Hoi An, Hue, Ninh Binh, and Ninefox Gambit
CodeFX Weekly #63 — 13th of April 2018
oh noes, two thirds of my holiday are over. 😭 This weekly is about Hue, the countryside around Hoi An, and Ninh Binh. I didn’t read any articles this week but finished the book I was reading, Ninefox Gambit, for which I wrote a small review.
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Two more weeks and we’re back to normal!
Hoi An countryside
We went on a village tour, which means riding the bicycle through the countryside and having a guide tell you a little bit about local (agri)culture. This was already pretty good, but it became one of my favorite days during this trip when we had dinner at a local family’s home.
Tri, our guide, spoke excellent English and we finally had the chance to ask all the things we wondered about Vietnam. How Communism works here, what the living conditions are, how they see the (still existent) divide between north and south. We had a great conversation.
I can only recommend taking this tour and doing it with Onetrip.
From Hoi An, we went on a day tour to Hue and it wasn’t fun — at least not in the typical sense. It rained cats and dogs and that made it quite unappealing to walk through the imperial citadel. We overcame this with gallows humor and early beers. So it was fun after all.
Ninh Binh is a mostly agricultural region a little south of Hanoi. But it also used to be a cultural center with Vietnam’s first capital, its largest Buddhist temple and Christian cathedral.
Maybe more alluring for tourists is the landscape, though. Let’s not go into a geological discussion, where I’d copy paste things from Wikipedia. Instead, read up on it or simply enjoy the pictures:
Ninh Binh City is not exactly picturesque, so most tourists skip it and go to the smaller Tam Coc, which is pretty close by. That’s what we did, too. After arriving on late morning, we picked up some bicycles and biked through the countryside.
The first day’s main stop was the Bich Dong pagoda, a small temple that was effectively chiseled into the mountain.
After climbing a lot of stairs to go from building to building we ended up in a cul de sac, where you can either turn around and go back down or start climbing increasingly steeper steps, which silently turns into actual climbing. Guess what we did?
Carrying my daughter up the mountain felt a little irresponsible at times but we were rewarded with a great experience and supreme view over Ninh Binh’s unique landscape.
The second and third day, we rented scooters for about 6 $ a day to get around the area. I can only recommend this! Not that there’s anything wrong with going by bike, quite the opposite, but we wanted to zip around a little quicker to see more sites.
Regarding the traffic, I have to say that I feel very comfortable here. Sure, there are no strict rules and everything’s a little chaotic, but (a) this does not even come close to HCMC’s insanity, and (b) Vietnamese drivers are far more considerate toward bikers than, for example, German drivers.
In Germany, if you’re riding your bike or scooter on the right side of the right lane, you can be sure to have assholes pass you with just a few centimeters to spare because they believe you have no right to even be on their street. Fuck you for not speeding in a miracle of German engineering!
In Vietnam, on the other hand, nobody gives a shit about lanes, so everybody has enough space to go out of their ways when passing you by. And that’s what they do — no car ever came closer to me than a meter.
That said, the obligatory “I’m passing you by, don’t be stupid and swerve to the left”-honk, while usually nice and informative, can give you a heart attack if coming from a truck. The first time this happened I almost jumped of the bike in terror.
Hoa Lu was Vietnam’s first capital and you can still visit two small temples that were erected there. Not spectacular and quite crowded, but still worth the trip if your in the vicinity.
Binh Dinh is Vietnam’s largest Buddhist temple complex. It’s a giant affair and the general infrastructure surrounding it (parking lot, ticket office, electric-friggin-cars to take you up to the site) suggests that it can handle tens of thousands of visitors. Apparently for good reason as it is very popular with the Vietnamese and must be jam-packed during Buddhist holidays.
We were lucky, though. There were a few people there and it was nice to see them pray or being touristy (so it isn’t just us), but there were no masses that we needed to escape.
There’s the Mua Cave that you can visit, but it’s not supposed to be particularly interesting and so we didn’t even bother. Instead we went straight for the mountain atop it. There are a rough 500 steps to climb and besides the exercise itself you’re rewarded with another great view over the countryside — I just wish the weather had been clearer.
I’ve never seen a dry spot in Vietnam and that is especially true for Ninh Binh. The entire region is streaked with rivers and ponds and there are uncounted boat rides that you can take to explore them.
And that’s it for Ninh Binh. On Friday we left for Cat Ba, an island in the famous Ha Long Bay. From there it’s off to Hanoi and then back home. You can read about that next week.
A word on our photos
You might notice an acute lack of family members in these picture. No, it’s not because we only take pictures of me. 😉 The reason is that I feel strongly about privacy and see no reason to plaster their faces all over the internet.
In case our photos make you want to visit Vietnam, please keep in mind that they were carefully shot and selected. Many tourist sites are much more crowded than the pictures let on. Personally, I don’t mind, but if you do, take that into account.
I didn’t read any articles last week because Ninefox Gambit finally picked up speed. In its world, calendars have actual power. And yes, calendar, the concept to measure dates and time by, but with a highly complex mathematical foundation.
If people wholeheartedly follow a specific calendrical system and build megastructures to increase its power, untold technological miracles are possible. As an empire becomes reliant on these so-called exotic technologies, it becomes reliant on the calendar supporting them. And so every divergence from it is a heresy that needs to be rooted out. All of this comes with a delicate Asian touch (the author is Korean).
I know that sounds pretty weird and it totally is
I know that sounds pretty weird and it totally is. But after about a hundred pages it really grew on me. Also, by that time the dynamic between the two main characters is established and carries the book forward.
There’s Kel Cheris, the young, mathematically gifted soldier, idealistic and straight as a razor, and then there’s Shuos Jedao, the genius general, dead for 400 years, but revived to fight a group of powerful heretics. A true trickster, whose back story is explored throughout the book. Both characters are complex and their exchanges and actions clever, intense, daring, and at times humorous.
The story is not outstanding, but good enough to not detract from the book’s strengths: Its weird setup, the innovative tech, the good writing, and, most of all, Cheris and Jedao.
Just one word of warning: There’s a steep learning curve. Don’t give up too early!