To overnight in a homestay is a truly unique experience.
Parting ways with our driver in a sleepy town, we pulled what we could on our shoulders and set off across the weaving dirt tracks of Pu Luong.
Established in 1999, it is roughly 170km from Hanoi. Three-quarters of the nature reserve are tropical forest and it’s also home to ethnic Muong and Thai people.
Donning factor 50, and despite the copious amounts of water we were drinking, it soon became apparent at the bottom of Ban Hieu (1750m high), that in the smothering heat, the walk uphill would be a treacherous one.
Cue the motorbikes! Hopping onto three, our journey to our second homestay was greatly reduced from 45 minutes on foot to 15 minutes, as we whizzed past locals. A welcome breeze for sure.
When it comes to homestays, the experience can vary greatly. Like today’s new love for AirBnB, the style of lodgings you can get can range from pure luxury or down-to-earth sleeping arrangements to absolute hell in a field. This time around, we were lucky.
Accessible only by foot (or by motorbike), our homestay was a picturesque beauty as we approached it from the mountainside. It was the ideal spot, a place of rest, surrounded by fields, trees and the sloped shade of the mountains.
The next day we slipped on our swimming suits and sauntered through the rice paddies to a waterfall that would bring a smile to any melting tourist.
Tam Coc in Ninh Binh
Known as Ha Long Bay on land, Ninh Binh also houses impressive limestone rock formations. Near the city of Ninh Bình, The Rice Field Resort in Tam Coc was our destination for the night.
Rice production in Vietnam’s north is vitally important to the country’s economy and it is by no means an easy task.
Predominantly done by women (and buffalos), Vietnam has one of the richest agricultures in the world.
What we noticed most about our journey through the countryside, was how early the people woke up for work!
It was not uncommon to see the women with their sickles and baskets, making their way down to the fields at 5am to avoid the midday heat (35 degrees Celsius was a mighty challenge for us Irish folk!)
Cycling through the fields, with the sun beaming on our backs, it was no wonder that people were captivated by the location.
Finally, it was onto the Tam Cốc (“three caves”), which we visited by small boat along the Ngô Đồng River. The route including three natural caves (Hang Cả, Hang Hai, and Hang Ba), the largest of which is 125m long!
The journey on land was to finally end.
(Please note: this post has been back-dated to represent the timeframe that we travelled to Pu Long and Ninh Binh. This post was written on June 20th Edit 6/7/16 Removed tour guide’s name for privacy reasons)