With the wet weather easing I took a short excursion on my bike into the ‘Tràng An Scenic Landscape Complex’ that begins a short distance out of Ninh Bình. This newly designated (2014) UNESCO Heritage Site covers over 100 square kms of spectacular limestone karsts, extensive inland waterways and cave systems.
As i made my way through Ninh Bình’s impressive Western gateway a few limestone mounds stood out in stark contrast to the surrounding flat fields. A little further ahead a car had overturned on the wet road and its occupants (unharmed I was told) had been whisked away.
The flat fields soon gave way to high limestone hills and towering cliffs.The road snaked between them. I spotted a well used track to explore. This led me past paddy fields and a few local houses before reaching a small village. The further I cycled the more I was taken aback by the beautiful and often mysterious looking scenery. The limestone cliffs, lakes and traditional village buildings created an almost fairytale appearance. It was an exciting and wonderful ride!
The karst scenery of Tràng An is on a similar scale to that of Halong Bay and show how that must have have looked before the sea laid claim to it all. Soon I found my way, more by luck than anything else, via paths between paddy fields back onto the main road. A little further West lay the Buddhist temple complex of Bai Đính. But with insufficient time remaining I decided to circle back ‘home’ towards Ninh Bình. But this did take me past the tourist entrance to the Tràng An park. It was, as I had suspected, a major tourist site with an extensive coach and retail park. The main attraction is a scenic river boat trip which passes through limestone caves (Tam Coc and Trang An). I cycled over a bridge with the intention to ride around the main tourist reception building on the island where the tourist boats were moored but was shooed away by a security guard. No bikes allowed.
I found a small local road that led back into Ninh Bình. On the outskirts of the city I joined some road construction guys cooking on an open fire and refused their kind offers of food. Further along I helped an elderly man that was having some serious difficulty reattaching a metal flag bracket to a concrete wall. Hammering nails into concrete isn’t that easy especially when crumbling from previous attachments. But between us we managed it. A small victory for the day…
That evening and after a bit of a wander, Steve and I finally got a table and excellent food in the popular ’24 Hour Noodle Shop’ on Le Hong Phong Road. Cheap, wonderful and good enough for a repeat visit the next day before finally leaving Ninh Bình.
Back on the road I had my sights set on visiting the temple complex at Bai Đính. My route took me, once again, through the incredible karsts and paddy fields of Tràng An.
My route to the temple at Bai Đính was a little tricky. I had to negotiate along the shoreline of a long wide lake until finally the temple gates and pagoda came into view on the opposite bank. I hoped that maybe I could get a boat across but had to continue some way. After a long muddy track I found a main road that appeared to be going in the right direction. But then it continued too far past the pagoda which then disappeared behind a hill. I turned back. A young lad selling noodles on a stall in front of his families house told me that there was a short cut to the pagoda and temple complex. This involved slipping past a fence, over a field, and then through an access tunnel under the main road. I left my bike and gear with him in an outbuilding and set off on foot. He showed me the spot in the fence before returning to his stall. It was turning into a bit of an adventure..