My recent trip to Gia Vien was a refreshing one and a trip that was much needed. It took about two hours from Hanoi to Ninh Binh, our guesthouse host picked up us at Van Long wharf. Our car was parked on an open-air dike. On one side of the dike was a rice field; the other side was a lotus lagoon with limestone mountains off in the distance. Our trip host brought along with him 1 bicycle for each of us so that we could enjoy the scenery through a peaceful biking trip. It had been such a long time since I last rode a bicycle, that I was caught off guard, but I quickly remembered my childhood and got used to it. Gia Vien – a small peaceful district of Ninh Binh province in northern Vietnam is a perfect place to take some time for soul searching and relaxation.
I realized how wonderful the scenery was all around us, early winter winds blew through my hair and brought with it the sweet smell of straw from the local glistening fields. On my right side were towering limestone mountains with deep green lotus lagoons beneath them. It was like a painting, the scenery was so utterly beautiful. On the left were the shimmering green rice fields. Storks flew above our heads as we traveled down the dirt road and I looked up to see them and couldn’t help but notice the sparkling sun slightly hidden behind some pure white clouds. As I brought my eyes back down to what was around me I saw buffalo grazing on the side of the road slowly moving along as they ate the green grass. The sun peeking through light white clouds, fully covered the road, bringing with it a crystal yellow hue on the brown dirt below my bicycle tires. For an urban dweller like me, there is simply no better experience. ”How wonderful!”, I commented, my guesthouse host, smiled and said: “If you visit here in the summer, it is even more beautiful, the lotus lagoon is full of pink and white flowers with green lotus leaves and the rice field is sparkling with ripe yellow rice seedlings”.
I could imagine that picturesque scenery through his narrative. Out in the rice field, farmers will be quickly gathering their harvest; the children will be riding the buffalo as they play children’s games and enjoy the outdoors with each other. Out on the lagoon, some of the local girls will be on their canoes, paddling through lotuses as they cut the flowers off to make arrangements later at home. The entire atmosphere here will be covered with the sweet deep smell of lotus petals. “I simply must come back to this place in the summer and enjoy all of its beauty”, I think to myself. Turning a corner while on our bicycles, we continue our tour into the local village. We travel through a small alley with equally small houses on either side of it. Suddenly, our host informs us that we have arrived. I surprisingly ask him “But you said it was a 10km ride, how can we be here so quickly?” He laughs and informs me that we’ve already traveled that far. The beautiful scenery here totally eliminated my sense of distance; I didn’t realize we had traveled so far in what seemed like such a short trip. When my true senses came back to me, I realized how hungry I was; luckily, my host anticipated this and let me know that it was time for lunch. The locals in Northern Vietnam create amazing culinary dishes. They have special spring rolls with goat meat and lemon grass covered in a perfectly pressed rice sheet. Wrapped inside the rice sheet is also star fruit, pineapple, chilly, fresh garlic and a variety of other delicious veggies. The goat meat is steamed and then mixed with lemon grass, lime juice, ginger juice and some homemade spices that are kept a family secret, the mixture creates a beautiful and fresh flavor for the goat meat.
It is probably due to the relaxing peaceful scenery here, but the locals are so calm and one with nature, their lifestyle seems so idyllic. This lifestyle is also reflected in their foods; local food here is rustic and simple but brings a true sense of beauty to every culinary experience. After enjoying lunch, our guesthouse host tells us “If you guys had more time here, I would take you on a boat ride through the limestone caves. The limestone is only higher than your head by a few inches and its an exciting trip.” We promised him that we will come back, very soon. Leaving Ninh Binh, I have already begun planing my next trip here; I will definitely need to spend more than a single day on my next journey to Northern Vietnam’s peaceful area of Gia Vien. If you wish to experience true life in the asian countryside, I highly recommend that you choose a trip to Ninh Binh, Vietnam as one of your destinations.