We left much later than expected but a long day on the bike will do that to you plus we had very little expected kilometers left to traverse on our way to Ninh Binh, a city that sits perhaps 150 km south of Hanoi. Apparently James’ bag situation was looking more promising yet confusing with the latest up to date that the guy who stole it was willing to return it but at an undefined, yet to be determined cost. Veering off the HCM highway for the first time in awhile, we uncovered one of my now favorite panoramas. Just off the road into the wide and stretched countryside lay a continuously bumpy, rolling valley that was touched off with oddly, non-uniform craggily limestone and low hanging peaks in the distance. The rolling hills lumped in countless mounds were draped in a patchwork of evergreen and golden brown from forest and thoroughly worked farmland. This unexpected stretch of road rewarded our efforts from yesterday where we had once passed mindless, thoroughly expected and unrewarding countryside. The geography grew more mountainous in the distance on our left side as we continued on slowly amidst dragging rest stops. In one town we couldn’t stop the undying pursuit of fresh fruit. At their market I did the shopping and found a wasteland; shopkeepers were either missing from their stands or sleeping soundly in a half-conked out daze that I struggled to waken them from. In all I bought three pineapples, one small watermelon, and four mangos for 60,000d which is a shade under three dollars if you can fathom that. Taking our haul to a nearby restaurant, the couple who owned the place brought a large tray, a dish, and a sharp steady knife to cut up the fruit. Not bad for a lunch and a much needed break from the rice and noodle routine. We kept going and eventually reached highway A1 which we rode for a period of ten kilometers give or take. At that point after dealing with enough close calls by way of semi-trucks and mad crazy motorbike riders, we chose to veer off and take the somewhat longer route that led out towards the sea and hopefully for a more peaceful scenic drive than the one that shot up straight to Ninh Binh. We got lost several times thanks my maps.me that normally doesn’t provide GPS positioning which means that I usually have to guess and follow along based on common sense. The delays and frustrations through that and the at times craggily road were with it in the end as we approached the outskirts of Ninh Binh. The jungled overgrown karst limestone rocks were coming to to fruition and form as we drove in closer. Besides the famous one that resides at Tam Coc as the land version of Halong Bay, we treated with an appetizer of sorts in the form of these mysterious rocks that seemed to appear like an apparition out of thin air rising out of sheer will from their earth bound state. The sun was drifting and lowering towards sunset as it hovered over the city while we still stood in the rural county suburbs just outside. When the sun sits behind clouds it usually diminishes a sunset but not this time. Resting and waiting for the big finale as it anxiously sat behind its sole clouded curtain, it spread its light softly and elegantly over the land not robust and arrogant by its might. The fields were flat but thick with a deep golden yellow of waving vegetation touched off by the radiant yet subdued hues of the sun. Once in Ninh Binh we found dinner in the form of some rice porridge fit with strands of chicken and other fixings (same same as any other rice dish; I’m craving some variety as much as I love my pho when done right). After checking into a hostel that surprisingly had air-con in this balmy, necessary climate and settling in, we went in search of some beers. A Vietnamese trying to learn English joined us but struggled so mightily it would have ruined the atmosphere if it weren’t for me surprisingly pushing past tipsy to drunk after only three beers (maybe I didn’t drink enough water after all if that could somehow be possible). The conversation began with James’ increasing dilemma of how to handle this Vietnamese villager than had possession of his passport and belongings somewhere in no man’s land province. Tomorrow James will be leaving to Hanoi to hopefully sort out his situation and passport while I on the other hand will likely stay another night to fully immerse myself into the mountainous limestone countryside including Tam Coc.
Riding Vietnam Day 179: Slowly But Surely to Ninh Binh