers swarmed on me the second I hopped off the bus.
I was no were near my hostel and was forced to take a taxi. I don't think I had ever seen a meter go up so fast in my life. Something shifty was going on. I had no idea if my hostel was open, but when I arrived at Quoc Khan Bamboo homestay I was greeted at 4 am by Han, the owner, a lovely gentleman. He made me some pho, got me a drink and checked me into the most comfy bed of my stay, heaven after hell.
Ninh Binh is the river town, with small limestone islands all over shooting high up into the skyline. It is the capital of Ninh Binh Province in North Vietnam, famous for the nearby scenery around the village of Tam Coc. It is also the home of where they filmed the new King Kong Movie, I actually went to skull island. Don't stay in town, there is not much to do, so get yourself out to Tam Coc.
This two hour rowboat trip runs along the Sao Khe River through limestone caves. It's a slow relaxing trip, I advise taking a few friends and a few cold beers while taking in the sights. The crystal clear waters make you want to go for a swim but don't try it, your row boat lady will not be happy.
As you cruise around keep an eye out for monkeys and little blue birds, they will pop up when you least expect it. When you stop at the last destination take in the old villages and tee pee town.
Trang An is cool, but don't expect to be dazzled. It is a slow gentle cruise down the river. The sights are beautiful but two hours or the optional two and a half hours is a little long. I was thankful I had good company or it would have dragged on a little.
I told Han to have me a motorbike ready by 4.30am because I was going out to catch the sunrise over Hung Mua. I headed out into the darkness, my scooter had seen better days, the suspension was shot, the head light extremely dim and when I looked at my fuel gauge, I noticed I was already in the red. I had no idea how far away it was, or how far I would go with such low fuel. No petrol stations were open to fill up, all I could do now was hope.
Driving through small pitch black streets, my google maps was in meltdown insisting I was already there. I kept driving around looking for the right direction when I finally found the entrance. It was closed, but a gentleman popped out of nowhere took my 100k dong and let me in. I threw on my backpack and headed for the top.
The 500 hundred steps faded into the background, and when I arrived the view was more vast than I had imagined. Stretching out as far as the eye could see. The limestone mountain tops were something to behold.
Sitting up there, alone with no one else around was just what I needed to start my day. I was the only person in the world witnessing this. All the exhaustion and doubt washed away when that sun came up over the hill. This was easily my favourite place to visit in Ninh Binh.
After taking it all in I managed to make it back to my hostel. My bike was stuttering and ready to turn off, thankfully I just made it.
Ninh Binh is well worth the stop. Go and stay in Tam Coc, Quoc, you wont regret it.