After sleeping for three hours in my last-minute hotel in Ninh Binh, I woke up at 11:30 am. I had a headache and felt rundown. The older that I get, the more overnight busses and planes wear on me. I took some Excedrin and searched online for things to do. I only had a day to explore before I continued south. I couldn’t find much to do, so I went to the hotel lobby to ask for recommendations.
This was a nice hotel, much nicer than the places I had been staying. I asked the women what I should do since I only had the day to explore. Unfortunately, they didn’t speak much English and couldn’t give me tips other than to explore a park down the road.
I started walking in the direction of the park, but Apple maps on my iPhone was terrible. I consistently ran into problems using it in Southeast Asia. I downloaded Google Maps and have used it ever since. It understood the names of places and did a much more accurate job of navigating.
I stopped at a restaurant that I found online. The menu showed cigarettes as an option, which I passed on. After eating my food, I almost walked out without paying. The restaurants in Vietnam let you enjoy your meal and take as much time as you want. They don’t hound you to pay like in the U.S. They give you the bill when you ask for it. I know servers in the U.S. are mostly trying to be polite by getting the bill to you quickly, but if often comes across as, “You’re done, please leave.” I liked that the culture in Vietnam didn’t seem as rushed.
I continued walking into the city. The gray sky loomed above, but I was grateful it wasn’t raining. As I got closer to the park, I couldn’t help but notice a group of women on motorbikes leaving an electronics store. They all had huge flat-screen TV’s strapped to the back of their motorbikes! The TV’s were at least 42” and only three straps held the box containing the TV to the backseat. About one to two feet of the TV box hung off the back. The delivery women confidently drove away. I can’t even imagine such a thing being allowed in the U.S.
As I approached the park, I noticed the tall concrete wall around it. I headed towards one of the openings, but was stopped by a group of middle-aged women. They were standing at a street food vendor and one woman walked over to me, stood next to my arm, put her hand from the top of her head to my arm (which was just above my elbow). She and her friends laughed at the difference in our heights.
I was getting pretty used to this in Vietnam. Being 6’1”, I am much taller than the average Vietnamese. As I walked away, a group of young guys sitting at a table asked me if I’d like to join them and smoke their bongs. I smiled, but declined their offer and continued into the park.
The park was a large rectangle with a wide walkway and a fountain in the middle. It was beautiful and well-cared for. I strolled along the path and watched a group of people on mats doing yoga and a woman riding a bicycle with her young daughter sitting on the back. It was picturesque and very relaxed.
As I kept walking, I couldn’t help but notice the people staring at me. It was so obvious that men riding their bicycles turned their entire head as they passed on the other side. I was starting to feel self-conscious and realized I must really stand out. There weren’t any tourists there and this was clearly more of a local hangout.
Then a girl around eight years old skipped past me with a phone in a selfie stick. Once she passed me, she paused, trying to take a selfie with me behind her. I decided to just accept my fate. I leaned into the selfie, smiled, and waved as the girl skipped back to her mom.
This must be what famous people experience. I walked through the park like a celebrity. Often times I try to just go unnoticed, but it’s impossible when you’re a female my height. I laughed and thought, “Maybe I’m trending on social media in Vietnam as #AmericanGiant.”
There were some beautiful, traditional Vietnamese buildings in the park. As I headed out of the park, I came across an abandoned Ferris wheel. There was a young guy and girl talking and being playful. The old, rusty cars looked like something out of a zombie apocalypse movie.
Once I left the park, I walked around town while searching online for things to do. I found the Mia Cave viewpoint, so I ordered a Grab to drive me there. About 15 minutes later, we arrived at the entrance. I paid the $100,000 dong ($4.38 USD) fee and walked down the path. I could see the huge rock formation in the distance. There was a path lined with shopping booths and restaurants that led to the cave and the stairs to the viewpoint.I arrived at the cave and nobody was going inside. I’ve seen a lot of caves and I didn’t want to miss the viewpoint before it got dark, so I started climbing the stone steps. A stone dragon sat on the railing at the beginning, but then the stairs got more and more narrow. There were a lot of Chinese and European tourists, and a lot more stairs.
I was wearing jeans and a short-sleeve shirt and I wrapped my jacket around the strap of my purse. I was starting to sweat and needed to take breaks from time to time to catch my breath. My right knee was also hurting with the incline. I made it to the mid-way point and had two options: right or left. I chose the path to my right and as I ascended, the steps were more uneven and narrow.
The views were incredible! Stopping to catch my breath was just fine with me because I took the time to enjoy the scenery. When I finally reached the top of the rock, there were several people waiting to take a picture with the little pillar on the peak. It was fairly dangerous, but they wanted their Instagram shot. I watched as a guy gazed off into the distance for his picture. Next, a group of girls in brightly colored dresses each made their way to the pillar, one by one.
One girl laid down a silk wrap underneath her, laid out, and stared into the distance like a model. I was annoyed. Who climbs all those stairs in those outfits just to get a staged picture? I took my quick selfie with my hair pulled back and moved along. I wasn’t about to wait in line for a phony picture.
From where I stood, I could see below to rice fields and on the other side, I could see the stairs that I climbed and the stairs that I would need to climb next to get to the other viewpoint. The rock stairs looked really cool as they hugged the giant rock formation. I believe the area is where they filmed one of the King Kong movies.
Before I climbed back down, a guy asked if I wanted my picture taken and I said sure. I got a proper picture and started the descent.
After I made it back to the junction, I started the climb on the other rock formation. At the top was a small gazebo where people were resting. There was also a dragon at the very top, but it required walking on very steep, sharp rocks on a very narrow path.
Of course, people were up there to take their perfect photo. I climbed over to the dragon just to see it, but didn’t want to go the extra few feet just to get a picture with the head of the dragon. It was too dangerous and I’ve read too many stories of people dying around the world because they made risky moves to get a photo. I took the pictures I could easily get and started the climb down.
It was only 70° F (21° C), but there was 93% humidity. I felt gross and sweaty in my jeans.
When I arrived at the bottom, it was almost dark outside. Most people were gone and it was eerie as I walked around a mostly dried up lake with old swan boats abandoned in the mud.
I walked on the path, but the shops and restaurants were all closed now. It was only 6:15 pm. When I got back to the entrance, there weren’t any taxis waiting like I had seen when I arrived. I ordered a Grab and the driver messaged me asking if I could walk down the road and meet him there. I was already exhausted, but started walking. I ended up walking for 15 minutes down the dark, bumpy, dirt road where the occasional house stood.
When I finally made it to the main road, the driver told me why he asked me to walk. He didn’t speak a lot of English, but it was enough for us to communicate. He explained that Grab has been in Vietnam for two years and the taxi drivers hate them. The location I was at usually has taxi drivers waiting for passengers and they often harass him. They’ve yelled, “F*ck you!” and “I’ll kill you!” while approaching and intimidating him. He’s called the police several times, but they won’t do anything about it.
I explained to the driver that there weren’t any taxis there, but I understood his problem. I’ve heard that from other Grab drivers. We both agreed that Grab is much more economical and efficient. Taxi drivers drive around looking for business or just sit there waiting for a passenger. That is a waste of time and gas. Technology has made this more efficient. The driver also pointed out that in the past, taxi drivers needed to know the streets and addresses, but with technology, anybody can use GPS guidance to drive a passenger anywhere.
That’s the nice thing about capitalism – it provides opportunity for better products and better services. There is an incentive for companies to compete. Anytime I can use Grab/Uber/Lyft, I use them over a taxi. Their service and price can’t be beat. I love that I can communicate through text with my driver (I believe that Grab translates for each of us), I can see on the GPS where the driver is, I can ensure the driver takes the best route, payment can be done through the app, and I know the price up-front.I was dropped off at my hotel and needed dinner. I found a highly rated place on TripAdvisor and walked across the river and down the street for 20 minutes. I was tired of walking, but didn’t have many options nearby. The restaurant was lively and delicious, but is designed for groups. I had to order appetizers instead of the shared meals.
On my walk back, I walked through a neighborhood. It was dark and quiet, so I made sure to stay aware of my surroundings. I passed a young girl and her mom and they laughed at me. Confused, I just kept walking.
Back at the hotel, I worked on my blog and then researched ways to get to Hue, my next destination. I was having a difficult time and finally found a morning train, but in order to book online you have to book the day before and it was now 12:15 am. I called the front desk to ask what time breakfast was and if they could help book a train. The guy who answered didn’t speak any English so we sat on the phone in silence when we realized we couldn’t understand each other. Then he hung up.
A few minutes later, the man knocked on my door. I stood there in my pajamas and used Google translate to ask what time breakfast ended and he wrote back, 9:00 am. I didn’t bother asking about the train and went to bed.
Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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