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Travel Diaries: Ninh Binh

Photos of Tour in Ninh Binh

Dates: 08/02

I arrived at my homestay in Hanoi at around 23:30. I was tired, irritable, and feeling nauseous. It was raining – typical and quite representative of how I was feeling. The taxi driver left me on the side of the road and pointed towards a dark alleyway. Confused, I followed the direction.

The alleyway got narrower and narrower. After about 50m, I finally saw a sign. A tiny woman came running to open the door. The place was an entire and total mess. She told me to go upstairs, which was by following a small spiral staircase. Getting my 20kg luggage up there was an adventure in itself. 

I showered and settled, wondering if I would make it to my tour the following morning. I was sure I’d feel less nauseous in the morning, so I switched off the lights and tried to sleep. But I couldn’t. All I heard was dogs barking, people spitting on the street, and motorbikes. So I put my earplugs in. I managed to sleep, but not very well. 

I was still feeling unwell the next morning. I contemplated going on the tour, but I thought I’d be fine once I’d woken up properly and got dressed. I cancelled the one I’d booked for the following day, just in case.

I was the first to be picked up and once the bus was full, we headed on a two-hour journey into Ninh Binh. We had one stop on the way. I wanted to get coffee and something to eat, but I had started feeling nauseous again, so I didn’t.

Our first stop was the Hang Mua viewpoint, where we had to climb 500 uneven steps. It was raining, which made it even more challenging. I had started conversing with one of my tour mates, Jason* by then, so I didn’t feel so alone anymore. Slowly but surely, I managed to get to the top. However, it was so foggy that nothing was visible. Going down was not an easy task, especially with my clumsy nature, but I managed.

Next, I explored the caves. Our tour guide told us that these caves are known as the Dancing Caves as men would go watch women dance for them there. They were interesting to see as they opened up into beautiful gardens.

After that, we went for lunch. I stuck to what I knew as I didn’t want to upset my stomach further – noodles and rice. Jason sat opposite me and there were two Indian ladies to my left, Pari* and Inaya*. We got to talking and they mentioned they were Hindu. This immediately caught my attention, especially after the Hindu temple I had seen in Ho Chi Minh City.

I asked the girls to tell me more about Hinduism and their beliefs. They told me stories about the Hindu gods and about how they are worshipped. They told stories about festivals in Kolkata, which is where they were from. I listened in awe as my interest in Hinduism grew. This is definitely something I want to study more about.

We then made our way to a temple area that was dedicated to kings during the dynasties. We explored the worship area as our guide told us about the flags and the way of Buddhist prayer. I was not a major fan of this tour guide as he made quite a few sexist jokes, followed by him saying he is kidding. I get that it may be a cultural thing, but I did not appreciate his humour.

The guide told us how in those days, chopsticks were made from the trees within that empire. I cannot remember the name of the tree, but the purpose of using that particular tree was because the wood changed colour when it came in contact with the poison. Therefore, these chopsticks were of great value to the kings as they allowed them to eat without fear of death. He continued to tell us that this technique cannot be used today as poison today has evolved and the wood does not recognise it anymore.

Our next stop was a boat ride to visit the caves. However, I was feeling so nauseous by that time that as soon as our guide told us the trip was of an hour and a half, I decided to skip it. I sat it out in a restaurant just beside the final meeting point. I booked a comfortable hotel to move into for the next couple of nights as I knew I had to take it easy and stay in the hotel. 

I joined the group when they returned, and spent the better part of the two-hour trip back chatting with Jason. This took my mind off my nausea and I felt better for a while. 

We got back to Hanoi and I moved my stuff from the homestay into the hotel. I paid the bill and had a shower before crawling into bed. I spent the next two days there. Breakfast was served in the hotel, and I only went out for dinner in the evening. My stomach wasn’t up for food, but I knew I had to eat. 

It’s a shame that I didn’t get to see Hanoi, but I am glad that I took those two days to rest. I can’t lie, I did get incredibly homesick, but I put my health first. I also changed my travel plans to avoid the long bus rides. I didn’t want to risk getting motion sickness again. 

A friend of mine told me everyone gets sick on their first week away on a trip like this. I suppose she is right, and I’m grateful that all I had was motion sickness and not some wild food poisoning. 

I left for Luang Prabang, Laos on the 10th of February. Still homesick, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wondered if I should cut my trip short, but that was the two days stuck in a hotel room talking. I’m super excited to share my next experience, so stay tuned! 

You can find photos of my experience in Ninh Binh on the official Alpha Content Instagram page. Follow @the_life_of_a_creative_writer for more.

*The names of the people I met have been changed to protect their identities and respect their privacy. 

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