But first…an evening in Ninh Binh
That night in Ninh Binh the Dutch girls and I went out for some dinner. We struggled to find any restaurants and the Lonely Planet didn’t have any listed, although it did say that the local specialty was goat. Anyway, we stopped off in a street at a “café” but it didn’t serve any food, just nacks, beer and hot beverages. We were ostensibly looking for “bia hoi” or “fresh beer,” the cheapest beer on the planet, but they didn’t have it. We ended up getting served with a weird concoction of fruit salad, yoghurt and nuts and a whole bunch of other stuff in a glass which we had to blend ourselves. It was edible but looked strange and unappetizing. Then the local proprietor took a seat next to us and practiced her English on us and the Dutchies. Fair enough, it wasn’t fluent by any means as robotically asked us the usual questions of name and age and where we were from and occupations etc. Even writing stuff down for things she didn’t understand. It was like we’d just given an English lesson by the time we left/escaped. But I thought it was
pretty impressive that somebody wanted to try out the English they’d learnt, I’m sure there are a dearth of opportunities.
We walked for a bit more and fell upon a restaurant which we later learned was a bit special. Basically it was a restaurant specializing in game, so we struggled a bit with the menu but went with some goat which was fried and then some what looked like sliced raw goats meat. Goat is chewy by the way, so I won’t say it was the best meal I’ve ever had. But it was better broiled or baked; they seemed to do everything there.
Anyway, we had a few beers in a shop/someone’s living room, trying to understand how the locals put up with the busy road and the constant beeps of speeding trucks and motorcars. You could barely have a conversation whilst there. Afterwards Linda and I had a good old chat outside the hotel until a storm turned up with windy rain squall conditions. It was pretty fun though, moving our plastic chairs from canopy to canopy of various houses. We still managed to get wet, but it was a nice atmospheric night and Linda and
we got a bit wet, but it was cool. We had a bit of a snog later on, as grown adults on holiday tend to do.
Cuc Phuong National Park
I had already decided the next day I would be going to Cuc Phuong National Park whilst the girls would be checking off the other temples they had missed that day. (Bicycles not really doing it for me in these distances and temperatures). I was tempted to rent a motorcycle myself but it was a good 50 km away and I wasn’t sure I had a good enough map to get me there. So, I got one of the guys from the hotel to take me to the park and pick me up the next day.
Tres cool scenery on the way to the park and for the first time I actually saw how and where pineapples are grown, incongruously sitting on top of these big long green leaved patches.
The motorbike guy dropped me off at the park headquarters and immediately I checked myself into a room at a pillar house; basically a big old wood house on stilts. Then I got a guide who took
me to the Endangered Primate Rescue Center chock full of 100 monkeys with over 16 kinds of gibbon (funky long armed fur balls) and langur, the funkiest being the Grey-shanked douc langur and Red-shanked
douc langur. I got some pretty neat shots (through the cages) and the local dude was more interested in taking pictures with my new camera than his furry captives.
So, I only had half an hour with said primates so I went for a trek on my own, one of the few you can do alone without needing to hire a guide. So, off I went to visit an ancient 1,000 year old tree that was about 4 km away. There was pretty poor signage because I didn’t see a damn thing along the road through the forest. I ended up walking for hours on my told, but seeing some cool creates like crab (?), snakes, hundreds of butterflies, frogs and the best of all a giant spider right in the middle of his equally giant web. I did manage to fall upon the cave of prehistoric man though, and that was actually very special. I was on my own in the deepest darkest forest
and visited the very atmospheric cave of a 7,500 old human ancestor whose remains and tools were found there.
Back at the accommodation I had some piss-poor food at the “restaurant” - just loads of rice (they call it “com” in Vietnamese) crappy meat and very little flavor. That night, I slept under the mosquito net in my wooden box and that’s the first time in a long while I’ve had to do that. I went to the bathroom and it was like a bloody insect room of the London Zoo, so many species with huge antennae just vying for space on the wall. It was a quick visit and I let them to it. However, it wasn’t the case of the two British public school boys staying in the room next door - I woke up hilariously to one of them shouting his arse off in the middle of the night. I’m assuming because something crawled over him, I grinned to myself under my mosquito net.
The next day, I started off pretty early, getting a local tribesman (Muong) to motorbike me 20 kilometers to the centre of the park where there were some trekking trails.
Roughly an hour later I was in the centre of the park and quickly headed off onto a trail, the hotel motorcyclist was picking me up later in the day at 3pm.
Despite a clearly defined path using stone and concrete I was immediately aware that this was the jungle. Mainly due to the amount of insects and webs that got caught in me as I walked along the path. I decided to put up my hood to protect myself even though it was about 90 percent humidity by that point. I trekked for a couple of hours through the jungle, taking in the sounds of what sounded like very loud crickets and also the odd frog ribbit as well as things jumping about in the green background.
It was pretty dark in places and thinking back it was a bit daft to go out there unaccompanied, if I’d been bitten by a snake or attacked by a weasel (yes, they are there) or injured myself, I would have been in trouble. But in no part did I get that sixth sense, of being watched and despite the heat, it was fun to just amble around in the
jungle and take pics of insects, caterpillars and very old trees. Only once was the solitude broken by a loud group of Vietnamese tourists, eager to get a picture of the tree and then me!
Anyway, the motorcycle driver took me back to the headquarters after my 2 hour jaunt and there I waited for my second driver. I shifted my by now numb arse onto another bike a few hours later. He took a different route this time and there was much more scenery and countryside scenes of people in the paddy fields, digging up stuff from the bottom. Some of the scenery was very beautiful and I’m glad I went all the way to the national park on my own just to glimpse some of it.
When I got after another hour’s ride, I took a shower, and had some delicious dinner involving frying my own beef in a mini fryer on my table, much to everyone else’s envy.
I then got on the open tour “sleeper” bus to the city of Hue, an overnight trip, from 9.30pm till 8 a.m. I happened to be right at the rear of the bus laying down flat trying
to sleep through one of the bumpiest and sleep depriving buses ever. But at least I got to actually lay down, and roll around. I was next to a Colombian/French woman in her late 50s who thought it hilarious, but then she proceeded to drop a sleeping pill! I just tried my best to sleep for the night.
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