I’ll open this with a joke:
A guy from BC, a girl from Barcelona, a girl from Toronto and I walk into a bus station without a ticket hoping to get on a bus to Ninh Binh that same night….
That’s the joke. The last bus left 10 minutes before we arrived and, to be fair, it wasn’t particularly funny at the time. What ensues over the next two hours is what made it all quite funny in the end.
Being Vietnam, of course a small man appears immediately and begins to try and sell us a ride to our destination. After some bargaining (and trying to play hardball by pretending we didn’t need the ride lol), we agree on 300,000 Dong (about 13 USD) for the 4 of us. Not too bad for a 2 hour car ride to take us directly to our homestay, right?
We take a moment to regroup and consider grabbing a ride with a random Vietnamese man in an unmarked car for almost 2 hours, and decide, “Sure, seems reasonably safe”.
We begin walking out of the parking lot towards the taxis and we realize a group of 15 men are following us. Of course we are a little tense about this sitatuion as we wonder, out loud, why one man is leading us out of the parking lot with a group of his close bodies following closely behind.
Naturally we get worried and start asking them to pull the car up but they insist we continue on with them. We stop to call a local friend and she speaks with the man who, clearly frustrated, agrees and exchanges, what seems like, loud, harsh words with our friend. I get my phone back and our friend tells us that the BUS will drop us off in Ninh Binh…it finally hits us that all the men following us were getting on a BUS with us!!! Not trying to kidnap/rob/murder us in an alleyway! We find a man who speaks some English and translates that we’ll be dropped off close to our hotel (7km away hahaha) and that we won’t be able to get a taxi so we should just wait until the morning. So what do we do? FOLLOW THEM TO THE VAN OVIOUSLY. So there are us 4 foreigners and 16 Vietnamese men PACKED, and I mean PACKED, into a small van meant for maybe 8 people. These people are laughing, shaking our hand, and it just becomes a very fun and cute situation. Our driver was also a maniac, we fell all over the place and as we realize that we may be stuck in this van for 2 hours, we laugh to try and cover up the nausea from hitting so many bummps at full speed. Feeling our pain, the men assured us , in broken English that we would get on a bigger bus.
The ride was difficult but also amazing, and we arrived at a small little hidden spot off the highway where we clearly were not supposed to be. Led by the bus driver, we head into the dark parking lot to wait for the next leg of our journey.
The small lot is lined with stalls selling food and tea. We spot a man smoking a long bamboo pipe and inquire as to what he’s doing, and, obviously, he invites us to try it. What do we do? Try it ! (Obviously)
20 minutes later, we load the sleeper bus we wait for the bus, sat on the floor as there were no beds left. The rest of the 15 hour journey consisted of amazing locals handing us blankets and water and trying to help us by translating what is being said on their phones. Although we did spend the majority of the time arguing with the ticket collector (who ends up yelling at us and calling us cheap for not wanting to pay more than we need), it was overall a reallysweet local experience. We even got a thumbs up from some locals for not paying the inflated tourist price for the bus ticket.
The bus drops us off without even stopping, just slowing enough for us to put our shoes back on and hop down. Ninh Binh looked pretty abandoned and the only signs of life were a few cabs trying to pick us up. The second cab agreed to take us to Tam Coc for 100k which wasn’t too bad. The long stretch of highway continue and after about 20 minutes we arrived at Tam Coc homestay.
Post on Tam Coc/Ninh Binh to come!