While teaching in Hanoi, we usually had weekends free. On our first of these we traveled southeast to Ninh Binh. We hopped on a minibus headed out of Hanoi and then sat on it for about 2 hours waiting at the bus station for more passengers. Once we finally departed the bus station the trip was less than two hours on flat roads with no curves. Despite this, another passenger still got motion sickness. For cleanup, the bus stopped while someone grabbed handfuls of dirt from a roadside construction site and covered the offending mess. Then the whole pile was pushed out the door of the bus. Nice and easy.
When we reached Ninh Binh we went on a river tour. The Sao Khe river flows through rice paddies, limestone karst mountains, and caves through these mountains. There are two main places to go on these tours; Tam Coc and Trang An. We chose Trang An in order to see more caves, avoid some tourists and some tourist traps. There were still plenty of tourists, but no one hassled us to buy anything, and for that we were thankful.
The boat for the tour holds four passengers plus the rower. The tour lasts 2-3 hours and stops several times at temples along the way. The river was lined with lotus blossoms and incredible scenery around each bend.
After the boat tour we headed to nearby Mua cave. Through rice paddies, up a series of stone stairs, and we arrived at a small temple at the top of a peak. While catching my breath, there were panoramic views in almost every direction. To one side we could look back towards Ninh Binh town (through some lingering smog) while on the other was a stretch of the river upstream from where we had just toured.
It was a great day, but the time had come to pack our things and catch a bus back to Hanoi for another week of teaching.