The Magic Of Ninh Binh

A couple of years ago I wrote about one of my favourite places in South East Asia here. I was of course talking about Ninh Binh. It is absolutely beautiful, peaceful and not yet full of tourists (although I’m sure that with the success of the new King Kong movie, that will all change, since it was filmed here).

When I wrote about my first time visiting Ninh Binh 7 years ago, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I’d have a chance to go back there, let alone twice!

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Luckily it’s only a 2 hour drive from Hanoi so it’s the perfect place to go to escape the stress of the city.

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Sometimes returning to a place can be a terrible idea and all of the beautiful memories can be destroyed, luckily Ninh Binh really hasn’t changed all that much since the first time that I was there.

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I highly recommend stopping here while on your trip to Vietnam, especially at this time of the year when the rice paddies are so beautiful. They harvest at the end of May, so if you want to see golden rice paddies, go in May!

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Here are a few of my favourite things to do in Ninh Binh:

Take a Bike Ride

This is one of my highlights when I go to Ninh Binh. It’s the perfect way to take in the slow pace of life and the beautiful scenery. Be warned that your arm might get sore from waving to the many people that greet you along the way. Most guesthouses and homestays offer free bike rental.

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Stay Among The Rice Paddies

I cannot recommend this option enough. If there is one thing that you must do while in Ninh Binh it’s this! We have stayed at the Ninh Binh Panorama twice now and both times have been truly magical. There is no road leading to it, just a dirt path and it is in a magical valley. It is perfectly secluded and you have the best view of the rice paddies and the limestone karsts. In fact, the second time that we stayed here we didn’t even bother with any of the tourist attractions because the views are probably better than anything else you’ll see in Ninh Binh.

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Our sweet little hut

 

Rent a Boat on Tam Coc

This one is a bit of a hit and miss. Yes the scenery that you get to take in on the boat ride is absolutely beautiful but the river is full of tourists and the boat ride goes on for a bit too long for my liking. I’ve done it twice and both times I’ve been dying for the boat ride to finish by the end. I have heard that Thung Nham is more beautiful, especially at sunset because there are many birds in that area. I have yet to go but hopefully the next time we go to Ninh Binh we’ll go there.

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Photo credit: Alotravel Asia

Climb the Mua Caves

This is a mountain with caves at the bottom and steps all the way to the top which has an epic view of the surrounding area. Surprisingly, it never felt very busy there at all!

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This is at the bottom of the mountain

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How to get there:

It’s so easy to get to Ninh Binh, there are many options. If you walk in to any travel agent in the Old Quarter they can book a tourist bus for you and it picks you up from your hotel. If you are on a budget then you can make your way to Giap Bat bus station and jump on one of the many local buses that go that way. There is also a train that goes from Hanoi to Ninh Binh or if you have the cash to spend, you can hire a private car. If you are feeling adventurous, you can always drive there by motorbike. This is what we did on our most recent trip to Ninh Binh and it is an easy route, you just stay on the same road for the entire time.

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How about you? Have you ever been to Ninh Binh? Are there any things that you would add to this list?

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Remembering An Australian Roadtrip

1930182_1167379596140_5000781_nThere are some adventures that I took when I was younger that I would love to take again now. I have become a completely different person that travels with a different purpose than I had back then. Before, I absolutely hated hiking, thanks to mountainous Korea, now I love it. Before I loved to party…these days sitting somewhere in the serene nature is absolutely perfect for me.

Australia is one of those countries that I feel would be much more special for me at this stage of my life than it was 6 years ago. Australia is a beautiful country. Although I don’t think that I truly appreciated its beauty when I spent 6 weeks travelling the East coast.

There were many reasons for this:

1. Despite popular belief…It gets cold in Australia.1930182_1167379196130_3490687_n

We arrived in to Melbourne near the end of August. It was cold…like a winters day in Ireland. Nobody had ever let me in on this awful secret that the Aussies keep. Australia gets bloody cold!

Myself and my friend Louise only had one pair of jeans each and one hoodie.  We were also staying in an awful hostel that was freezing inside!1930182_1150791941459_3003379_n

Our first few nights camping were also freezing.1930182_1167380236156_4988317_n

If I ever have a chance to get back to Australia, I’ll definitely pack more appropriate clothing.

2. Australia is expensive!

One of the hardest things to get used to was the difference in the cost of living between South East Asia and Australia.

We went from having delicious food in restaurants every day and staying in nice clean private rooms to having to cook every night and spend more on one bed in a big dorm room that we did on an entire room in Asia.

Next time I get to Australia, I’ll make sure to treat it as a destination in itself.

3. The final reason that Australia was tough was because we were camping.

We rented a car and a tent for our roadtrip. I think Grainne today would appreciate it so much more than 24 year old Grainne did. It was incredibly isolating and after travelling together for over 3 months my relationship with Louise was getting a bit tense (our relationship is better than ever now!).

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But having said all of that I still had a wonderful time and some beautiful memories. I can’t wait to go back at some stage in my life!

Is there anywhere that you have been to that you would love to go back to at a different stage in your life?

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Beomeosa Temple Stay (part 3)

IMG_9291After a long sleepless night, it was time to get up at 5a.m I went out to use the bathroom and witnessed the beautiful sunrise over the mountains. It made me realise that I need to get up at sunrise more often.IMG_9274

After getting ourselves ready for the day, it was time for a morning service. We bowed and then enjoyed 15 minutes of meditation. The monk made sure to tell us all to keep our eyes open so that we didn’t fall asleep. I had a hard time emptying my mind but it was so peaceful listening to the birds.IMG_9281

After our meditation it was time for breakfast. Breakfast was rice, doenjang jjigae (red bean paste soup) tofu and side dishes. I love doenjang jjigae so I was very happy to see it. Breakfast didn’t follow the monks ritual unlike the previous days dinner so it was much more relaxed.
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After breakfast we had 30 minutes of free time so myself, Ane and Jason went up to the river for a short walk.IMG_9282
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Afterwards it was time to visit a hermitage.These are basically temples that are pretty isolated. So we hiked for about 20 minutes to reach the hermitage. The view from up there was so beautiful and we were able to have another meditation session in the temple while looking out to the mountains and listening to the birds sing. It was so peaceful up there.IMG_9289

IMG_9303IMG_9294We then had an hour and 20 minutes free time. Myself and Jason found another river and sat down talking about our future plans and what our worries and stresses are about moving to America. It was nice to have a chat in a calming area together.

It was then time for another of my favorite times during the temple stay. We got to sit down and have tea with the monk. He showed us the traditional way to make green tea and filled us all up with so much tea!IMG_9312

IMG_9315IMG_9319We also had a chance to as him any questions that we had both about him and his life or about being a monk in general. He was so open and forthcoming, it was so interesting to hear about his life and the struggles that he had with making his decision to become a monk.IMG_9321

It was another memory that I will keep with me for a long time to come.

While telling us about himself he said something that really stuck in my mind.

When we do jobs that we aren’t suited to, instead of accepting that it isn’t the best job for you, so many of us will try to work at it and end up miserable.

I don’t know why but that really made sense to me.

The final event of our temple stay was our closing ceremony where we bowed and said the 5 precepts one more time and just like that, our time had come to an end.IMG_9325

IMG_9330It was by far the best experience that I’ve ever had in Korea and I highly recommend doing one if you are in Korea.

How to book a temple stay at Beomeosa:

I booked through their website which has English. It was very simple and I just had to transfer the money to them once I had booked. You can find the website here.

The Hadong Green Tea Festival 2015

IMG_9039So, a few months ago I posted about the first time that I visited this festival way back in 2011. I had really wanted to go back to the festival last year but, it, like most other festivals last year, was cancelled due to the Sewol ferry sinking.

This year, we decided to go camping in our favorite camping spot and check out the festival.IMG_8951

I have to say, that it is still one of the best festivals that I’ve been to in Korea. The setting is absolutely beautiful, it is situated along a river with fields of green tea in the mountains surrounding it.IMG_9035

Initially we stopped off in a nearby town that had a big market. We thought that that was the festival and myself and Jason were so confused as to how much it had changed in four years. We soon realised that this wasn’t the festival. But we did get some delicious green tea ice creams while we were there!IMG_8997

IMG_8996In the centre of the festival is a stage.IMG_9005

When we arrived there were lots of tables set up with beautiful bowls of different types of tea and magnificent place settings.IMG_9069

IMG_9072Women entered the area wearing beautiful hanbok (Korean traditional dress) and took their places at their tables. Then a group of judges went around to each table to judge the different teas.IMG_9041

IMG_9064Afterwards, it was open to the public to try as much tea and snacks from all of the contestants.IMG_9058

While the judging was being held we decided to see what else the festival had going on. Usually, with Korean festivals, the stalls all look the exact same and sell all of the same things, regardless of what type of festival it is. This festival however was much more tea orientated which was a nice change.IMG_9014

Our first stop was at an area where we could roll our own tea leaves. It was fun to see the process and afterwards they gave us some bags of dried tea leaves for free.IMG_9017

IMG_9018IMG_9023We then continued on wandering around. There were so many local products to try, green tea mists and lotions, green tea snacks, smoothies, ice-cream and of course many different sellers of different types of tea. All of them offering free tastings.IMG_9025

IMG_9052IMG_9056We found a Turkish food stall (there is always at least one at these festivals) and had some delicious skewers (I got lamb). We then went to the food tents and had some gimbab and cold drinks to cool off from the beautiful hot sunny day.IMG_9049

IMG_9050We really enjoyed our time at the festival. All of our bellies were full of green tea and we found it unbelievable that we didn’t have to pay a cent anywhere (except for our food). The people were so friendly also.IMG_9076

I would highly recommend for anyone needing some time away from the big cities to visit this festival…you won’t be disappointed!IMG_9061IMG_9059

NC Dinos Baseball Game

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This past Saturday, myself and Jason decided to go and see a baseball game. Baseball is absolutely huge here in Korea and the games are so much fun!
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We usually go to see the Lotte Giants play in Busan but the Changwon team, the NC Dinos, is actually closer to us so we decided to check out their stadium.

Being from Ireland, I don’t really know much about American sports but having a husband who loves all of the American sports I’m slowly learning.

We arrived at the stadium about an hour and a half early to buy some tickets. We then went for some coffee while waiting.

Something that is really cool about stadiums in Korea is that you are allowed to bring your own food, drink and alcohol! There are sellers outside the stadium selling the typical baseball food here…fried chicken, gimbab and squid.
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Jason bought a couple of rolls of gimbab and we went in to the stadium. Even if you don’t buy your food outside, the prices inside aren’t extortionate.

I bought a hot dog and chips and we settled down in to our seats. Each seat has a table, which is pretty cool! I had lots of questions for Jason and he was very good explaining all of the rules of baseball to me.
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The game itself was pretty disappointing for the Dinos. But the lively songs and chants definitely made up for it! Every hitter has their own theme song that the fans sing. I took a video of it which you can watch here.

Jason tells me that American baseball isn’t like this which makes me a little sad. I love the songs and dances involved in Korean baseball!

All in all it was a great day, perfect weather and good seats and to top it all off the parking in the stadium was free!
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There are baseball teams in nearly all of the big cities so if you are here in Korea, grab yourself some beers and a box of fried chicken and get yourself to a game, you won’t be disappointed!
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Busan Canola Flower Festival

IMG_8764What a great festival this was!
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The Nakdong River Yuchae Flower Festival is only in its fourth year but it’s a really great festival that I’d recommend to everyone living nearby.

IMG_8789For a few weeks the big riverside area of the Nakdong river transforms in to a mesmerizing sea of yellow canola flowers for as far as the eye can see.

IMG_8765We are lucky because it is only a 30 minute subway ride from Gimhae to the festival. Myself, Jason and our friend Ian decided to go last Friday after school. Once we arrived I immediately fell in love with this small festival.
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There were a few tents selling food and drinks but it’s nowhere near as big as the many other festivals that I’ve experienced here in Korea. For me, this just made the festival even more wonderful. There is a very laid back feel to it and there weren’t many people there.
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Which meant that we had plenty of opportunities to take photos of the flowers without people.
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As you can see from the photos, it was absolutely beautiful there and I’m sure sunrise would be magical as the sun rises from behind the city.

IMG_8794How to get there:

Take the brown line (line 3) of the Busan subway system to Gangseo-gu office. From there you can take exit number 2 and it’s about a 15 minute walk to the park.

Cheontaesa Temple (천태사)

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Having lived in Asia for 5 years I’ve seen my fair share of temples. It takes a lot for a temple to take my breath away these days and that’s exactly what Cheontaesa temple did.
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We actually found it completely by mistake. We were driving to a beautiful riverside area in Wondong just outside of Yangsan. On our way we had to go up a mountain pass and coming down we saw the entrance to the temple. We quickly found a spot along the road to park. Even the outside of this temple is beautiful. There were beautiful Spring flowers blooming all around and a small stream running near the temple. There was also a small building next to it with some hens clucking around freely.
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We walked under the entrance way and up a small hill to get to the main temple area. It was very quiet with only a handful of people there. There was also an eerie voice playing on a speakerphone with some traditional music (I’m guessing it was explaining the history of the temple).
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From the main area there was a stairway build in to the surrounding rocks. We climbed up and about halfway up we managed to get an incredible view of a giant Buddha carved in to the mountain across from us. It was absolutely beautiful and we were both pleasantly surprised by it.
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We then climbed the remaining steps to find a small shrine area in a small cave at the top.
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Afterwards we walked over to the area with the giant Buddha. There were lots of other beautiful stone carvings and statues.
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There was also a short hike up to a waterfall behind the temple. We climbed some of the way but didn’t have time to climb the rest. I definitely want to come back and finish that hike!
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It was such a lovely temple, it was so calming and peaceful there and we could have definitely spent a day there sitting and enjoying the zen-like atmosphere of this temple.
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Getting there:

Unfortunately you need a car to get here. It is between the towns of Samnangjin and Wondong. and about 20 minutes outside of Yangsan city.

The actual address is: Yongdang-ri, Wondong-myeon, Yangsan-si, Gyeongsangnam-do.