Sa Pa was such a fantastic introduction to Vietnam. Stets and I had our 28 day Visa in hand, well technically glued to our passport, and so we decided to use every single day and travel from the extreme north to the extreme south. From Ha Noi, we loaded on a bus and headed for Ninh Binh, a tiny town 4 hours south of the city. We stepped off the bus, walked to a guest house, unloaded our rucksacks and headed out to explore. The town was very small but jam packed with people. We rented a couple motorbikes and set off to find a river cruise we had heard some great things about. The cruise was on a tiny canoe-like boat with just the three of us (Stets, Steve, and I) and our two rowers. It was a hot day and the boat trip was pretty touristy. The scenery was beautiful. We passed pigs lounging in the shade on the river's bank, mountain goats watching us from the steep limestone karsts, and Buddhist burial sights that looked like artwork. We cruised around for about 45 minutes. Just as we were about to disembark, our rowers started asking us for a tip. I was pretty shocked. Here we are, in sight of the dock, wondering if they would hold us ransom on this boat until we handed over more cash. We had already paid for the tour and bought our rowers a cold drink and a snack! Luckily, we convinced them to row to the dock where they continued to yell "tip, tip, tip!". We unloaded as fast as possible and walked away feeling a bit disappointed, to say the least. We shook off the negative feelings, climbed on our bikes and set out to see the town before sunset.
Our second day in Ninh Binh was also spent on motorbikes. We cut off the main road and took a trail that had a sign for fishing! Of course! When you travel with Stetson T. Wiley, you cannot pass a single river, lake, fishing sign, or fish farm without stopping! We were in awe of the landscape and the people we passed. Stunning. After driving for a bit, we came out on the main road...no luck finding the fishing as advertised, but a beautiful drive nonetheless. Continuing on our way we came upon an enormous temple on a mountain. The rain was looming ahead so we decided to stop and see what the temple was all about. We parked the motorbikes, bought a ticket for entrance, and hopped on a tram car set for the temple. What a great decision. This temple was huge. Human sized Buddhas in every position lined the staircases. Hundreds of smaller Buddhas covered the walls behind them. As we approached the half way mark of our climb, we entered an enormous temple. After exploring inside, we set off to march to the top. At the top we found another large temple and an enormous Buddha looking out over the town. We could see for miles. The sense of peace surrounding this holy place is indescribable. After resting for a while at the top, we started the long hike down. About half way, we came to a gentleman playing his guitar and singing some beautiful music. We stopped to listen and realized he was blind. He was singing in order to make a living. We sat in silence for a while, letting the music and the scene move around and into our hearts. We gave the man some money, thanked him for his beautiful sound and continued down and out to finish out our time in this tiny town.