Vietnam 2014 – Trip Report #8

These reports are from our very first trip to Vietnam in September 2014, so therefore prior to the previous trip reports!  Originally posted on TripAdvisor, this is trip report #8…

9 – 11 October 2014

Ninh Binh continued…..

Last full day in Ninh Binh.

A day off.

And it had been a while since we’d had one. Day before we left Hoi An was the last.

So, what to do…..?

Walk. Just walk and see where we end up.

Breakfast done. Kids woken up. We’re off.

Kids not interested in our plan.

They’re going to have a day off in front of the television. Could have done that at home.

Oh well, see you later….

First stop, an electronics appliance store.

Cameras, phones, televisions etc, etc.

And loud, very loud, promotional music / advertising over their PA system.
I have no idea what’s being said, but whatever it is, it apparently needs to be done at a really high volume. Working there would drive you nuts.

We’re heading in the direction of a market we’ve been told about. Not totally sure where it is but that’s part of the fun. It’s quite often the things you see on the way.

I said a few times when we were over there, and I’ve said it quite a bit since we’ve been back; Every day I saw something that made me go – “Wow!”

Goldfish anyone?
Recycle lady.
fresh bread - sour, chocolate, communion!
Box? man.
What else do you expect to see on a city street?

And usually it was just something that would be a normal thing to any Vietnamese local.
But to me, it was Wow!
A motorbike rider carrying far more stuff than you would think possible, an old lady – no taller than 5 foot – walking along the street carrying something that I would struggle with, chickens walking on the footpath of a busy city.

Just random things that are normal in Vietnam.

But to me – Wow! Just fascinating.

And here comes the next “Wow” moment.

A woman walking towards us carrying a white mesh bag over her arm.
I’m trying to work out what’s in the bag. She notices me looking at the bag so she puts it out in front to give me a better look.

21 scorpions anyone?
Not something you see every day!  Well not in Australia anyway…

It’s full of scorpions.

She motions to me, with a smile, would I like to buy some?

Ummm, no thank you….but may I take a photo?


Photo taken, we both wander off on our way.

Me with another “Wow” moment; she happy because she knows she’s shocked a silly western tourist.

Win, win.

Eventually we find the market.
It’s funny, I’m not a shopper. I go into supermarkets and shopping centres only if I absolutely have to. I don’t go to markets in Melbourne.

But Vietnamese markets. I love them. Fascinating sights.

Fish, crabs, eels, chickens, ducks (that have had a really bad day along with ducks that are going to have a really bad day), fruits, vegetables.

market. Frogs front left.
No, not pets…!
Food can be very colourful.

And this was all, like a lot of markets, down either side of a suburban street.

Could easily sit there for hours and just watch. So interesting.

I may have said before, one of the things I thought I’d struggle with before we left was seeing live animals at markets destined for the plate.

Surprisingly, it didn’t affect me. It is what it is. It is the way they go about things and who am I to come to their country and judge.

Perhaps not a warning; maybe more of a heads up; at one end of this street there is a building where cuts of meat are sold. As we walked past I said to Lisa I had a feeling about what they sold in there. The type of meat. I’m not sure what made me think that. Perhaps it was all the Thit Cho signs we had seen on the way down to Ninh Binh. Anyway, I decided that I needed to go in and have a look. I didn’t really want to, but it was something I felt I needed to do.

In the end we both walked through. It wasn’t as “grisly” as I thought it could be but if it’s something that you would struggle with then it’s probably best to avoid it.

This market also had non-food items. Clothes, hardware, household items. You name it.
It’s great fun to haggle with the stall holders too. And even more fun when they don’t speak a word of English. Make an effort and you’ll find it very easy to have a laugh with them. Lovely people.

Continued our walk around town and managed to take a photo of something that you are not allowed to take a photo of. That could have ended badly……

Then headed back to the hotel to practice some parenting skills. This involved dragging them away from the TV with the promise of lunch.

Five minute walk down the road and we found the Pho restaurant that Phuong, the hotel manager, had recommended. Great food and oh so cheap. Perfect combination!

Bit of a walk around……until the whinging became too much, and it was back to the hotel to cool down and rest up.

Later that afternoon, parenting skills once again put on hold (even Lisa stayed behind) I went for another walk. This time around the streets behind the hotel near the football stadium.

Found another market!

This one much smaller and bit more temporary looking. But still a lot of fun and very interesting.

Once again, very local. No other tourists. And by the way they reacted to me, I suspect very few tourists are seen around here.

They seemed as interested in me as I was of them. Even had a couple of laughs with some stall holders who tried to sell me food……that wasn’t actually yet food….

And then one of those “little” things happened.

Walking through the crowd a young boy, maybe 10 or 11, saw me and made a bee line towards me. My initial thought was, what is he going to try and sell me.

Nothing as it turned out.

He just wanted to shake my hand.

As quick as he was there, he was gone.

He made my day.

Again, just a small thing. But gee, it made me feel good.

Raced back to the hotel to get Lisa to show her but by the time we got back it was almost dark and the stall holders were packing up.

Walked up past the stadium and came across something that we hadn’t really seen in Vietnam before.

A supermarket.

Just like a supermarket you’d see back home. Lots of processed food and lots of over packaged goods. It just seemed so out of place compared to what we had been experiencing.

That night we took the easy option of eating over the road at Chookies. Kids more than happy with that decision.

The next morning we were picked up at the hotel by our driver to be taken to Mai Chau. It was the same driver that had driven us from Haiphong to Ninh Binh and had been organised through Toan.

On the way out of Ninh Binh it was interesting to see all the places that we had seen on the back of motorbikes earlier in the week.

Two things stood out; one, how far we had actually been. We seemed to drive for a long time before we stopped recognising places we had seen previously. Probably explains why our bums were so sore after riding. :-)

And two, how much better it was seeing all these places on the back of motorbikes rather than in a car. Bum wise you might be more comfortable, but seeing it all on the back of bikes really is the only way to go.

So, the drive to Mai Chau.

Will remember that for a while.

A fair section of it was along a road….actually, road is not an accurate description.
More like a dirt, potholed track. Again, track is probably not terribly accurate either.

It was fortunate the car had a roof……, as well as seatbelts.

It was undoubtedly the worst “road” I have ever travelled on. It was that bad, it was funny. You just had to laugh.

It did make you think though. The poor people that either lived along it, or had businesses on it, and even the poor school kids that had to ride along it.

It was so dusty that the banana palms were actually brown.

dust everywhere
Yep, brown banana palms.
VN 22-001
If the dust wasn’t enough, the trucks just added to it.
VN 22-006
Have to feel sorry for the locals.
VN 22-007
More dust!
VN 22-004
Just something else to look out for on the roads!

Can’t imagine what it would be like in the wet.

It made for a long, slow trip, but there was still plenty to see on the way.

Finally arrived in Mai Chau around lunchtime so we stopped at a local restaurant for something to eat before making our way to our hotel down the road.

Our accommodation for the next two nights would be the Mai Chau Valley View Hotel.

Very apt name too.

It’s in Mai Chau. Mai Chau is in a valley. It is a hotel. And it has a view.

And does it have a view!

Looking out the window, or standing on the balcony. The view.

Another of those “Wow” moments.

Rice paddies from the block next door to as far as you can see, with mountains in the background.

Yep, Wow!

VN 22.44-002
No words.

Separate rooms again; everyone’s happy.

See ya kids, we’re going for a walk. (Don’t bother asking anymore…..)

Off up the main street, essentially the only one in Mai Chau, to check out the place.

It’s a country town; and a fairly small one at that. But it’s nice. Not touristy and seems pretty quiet. Well it would be if not for the trucks going up and down the main road. Apparently there is a dam being built a bit out of town, hence the trucks. They’re a bit noisy but we’re in Vietnam. Be a bit weird if it was too quiet….. :-)

Up the road we come across a small market outside a school and in the school grounds there are two games of soccer (football) being played. Stop for a few minutes to watch that before heading on. There’s not a lot in Mai Chau but it has a nice feel. People are friendly and there are plenty of kids about calling out “Hello, what your name”.

Mai Chau - kids' soccer tournament
Local soccer match.
They were so keen to say hello!  Love it.

On the way back we passed a place that did iced coffee. Well the picture looked like some kind of iced coffee thing.
I suggested we have one.
Lisa is reluctant.
It’s not going to kill you!
Ok then…..

The guy is a bit surprised to see us. Suspect he doesn’t see too many westerners. But he’s very keen to help us.

Our iced coffees arrive. Now these aren’t your traditional Vietnamese iced coffees.
It’s in a large plastic cup, with a lid and straw. It has whipped cream on top with brightly coloured syrup and sprinkles.

VN 22.10-1
She was so brave….

I suppose you could call it a “McDonalds” type of iced coffee.

But Lisa loves it. So much so that we have to take a photo of it.

“See honey, you need to try things. Be daring. Take a chance occasionally.”

“Shut up!”, is the reply.

That night we ate at the restaurant at the hotel. Under cover, but outside, with rice paddies an arm’s length away.

And the food?

Good. Very good. Probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. What a setting.

Next morning we decided to take a bike ride. We hired bikes from the hotel and Duong, the owner, gave us a hand drawn map and explained where we should go.

Here we go again, another map. Hand drawn too.

25 – 30 km round trip apparently.

With a hand drawn map I suspect we’ll be doing more than that…..

So off we go, heading out of town. We have to turn off to the right a bit further up. It doesn’t look that far on the map so I make an educated guess (first mistake) at which one to turn.

You can tell it’s still early in the ride; everyone’s smiling…
The view is helping the “happiness”.

Down through more rice paddies and across a bridge. Beautiful scenery. So far so good. Road gives way to a dirt track. Not sure this is it. Keep going. Track gets narrower and forest gets thicker. Reasonably convinced now that this is not it.

I start to get “Are you sure this is the right way?”

“No!” count to 10………

“I don’t think this is the right way”.

“Well you look at the #$%@ing map and work out where we should be!”

Toys are still in the cot. But only just…..

We turn around and start heading back to the main road.

The boy sees a snake.

We now cycle quicker.

Finally back on the main road the temptation is to return to the hotel. It’s hot and I’m really not sure if we’re going to be able to find where we’re supposed to be going.

Resisting the temptation, we decide to give it one final crack. So on we ride.

Through a couple of tiny towns / villages, past a huge wedding set up on the side of the road and past some lovely country side.

Just as the map starts to make some sense, we get lost again. Well sort of. As it turned out we were going the right way but we got nervous and backtracked a little.

Then we found what we were looking for. There was no mistaking it.

The camera doesn’t quite capture it.
vilage near Mai Chau
Just so different to what we had seen previously.

An ethnic minority village. Stilt houses with flowing water in their yards that makes its way out to the rice paddies. Cows being walked along narrow paths, chickens roaming freely and just the most amazing scenery. Absolutely unbelievable.

Intruding on local life.  But so glad we did!

And guess what? The kids were impressed. They actually struggled to maintain their indifference.

I knew it wouldn’t be long before their indifference returned, but for now, I had won! Haha!!!!!

Still happy-ish, I, however was starting to lose it.

Did a big loop through the village and then came back onto the road that we had been on earlier. Back to the hotel via a different road, and surprisingly, we did it without getting lost.

I win again!

One is not trying as hard as he was, one is trying too hard, and the other one is not trying at all.
Seriously considered losing them and heading off in the opposite direction.

Finally back at the hotel, hot and exhausted, but very content. It had been a memorable morning.

Back to the same restaurant for lunch, that we’d been to when we arrived, and we bumped into our friends from Ninh Binh. Ended up having lunch with them and spent an hour or so catching up. They’d done a homestay the night before and were doing another one that night. Their guide was off getting supplies for dinner that night and he soon returned carrying a couple of bags. In one of them was a duck. It was actually quite a funny sight with the duck peering out over the top of the bag.

We tried to convince the kids, and ourselves, that it was going to be a pet.

Later that afternoon I went for a walk by myself through the rice paddies (which were in the process of being harvested) around the hotel and eventually found a small tourist village. Apparently local Hanoians come to Mai Chau for a weekend away and stay around this particular place. Like I said, very touristy but worth a look.

Kids being kids!
I don’t know, it just seemed to sum up the place.
Their water moving fascinates me.
View from the hotel is brilliant; looking back towards the hotel is pretty good too!

That night we had dinner at the hotel restaurant again. Got chatting to Duong and he talked about the possibility of visiting a local market in a nearby town, prior to us leaving for Hanoi tomorrow.

I didn’t have to think too long about that offer!

He also talked about how the Valley View had come about, and how hard he’d had to work to set it up.

And then the offer of some “local water”, came.

“Why not?” “Actually, what is it?”

“Corn spirit. 40% proof”.

Whoa…..! Strong stuff.

Nice, but you wouldn’t want too many.

The next morning it was time to pack up and say good bye to Mai Chau. It had been a great couple of days and we had only just scratched the surface. I would like to go back at some stage and really try and immerse myself in the culture of the people that live around Mai Chau. I suspect there is a lot more to see.

So, would I stay at the Valley View again? If we ever stay in Mai Chau again, absolutely.
Good size rooms, great location, extremely friendly staff and unbelievable views. And I mean unbelievable.

And while I’m at it; the Ngoc Anh 2? Yep, definitely recommend it. The room we stayed in was probably the biggest room we stayed in during our whole trip, and while the kid’s room was a bit smaller, it was still ample.
Good location, friendly staff. Yep, definitely recommend it.

So next stop is Hanoi. Our final destination.

Should only be one more instalment but I suspect Hanoi may come in two parts.

Considering my tendency…….



Ninh Binh street life!
interesting acroprops..
Is there anything bamboo can’t do?
Vietnamese school kids seem to care so much about their appearance!
Not a bad view.
There are worse places to drink a beer.
Relaxing after a hard day on bikes. Hopefully they’ll go back to their room soon!
VN 22-019
When the time comes, half the work seems to have already been done…!
Just quintessential.

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