The bus driver was not familiar with the layout of Tam Coc. Large 4 lane roads dissect the small local roads which are built on low dykes through the rice fields. Some lanes were so narrow that, if there was another car coming towards us, there would not have been a way to pass each other. We arrived at our lodge late. A large group of Vietnamese were having a weekend out. Of course karaoke singing was the main activity after dinner. We were too late for our dinner but the owner family invited us to share their evening meal with us.

The Ninh Binh area is known for its many karst mountains sticking out of the rice fields. The old capital Hoa Lu (986 -1010) was once here. Now only the temple remains. A bit further along is a second temple complex with a staircase up the mountain towards 2 shrines with a lovely panoramic view of the rice fields below as well as the river winding in between the rocks. In town we boarded a small 3 person sampan powered by a lady tirelessly paddling with her feet. We followed the river through the gorges and even peddled through 3 caves. Later we were given a bike for a short cycle along a quiet road to a nearby temple which was accessible through a cave. The next morning we again boarded a sampan where the lady this time rowed us for 15 km through some 4 other caves. It is a beautiful surrounding. The stream also passed several temples along the way. This area formed the decor for the 2016 King Kong film “Skull Island”.

The Bai Dinh pagoda (2010) is the largest Buddhistic temple complex inVietnam. No expenses were spared. The 3 main halls are filled with gigantic golden statues. Next to them in the wall are hundreds of smaller statues with names of the donation givers. It feels a bit like the rich could buy some peace of mind here.

This 2 week trip to North Vietnam was a great success. Lots to see, good food, good accommodation and transport works like clockwork thanks to the travel agent. We did not have enough time to go off the beaten route. Maybe next time.