A two hour drive south from Hanoï brought us to striking limestone peaks set among rice fields and ancient temples. The Ninh Binh and Tam Coc area is considered a national treasure. We biked, took a sampan ride along the river and climbed close to 500 steep limestone steps to take in all the beauty.
After our bike ride we headed to the river for a sampan trip. We were navigated under three limestone caves, passing goats and ducks and amazing views. The oarsmen and women use a technique to save their backs…they alternate rowing with their arms and legs; it is quite a site. I need a foot massage just watching them row for almost two hours with no break.
The Ma Yen Mountain has a temple at the top and the steps leading up to the top were constructed for the King in the Citadel style of the Tenth Century. It is challenging to climb the path of almost 500 unregulated hewn stone steps. Each limestone step is a different height and they manage to get progressively steeper as you reach the top. The rewarding panorama of the karst formations, the river and the surrounding villages is mystical and picturesque. Even Quan Am Bodhisattva (Lady Buddha) is smiling.
According to Vietnamese legend, Dinh Bo Linh, the King, established the capital of the country on the top of the mountain. The King often came to relax, sightsee and enjoy the dancing and singing performed by the beautiful local women. He was discreet and enjoyed the dancing women in a cave at the bottom of the mountain. The Mua Cave also stored rice wine for celebrations with victorious soldiers. Today, Mua Cave has some barrels and jugs, but who knows what they store?
The ethereal beauty and uniqueness of Ninh Binh is a peaceful contrast to the chaos of the big city. Our version of a triathlon field trip was a special adventure.