Travel-ogue: Reel Vietnam
Ninh Binh Family Homestay
“Home From Home”
SO YOU’RE TRAVELING in Vietnam: You’ve been to the South and navigated the dizzying traffic of Ho Chi Minh City (still referred to by its original name Saigon), visited the amazing Cu Chi Tunnels, and took some selfies in front of the magnificent Notre-Dame Cathedral. Perhaps you worked on your tan on the pristinely white sand of Phu Quoc. You certainly explored the luminous and magical Ancient Town in Hoi An, and definitely visited the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi, walking through the bustling Old Quarter, strolling around the beautiful West Lake, and stopping by some historical temples where you can even view Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body at his mausoleum (which amusingly was named the world’s sixth ugliest building in 2012). And of course, no Vietnam trip is complete without a boat cruise through the hauntingly beautiful Halong Bay. But, perhaps towards the end of your trip, you’re ready for some peace and quiet away form the hustle and bustle and all the tourists… That’s when you open your Lonely Planet and discover the small city of Ninh Binh. Located in northern Vietnam, and the capital of Ninh Binh Province, the area is best known for its largest nature reserve, Cuc Phuong National Park. “But why travel to Ninh Binh?”, you ask. To stay at the Ninh Binh Family Homestay, of course!
Run by a young, lovely Vietnamese couple, Mr. Nguyen Thanh – or Scott as his guests call him – and his wife Mrs. Tran Hang, along with their two adorable children Bo and Min, the Ninh Binh Family Homestay really is, as their motto says, “Home From Home” (mind the endearing grammatical error). And I should know; I’ve been here for one week! I discovered the NBFH on the Southeast Asia Backpacker Facebook page, advertising that they were looking for a “volunteer English teacher,” and that they provided free accommodation, food, as well as a motorbike! I was traveling through Southeast Asia at the time and couldn’t resist; a chance to do what I love – teaching children, a profession I’ve been working in for the past five years in Taiwan – and explore a remote and authentic region of Vietnam.
I was welcomed graciously by Scott and his family, and on the first evening we enjoyed a delicious traditional dinner on a rug shared by other homestay guests from Australia, and the States, with a hearty chicken and vegetable soup, crispy spring rolls Vietnamese style (both Family Homestay specialties), and homemade “happy water” – you’ll find out what makes it “happy” once you try it So far I’ve taken my motorbike out on day-long excursions, exploring the countryside, and generally getting lost – the best way to figure out your bearings! It’s not unusual to encounter a herd cows blocking the road, free range chickens frantically scurrying about, and “goat traffic” which, instead of being gridlocked behind a line of cars, you’ll find yourself stuck behind a traffic jam of goats! We also take morning bike riding excursions with the guests – and there are plenty of guests to keep me company during my stay as the the Homestay is always at 75% occupancy – through the peaceful rice fields, admiring the local farmers as they plant all the rice seeds by hand, and the abundant livestock as you’re sure see some intimidating but friendly oxen lazing along the dirt roads, gaggles of garrulous geese (sorry for the cheesy use of alliteration), as well as a wide array of other farm animals grazing in the grasslands.
There are of course some excellent local tourist destinations you can visit just a bike-ride away: Ninh Binh City contains the impressive Bai Dinh Pagoda, the largest pagoda in Vietnam, as well as the biggest bronze Buddha statue in Southeast Asia! For a unique excursion, you can take the Trang An boat tour, winding through the Song Sao River and breathtaking mountains made entirely of limestone, and even passing through natural cave – but just a “heads up,” you’ll have to duck your head! Cool fact: Trang An is the site where they filmed the new King Kong film “Kong: Skull Island!” Scott also offers his own unique tours, scenic bike rides through the countryside, and his “special tour” designed only for the bravest guests with a sense of adventure, and danger… I have posted some photos, but pictures cannot do justice to what you’ll see when you explore Ninh Binh yourself. I’ll be updating you again soon, and posting photos daily on their Instagram account “Ninhbinhadventure.”
So stay tuned, and when visit the Ninh Binh Family Homestay, remember to say, “Mot hai ba zho!” as you down your first, but certainly not last, shot of happy water. Cheers!
Ninh Binh, January 26, 2017
Cameron is a freelance writer and blogger, and currently works as a tour guide in Hanoi, Vietnam. He now enjoys happy water on a weekly basis