It was at the first stage of covid19 pandemic in February when I happened to visit Vietnam again after such years, people wore facial masks everywhere and we had to travel with serious protocol. I was glad I made the trip before lockdowns started. I didn’t think it would become a global pandemic that leads to a heavy crisis. But Vietnam was almost clean because the government was taking a quick action to close the border with China.
I was so lucky because VietJet Air already has direct flight to Hanoi from Denpasar. I took 17:30 flight which arrived at 21:55 in Hanoi. My friend, Sonya that flied from Jakarta was already at Hanoi airport several hours earlier. We took bus 86 and got off at Hanoi Train Station.
When we arrived at a RedDoorz hotel not far from Hanoi Railway Station, we had to wait for a while until I could reach the hotel’s contact person on phone because no one opened the door, it’s not 24-hour reception. But finally we could check in and rest for several hours before we walked to the train station at dawn to buy tickets for the 1st trip to Ninh Binh.
Bus 86 Airport – Train station: VND 35,000
Train ticket Hanoi – Ninh Binh: VND171,000
Rice noodle: VND 40,000
After arriving at Ninh Binh train station, we stayed for a while checking the grabcar fare to Anh Tuan Tam Coc Old Space Bungalow in Tam Coc, because all taxis that attacked us at the front gate asking for crazy fares, while the grabcar only charged us VND 90,000. So grabcar it was.
We came when it was still windy and cold with a bit rain. I only had a long-sleeve shirt with me and dropped my mind to bring a jacket. Don’t trust a weather forecast too much.
Since it was raining when we arrived, so we just had a stroll around the inn in the afternoon. Bich Dong Pagoda is just on 5-minute walking distance from the inn and I saw so many clothing stalls along the way. I tried to find a windproof jacket and pants but they only sell fake ones of famous outdoor apparel brands so I turned around without buying anything. As part of apparel industry for more than 17 years, I could tell which one is fake or not. Indeed Vietnam is currently well-known for its outdoor products so it’s tricky to get authentic products.
Early morning on our second day in Ninh Binh, we chartered motorbike taxi from the inn to drop us at parking lot of Bai Dinh Pagoda complex. The 2 ladies that rode the bikes provided raincoats for us. The pagoda complex is really large that we had to take electric car to the scenic area from the entrance.
The second spot for the day was Hang Mua cave. We didn’t explore the cave but straightly hiked up to the scenic view which took our minds away, that was really tough for me who had been absent from hiking for more than a year. But I made it.
The next morning, the lady from the inn dropped us at the pickup point of the shuttle boss to Panda Hotel in Hanoi. From Panda Hotel, we walked to the main street to find a bus shelter to take bus no. 34 to My Dinh bus station. This bus costs only VND 7,000 while taking taxi or grab car would be VND 175-000-200,000. And from My Dinh station, we took the mini bus to Cao Bang that left not long after we reached the station.
Pictures around Ninh Binh that were mostly transfered from my phone because my D40x was having issue with the focus, sorry for the low quality:
Bai Dinh Entrance Fee: Free
Bai Dinh Electric Car: VND 60,000
Vegan Lunch at Pagoda complex: VND 25,000
Hang Mua Cave Entrance Fee: VND 100,000
Bus Tam Coc – Hanoi: USD 10 (I booked online)
Bus 34: VND 7,000
We arrived just 15 minutes before the mini bus to Cao Bang departed from My Dinh. We paid VND 176,000 for a seat. It’s not as I expected, in my thought it would be a normal long distance bus, not a mini one that’s too cramped for a 6-ish hour trip. But we made it to Cao Bang with no back or neck pain.
The mini bus dropped us at the 4-way intersection. I was a bit at loss so I decided to ask direction to a security guy by showing the text of Ban Gioc Waterfall. He said something like “yes, wait for the bus here.” in Vietnamese. Then in less than 10 minutes, a bus appeared from across the street. After asking “Ban Gioc?” that was followed by their nods, we departured to Thrung Kanh/Ban Gioc. The trip was about 2 hours.
When we arrived at the hotel that I booked on booking.com, it was closed due to Chinese New Year, the minibus driver didn’t leave us to make sure he sent us to the correct hotel. He helped us to contact the hotel because actually what I booked wasn’t that hotel but a homestay by the river and farm, same owner. Len –the owner– works as a translator for the military at the border between Vietnam & China because she speaks a fluent Chinese. She told us that she was sent home due to the border was shut down since covid19 in Wuhan became viral.
Both driver and his assistant have a pair good souls, they took us to their station which is also their boarding house until Len picked us up. It was so cold that we had to wait for a while to have a hot shower. The bed and blanket were damp from the weather, it was such a torture to sleep that night without room heater. But again, we were too excited with what we would have visit the next morning so we forced ourselves to rest.
The trip in Ban Gioc was wrapped with smiles. Nice village & homestay, wonderful waterfall, and nice local people, we couldn’t ask for more.
Mini Bus Caobang – Ban Gioc: VND 70,000
Hotel: VND 116,000
Sleeper Bus Ban Gioc – Hanoi: VND 250,000
Bus 109 to airport: VND 8,000
I hope the pandemic will be over soon, stay safe and be happy! Sending ove from Bali ♥