What a day!
We went with one bike (because Steffens bike had to get a wheel bearing replaced) to the Cuc Phuong national park northwest of Ninh Binh. At first we visited the Turtle Conservation Center and the Endangered Primates Rescue Center. And what do I see there?
Both was great, but also very shocking and heartbreaking. Did you know Chinese people eat Monkey brain? They also eat turtles because they believe that this will increase their life expectancy. Every year, nearly 10 million turtles are traded illegally within Vietnam and neighboring countries. On the other hand, the conservation center was able to breed ~900 turtles since they were opened. 10 million every year vs. ~900 in 20 years… At this pace it’s not gonna be long until we are the only species on this planet…
We continued our journey north through the Cuc Phuong national park. 20 kilometers up the road into the park, a small trail leads through the almost untouched primary forest. After an hour of hiking we arrived at a thousand year old tree. Unfortunately, the tree looked more dead than alive. Even though there were some other big trees, we were wondering why is this one the only “thousand-year” old tree here? The national park was established in 1962 as the first in Vietnam. The area may be untouched for roughly 50 years, but seeing a lot of young trees there suggests that people obviously used the forest as a means of living and getting by sometime in the past thousand years.
After a lovely lunch in the middle of the park we wanted to head to a bird park in Tam Coc. However, we decided differently and chose to discover the surrounding area a bit more. We soon found a beautiful artificial lake.
As we drove on we noticed some stones or wood logs in the water. But something was weird about them…Wait.
“They are moving!”, said Natalia.
“But… What is it?”, I replied.
“I know! I know! It’s water buffalo’s!” Natalia finally shouted.
For the next 30 minutes, more than 15 of these incredible creatures made their way to the shore. How can they possibly swim? They are as heavy as cows, yet able to keep their head above the water and swim for at least 30 minutes. The water buffalo is Vietnam’s national animal. Nevertheless, we have never imagined that the water bufallo can actually swim! It was a truly remarkable sight and made our day!
Leaving a few swimming buffalo’s behind, we raced towards the Bai Dinh pagoda. Yes, the day was still not over! Arriving at the pagoda just before sunset, we soon found us gazing at the beauty of this temple complex with open mouths. For 50.000 VND we went to the top of the Bhao Tháp stupa. “A stupa? It resembles more of a gigantic tower than a stupa”, we thought.
The sun had set without us noticing and soon the Bai Dinh pagoda and its enclosing walls beautifly lit up the night sky. Yet again a temple took our breath away! Walking through the walls enclosing the main temple area felt more like a chinese or japanese temple than a vietnamese. Inside the walls hundreds of small Buddha statues were placed. After taking a closer look, the number on one of them read: 3465.
The Three Periods Temple is the biggest and most important building in this complex. Three huge golden Buddha statues are situated inside the wooden temple. In the walls, yet more small buddha statues – among them the Number 1! Just in this building, there is probably 2800 of those placed in the walls. We enjoyed this place all by ourself, as it was already 7 pm. As we were told that the area closes at 7, we soon started to make our back home. However, nobody told us to leave – we probably could have stayed longer.
On the way home we picked up Steffen’s bike from the mechanic and enjoyed dinner at the Ninh Binh Bamboo homestay, just a few minutes drive from the Bai Dinh pagoda. What a great day from morning to evening! There is so much to see and explore around here, that we barely have enough time to catch up with the blog, our next travel destination and so on…