Trang An

If Hanoi is chaos in perfect synchronization, Trang An is where the soul goes to rest. Riding in, all I can hear is the sound of our engines. The moment we park and cut the engines, there is silence. It’s a silence that has body, a silence that envelops you. After the excitement of the past few days, I feel this is the perfect first stop for this trip.

We meet a few backpackers and I head to dinner with them. Not long after that, Paul shows up with none other than Maeve. Maeve, the girl who had recommended we come to Trang An rather than staying in Ninh Binh. Not even an hour into our visit and we’ve found one another. We spend the evening playing pool, eating, drinking, and more than anything: laughing. We stare up at the stars. We walk to Maeve’s homestay and sit outside in darkness, marveling at the rock faces dimly lit by the moonlight. It’s cold but when a moment like this happens, you just don’t care.

When we head back to our hostel the gate is locked. We climb over it, a sky of stars sparkling overhead. We spend one night at this hostel and then check into Trang An Farm Stay the next day so we can spend our time with Maeve.

We end up spending three nights in Trang An. It’s relaxing and the views are beautiful. Tucked between enormous rocks, looking out over muddy rice paddies, I feel deeply at ease.

We spend one day exploring the sights nearby. We hop on our motorbikes and head to the Lying Dragon Mountain. Our drive takes us through a small village and as we slowly roll through and catch a glimpse of life around these parts, I begin to imagine the countless villages I will likely see on this trip. I have a strong feeling that these will be my favorite kinds of places.

We arrive at the grounds and there are rice paddies in front of us, with limestone karsts all along the horizon. The many steps to the top of Lying Dragon Mountain snake their way up the mountain before us.

It’s drizzling as we make our way up. It’s chilly but as we walk up the many steps I actually begin to wish I was wearing less layers. We haven’t even reached halfway when I see why it is that we’ve come here. This view is, quite simply, indescribable.

Looking out and taking it in is one of those moments in which I am in awe of this existence. I am in awe of the fact that after years of dreaming, years of wishing and hoping, I am seeing these places with my own eyes. This is all real.

We spend some time on the top taking it all in before slowly making our way back down the mountain and to our farm stay. I spend the rest of the day writing, drawing and staring out at the view from our farm stay. That evening a few friends from Hanoi arrive by motorbike as well, fresh from Ha Long Bay. It is another evening of drinking beers and soaking in one another’s company and in the permeating tranquility that is Trang An.

The following day and evening follow the same pattern and by the end of it, I have written and drawn to my heart’s content. Paul’s shoulder is on the mend; not great, but on it’s way. We could easily spend more time here, but we’re also keen to get a move on.

Maeve leaves that evening and we say our goodbyes, making plans to meet again soon. The next day, on January 18th we leave this peaceful place and head further south. 207 kilometers to Vinh. My first 200 kilometer day, and our first day as a new trio.

You see we’ve roped one of our friends into riding with us. Meet Clay and his motorbike: Ducky.

Let’s see what the next kilometers bring us.

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