Left Hanoi early, riding on the top of a dike. Great view of the neighbourhoods below, and very limited traffic.
We got fairly directly out onto back country roads; it felt like there had not been many western cyclists through those towns. Very basic agriculture, lots of rice paddies and various other crops. No machinery out in the fields, lots of market gardening going on in the available spaces. Felt like a well populated rural area.
Every little town along the way had a market, and we saw ducks, pigs and chickens being transported by motorbike and truck. In one town, the butcher stalls had dog carcases on display, and I was surprised to find that my western food taboo sensibilities kicked in; I found it repulsive, even though rationally speaking pigs typically live dirtier lives, eat garbage, etc.
It is corn harvesting season. The corn cobs are allowed to dry on the stalk, then they are harvested, husked, and dried some more in the sun before the kernels are pulled off, and dried some more.
At one point, I was riding along with a group of students headed home for lunch, and we had to ride through a stretch of road where the thrown the husks all across the road to be driven over. They were surprisingly light and fluffy, so easy to ride through.
The second half of the ride went through areas with a mix of tall karsts and flat, irrigated plains. Quite remarkable.
Just before reaching Ninh Binh, we passed by Hoa Lu, the 10th century capital of Vietnam, where some of the buildings and gardens have been restored. Visited a couple of temples in beautiful gardens. Very peaceful. Lovely, low and wide buildings with curves in their roofs. Lots of gold accents; much more luxurious than the temples in other communities.