We took early morning train to Ninh Binh; booked the ticket by baolau website; total for 154k VND for return trip. Had breakfast at a Pho vendor of only 40k VND a bowl, we then headed to the waiting room to wait for our train. We were not so clear about which platform to take the train and so asked several staffs there who were not really helping because of their limited English. We also found a machine to print our the boarding pass (if the passenger has not printed it before) but realized that the boarding pass was not even checked while we boarded the train.
Arrived at around 9am, we then walked to the hotel and the very friendly staff told us that our booking date was wrong; we came one day earlier than our booking date! Apparently, we booked the wrong date! However, she told us she could discuss with her manager and tried to get us a room. I thought that we would be charged for additional fee, but we were not. After dealing with the wrong booking date and got the room, we rented bike for day trip to Tam Coc. The staff also helped us with the surrounding map and recommended us several places to go.
That day we pedaled the bike for almost 6 hours under the very clear bright sunshine. On our way to Tam Coc, we passed the green rice paddy fields, those we saw on our train window. We arrived Tam Coc (around 7 km from hotel) which is very popular with its boat ride but did not take the boat because the place was too crowded and we heard visitors scam often occurred here. In addition, we already planned to take the boat ride at the other place named Trang An on the next day, so we skipped Tam Coc.
The next destination was Bich Dong Pagoda, to reach the pagoda one must cross a small bridge and enter the complex. One must also take stairs to reach the pagoda. There were two pagodas that we visited, one was obviously seen after taking stairs and the other was reached after passing a very dark cave. There was actually not much to see here, but at some point we could see the view of the river downwards and the greenery view.
It was still noon when we visited Bich Dong and next stop was Hang Mua caves but it was sort of hiking of hundreds step. So we needed to kill time and went somewhere else first; our choice was the Thung Nam bird park which was another 7km from Tam Coc. It was quite difficult to reach Thung Nam by bike: far and it was uphill road. After buying ticket, the road to reach the bird park was mainly uphill road. The park was big (we could ride our bike into it) and beautiful, but we saw no birds. Probably it was too hot outside that the birds also decided to hide in their nest instead of showing up to the visitors. There were also caves to explore, one of them was Mermaid cave but a warning not to enter was found at the entrance. Anyway, we did not spend much time here and then looked for lunch at any restaurant we found near Tam Coc.
We continued our trip to Hang Mua caves by taking shortcut through rice paddy fields path. It was a torture to ride bike under the sun with no sunblock lotion and also holding umbrella was hard because the path was not smooth and perfect balance was needed, which lasted form about 40minutes. By the way, the rice paddy field paths, small and isolated, were also recorded by Google maps which was awesome. Once we arrived at Hang Mua, we parked our bikes by the service offered by locals. However, there was actually free parking lot available for Hang Mua visitors just beside the ticket office.
Taking hundreds step upstairs, Hang Mua was a very incredible place. There were two peaks, each having a pagoda but one peak had a dragon statue. We went to the peak with the dragon statue on it and on its peak taking photos with the rice fields and ponds below. There was also one spot where we could see boat ride from the Tam Coc passing along the river below. This view was very awesome, lots of people taking photos from this point. We stayed quite long here, long enough until dusk and no more sunshine to burn our skin.
Returned to hotel, we cleansed ourselves and later on that night went out to eat Banh Xeo (savory fried pancake). It was very delicious and cheap, too. We luckily took seat beside Vietnamese to observe how they ate this delicacy, because though we order Banh Xeo, other additional stuff like lettuce, dipping sauces (two of em), cucumber+carrot+jicama pickles and a number of tissue-like paper. Apparently, we needed to use this tissue-like paper to wrap the pickles, Banh Xeo and dipped into the sauce. It tasted very delicious. Too bad this was the first and last time we ate Banh Xeo since we had no more time and Pho was more popular and easier to find than this dish.