Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Three Day Weddings, No Heat, Frostbite, Free Candy: It's Ninh Binh

So, what does Southeast Asia mean to you? Sunny weather, sweltering days and steamy nights? Rainy seasons filled with flooded streets? Well that ain't Ninh Binh. After the second 18 hour overnight bus in three days, we got to Ninh Binh just in time to step out into 35 degree (Fahrenheit this time) sleet. I know, we can't really complain after months of perfect weather but it comes as a shock when you check in at a hotel, drenched and freezing and find out that there is no heat. None. Plus, there is a three day wedding outside of the window where karaoke is a 24-hour event. A shock after sunny days and wonderful flophouses.

Ninh Binh is not a tourist town, per-se, but rather a jumping off point for the natural wonders that surround it. As such, the town is not really friendly to persnickety eaters who want to avoid, say, meat. After walking around for the better part of an afternoon, we located one restaurant that advertised veggie friendly food. A pile of beef in a brothy bowl later, we resorted to the market as our caterer of choice.

You know that you are not the usual market goer when any teenage local who spots you immediately alerts all of her friends of your presence. And, your presence is the funniest thing that they have ever seen. But I suppose one of the rules of funny is that it can always be funnier. So how can a couple of foreigners buying bread and tofu at the market be even more hysterical? Well, it involves vendors force-feeding Kristi candy. Lots of candy. Lots of the funny. But really, a win-win.

So, as I mentioned, Ninh Binh isn't really a tourist town and by this point we had spent 2 full days in the city basically trying to feed ourselves and stay warm. But on third day (when the sleet briefly waned) we decided to bike to the nearby Tam Coc.

Tam Coc is described-quite accurately-as Halong Bay on the rice paddies. Basically, it is a collection of towering limestone formations with a shallow river/irrigated rice paddies flowing through them. After arriving at the dock only for the rain to pick up again, we boarded a boat to get a close-up view of the remarkable surroundings. The entire trip is about an hour during which Kristi and I were ferried through grottos, around naturally sculpted limestone and through the most luminescent green rice paddies we had ever seen. Even the pissing rain couldn't dampen the experience. But the rain and slightly blue-black toes did limit the biking around the levies afterwords. With a short trip to a Buddhist temple we were back to the karaoke ice box of our hotel and the welcoming pile of blankets, towels, and dirty clothes that we nested in.


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