After falling asleep straight away on the overnight train from Dong Hoi to Ninh Binh we arrived at the train station at 9:30am on Wednesday 26th February. Captain Caveman was in charge of booking the accommodation for the first night and had organised a taxi pick up. We drove for about 20 minutes from the station towards our accommodation and then turned on to a series of very bumping single lane tracks across some watery paddy fields. When we arrived I could see some thatched bamboo huts and a big, half started, building site and what looked like 2 empty swimming pools.
The homestay manager at Ninh Binh Panorama Homestay greeted us and apologised for the building mess and noise and said they were going to finish at 5pm. She also told us the kitchen was only open for breakfast (which we had missed) and dinner between 6 & 8pm. We walked towards the bamboo huts, where we were staying and she mentioned we would be in the quieter area, furthest away from the new build. The bungalow was nice with two big double beds but Captain Caveman had been a bit tight and booked the one room for all three of us. I really didn’t fancy using the free bicycles to cycle to the tourist attractions but I was so hungry and only had a few crisps and some emergency raisins to last me the whole trip. I pushed my bicycle for the first 10 minutes and we found the Mona Lisa cafe where we decided to have brunch. Most of what we ordered they didn’t have yet so I ended up with chips and some rather strange fresh spring rolls with unwashed lettuce, rice noodles, warm tofu and very cold pineapple in.
We then cycled to the boat station where Captain Caveman and Trouble were very excited to do a three hour rowing boat ride which went in to 9 caves. I, on the other hand, felt sorry for the old man who had to row us and really did not want to be sat on a small rowing boat, in a tight life jacket for 3 hours but they wouldn’t let me go back to the Mona Lisa cafe to drink wine. Don’t get me wrong it was very beautiful and we saw some temples but it just wasn’t for me – that poor old man! Captain Caveman also knows I’m not a fan of caves, especially claustrophobic bits, but had managed to pick one of the three tours where this featured the most. When I complained I wasn’t enjoying the putting my head between my legs to go under some parts he said it wasn’t that bad, right before he hit his head on the rocky cave ceiling above him, scratching and popping out the lense of his sunglasses which were on his head. Relieved to be off the boat and after giving the boat man a big tip we cycled back to the Mona Lisa for wine, the road was busy with cars and I didn’t feel confident so I took it slower than the others. I stayed at the café while the other 2 went to another sightseeing spot which closed in an hour so they had to cycle faster than I could. I had a glass of white wine but when I ordered a second they were out of that one so I tried a different one, which was better. On ordering a third glass and some food, they didn’t have either of what I ordered. Instead I had a red wine and some pork with rice noodles, both were excellent. Captain Caveman and Trouble returned and we cycled back to the Panorama homestay so we could get ready for dinner. They cycled the tricky path while I pushed my bicycle most of the way and made it back before dark.
There was no one else staying at our accommodation and I wasn’t surprised given the state of the place because of building works, everything was covered in a layer of brick dust. Still, we had dinner in the dining area where I had some pork fried rice and a pineapple juice (there wasn’t any wine), my fellow diners had chicken lemongrass skewers, before going to bed really early. The next day we were off on another road trip via a National Park.
The views from Ninh Binh Panorama homestay on the morning of Thursday 27th February were pretty and I had slept well. I had pho for breakfast and wasn’t bothered by the building work that was going on. They were building a new pool which looked like it was going to be great and ready by summer. Captain Caveman said that the homestay had been in touch prior to our visit to let us know there would be building going on in case we wanted to cancel. We had a car booked to take us to Pu Luong via Cuc Phuong National Park where we were planning to visit the pangolins at the rescue centre.