The forecast for today was hot and sunny so I set off early to go to the river for a three hour boat ride.
Unlike the boat trips I took in China, this would be in a rowing boat – four people in each with one professional rower. So it would be peaceful without loud chugging of petrol engine.
I always feel uncomfortable about one person using their energy to ferry me around (whether by boat or bike) and there were additional oars for passengers to use.
The other women in the boat, from Portugal, Germany and the Netherlands all felt the same, though we did wonder if the staff think: “Oh god, not more bloody amateurs trying to help“.
Hopefully, we were a help rather than a hindrance.
There were three options for the boat trip and, whichever you choose, it takes three hours.
We selected Route One which took us to three temples – Trinh, Tran and Khong Palace.
At Tran, the Temple was carved high up in the mountainside, warranting a climb up narrow and slippery stone steps.
“Is it worth it?” asked a man who was almost the temple.
How to answer this diplomatically… because I really didn’t think it was but didn’t want to offend either.
I settled with: “Well, it would be a shame to turn back, now that you’re nearly there.”
This led to a conversation about where I was travelling and some recommendations for Ho chi Minh City where he was from.
His daughter joined the conversation: “Are you loving Vietnam?”
I laughed and was able to reply honestly: “Yes, I really am. It’s brilliant.”
Result: one happy nine year old.
At the Khung Palace, the temple includes an altar to four generals. Several of the temples I have visited in Hanoi and here have venerated generals who loyally served their king.
Worship isn’t reserved only for gods.
This is a very popular place for Vietnamese tourists and there were hundreds of boats ready and waiting for passengers.
However, for us on certain stretches, it was as if we were on the only boat in the river.
The area is utterly stunning and we waved and called ‘xin chao’ or ‘good morning’ to a group of men fishing by the water and later spotted a bridal party… visiting the area for wedding photography.
It’s hardly surprising when you have scenery like this:
The other aspects of the boat trip were through nine caves, including the Cooking Wine Cave… so called because that is where the cooking wine is stored.
These shots don’t do justice to the caves… mostly because our boatman had told to keep our heads down.
In some of the caves, the stalactites almost reached the water. The Dutchwoman and I were asked to sit on the floor of the boat because of our height.
Some of the caves are almost a kilometre long and they twist and turn as tunnels through the limestone mountains.
It is an amazing place to see.
This area is a World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site. The company operating here is trying to preserve and conserve the surrounding area – hence the growing boats rather than petrol boats.
The boat ride I took was at the Trang An Landacape Ecotourism Complex, about three miles from Ninh Binh. The cost was 200,000VND (approximately £6.50, November 2019) for one person for three hours.
*Featured Photo: A view of the Trang An Landscape Complex.