Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bicycling in Ninh Binh

I spent the last two days bicycling around the Ninh Binh countryside, visiting 1,000 year old temples and pagodas, the ancient capital of Vietnam from the 10th century, and being rowed down a beautiful river through long "caves" that open on both sides.

But the best part has been pedaling through the countryside over dirt paths, past rice paddies, tiny hamlets, farm animals, carts drawn by some type of a bull with a humb behind its neck, limestone mountains and rivers that seem to stand still.

Traveling by bicycle is wonderful because, in addition to costing only $1.20 per day for the bicycle rental and not using any fossil fuels, I can stop whenever I want to to take pictures, and the local kids gleefully greet me with "hello" and "goodbye" in English. I gleefully answer them back with the few Vietnamese words I know, and this game can amazingly go on for quite some time!

Of course I have to ask directions many times while traveling by bicycle, and it's amazing that this can be accomplished with only the Vietnamese words for hello, goodbye and thank you and the name of the place I'm trying to find. I just follow the finger pointing. Yesterday, after a long day's loop tour, I asked directions to my hotel by showing a man the hotel's business card. He pointed straight ahead, and then held up six fingers. I didn't know if this meant six blocks or six kilometers, but at least I was going in the right direction! It turned out to be six kilometers, and I found my hotel with no problem after bicycling alongside a group of school girls who tried their hardest to say some words in English.

People are so kind and helpful wherever I go, and they don't become impatient with my inability to speak their language. I wish that immigrants and visitors to the United States would receive the same patience from all Americans.

I am not going to upload any pictures until I get back to Japan, because the internet connection is too slow and intermittent here, but within a couple of weeks you will be able to see them at

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