We woke up around 6:30am with our bags packed and ready to go. We’d bought a map, had helmets that fit, and were ready to hop on our bikes and take to the road. Obviously the day started with a few more delays and we hit the road around 8:30am. We’d decided that we’d travel down to Ninh Binh by at A1. Normally, I wouldn’t every recommend taking the A1 highway when compared to the Ho Chi Minh Road, but in this circumstance we wanted to meet two of our friends and the HCM road was adding an extra 2 hours or so to a 2.5 hour drive.
Although the traffic in Hanoi can be a little hectic, it’s relatively easy to reach the highway, and once on that you can simply stay on the paved shoulder and travel whatever speed you feel comfortable with, we felt comfortable with our bikes max – 65km/hour. The drive down is 93km and took us roughly 3 hours including a lunch stop, and a few photo-ops, and we felt pretty good about ourselves as we pulled the bikes WE OWNED into the small guesthouse we’d decided to stay the night. Ninh Binh is a great first stop as it allows you to ride a short day, get used to your bike, and also has some interesting sights
Although Ninh Binh is a relatively small city it certainly worth spending a few hours to check out some of the local attractions. If just passing through take some time to visit Tam Coc or Thang An. From what we’d heard Tam Coc is cheaper but a little touristy and Thang An is longer, more in depth, and generally not as busy – that was our choice. The only way to see either option is a row boat what is captained by a local Vietnamese man or woman.
The road to Thang An is about 15 minutes by bike and it’s best to go early in case there are crowds. The boats can hold up to 6 people, but you can get one to yourself if there’s no demand at the time. We happened to show up just as 3 coach buses loaded with Vietnamese school kids pulled in and we were stuck in the middle of about 120 Vietnamese teens that couldn’t help but all take pictures of these two westerners in a boat with 3 other Vietnamese girls. Although it was a little loud, and our guide was the slowest paddler every (in the end we realized she was pregnant and felt terrible), we still had a blast.
The tour last about 3-4 hours and you paddle through 9 different limestone cave formations and stop at a couple temples as well. The tour goes for 160,000 dong ($8USD) and is well worth it. Most boats contain extra paddles to assist your guide, and we were more than happy to help out our guide!
We finished up our tour and decided it was time to head west to the famous Ho Chi Minh Road, so we checked our map, loaded our bags, and took off west.