Ride day 7: Cat Ba to Ninh Binh
23 May 2016
An early start for the ride after three very relaxing and fun days in Cat Ba. After a quick breakfast in the hotel we packed up and headed off out of Cat Ba town and north towards the ferry. At this point we were fairly uncertain what sort of boat the “ferry” would be, as last time we did this crossing we were on a very small junk boat that had a narrow plank to board from.
The ride up through Cat Ba was fantastic with no traffic and beautiful scenery the whole way.
As we neared the ferry location it became apparent that earlier concerns on type of boat were unfounded, as two small car ferries were docked up. We bought our tickets (20,000VND) and waited for the time to board. Boarding was equally as hectic as previous crossing to Cat Ba and as we went up the ramp the crew seperated us to go either side of the boat. A very hot sticky 30 minute crossing with nothing like the views of the crossing to Cat Ba via Halong.
We roll off the other side and make the quick 7km dash overland to the second ferry. Tickets acquired (30,000VND each this time) and then a brief wait. Boarding chaos this time as bikes and foot passengers are directed down same narrow path at side of boat. A woman behind me is insistent she must walk past me as I’m riding on wet off camber slippery metal. The same woman who then spent the entire 30 minute crossing wobbling my bike back and forward with her feet whenever I looked away. She seemed determined to knock the bike over, but failed in her mission.
The crossing looks like it may be on its last legs, as the new elevated highway has now been extended and looks close to having the bridge completed. Will make for an easier but less interesting crossing, especially the disembarkation! The ferry gently touches in to shore at an angle to the slip way with the ramp down. Whilst the boat is clearly still moving and positioning, the first foot passengers and motorcyclists leap for shore. Not a move for the feint hearted!
We remember from previous bus journey up this section of road from the ferry towards Haiphong that dust and potholes are the norm. In fact – there are a number of large storage yards and industrial complexes that seem to actually be dust production centres! Dust masks on, jackets done up and visors down – but still that dust gets everywhere.
The road in to, through and out of Haiphong to the south is nothing short of carnage. Traffic is very heavy and fast flowing. Reading the map whilst trying to ride together and avoid the traffic is a taxing experience. We get some temporary reprieve when we make a wrong turn at a major junction. This then leads to a 30 minute series of detours through small back streets and narrow lanes. Eventually placing us back on track and in a much quieter part of town.
The rest of the day was spent riding through a string of small towns as we worked our way towards Ninh Binh. We can see the national park and grottoes rising up in the distance to the west, and pass countless wood carving and stone carving shops and studios. Some amazingly intricate and large carvings of animals and people.
As we enter Ninh Binh we’re on the lookout for a place to stay. A few Nha Nghi’s on the outskirts, and as we kept riding we saw more hotels and eating places. We pass one small hotel that looks nice, so stop in and enquire on the price. We check out the room and settle on a price of $15USD per night. A quick unpack and lock up of the bikes and we’re in and ready for a shower to get rid of all the dust!
As we head out for dinner the hotel owner stops us and asks us to move the bikes so he can see them from reception and keep an eye on them and also offers up suggestions for places to eat that are local, tasty and well priced. We take a wander around but end up back at one of his suggestions and have a lovely meal of fried rice and pho washed down with local beer. Well deserved after the day in the dust.
Full route for the day here: