A few weeks ago I took a trip with some friends out into the country to Ninh Binh (pronounced Ning Bing), around 93 km south of Hanoi. We rented bikes and found ourselves meandering along tiny dirt paths, past squawking ducks and flower-filled ponds as towering karst formations guarded the way.
Tam Coc is famous for its huge karst rock formations that jut out of lush green rice paddies and we took 2-seater boats rowed by strong local women along the Ngo Dong River. The sun was sweltering hot even though we left early. Some people wisely brought umbrellas. I did not, but at least the sun screen held up. Our boats meandered along the river and eventually we came to some karst caves that the women navigated perfectly with only a small headlamp. Bats were everywhere, but I like the little fellows, so that wasn’t a problem.
Tam Doc is around 9 km outside the uninspiring town of Ninh Binh, and thankfully our guide, Zoom Le, booked us into a wonderful new hotel, Anna Tham Hotel, around 5 km out of town and an easy ride to the boat launch.
Zoom is a very special guide. She is from Hanoi originally, but spent seven years studying finance at the University of Alaska. She constantly checked to make sure our stamina was holding out during the biking portion of the trip (especially when one girl slipped off the path and into the rice paddy – all was fine and she was lucky she didn’t have her camera or cell phone with her). Fresh fruit snacks and water revived us along the way and our main meals were at a family run restaurant in Ninh Binh. Zoom dictated the menu and made sure there were lots of choices for all, including the vegetarians in the group. Fresh spring rolls, goat, duck, salad and lots of green vegetables were gobbled up quickly, washed down with ice-cold Hanoi beer.
One day, Zoom arranged lunch at a local farmer’s place. Sitting in a shaded spot by his house, surrounded by rice paddies, we noshed on fried spring rolls, platters of duck, tofu, French fried potatoes (!!) and banana flower salad. Yum.
It was a super active trip and on the way home there were quite a few nodding heads.
Thank you Zoom!