Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hanoi Part 3 - Michael and Jenni avoid the 'beef' dishes

On what was supposed to be our last day in Hanoi, we joined a tour group to go and see the Perfume Pagoda. It is located about 60-70km south of Hanoi and is basically a whole heap of shrines and pagodas built on and around Huong Tich Mountain.

First we took a minibus to My Duc, where we took a 6-seater canoe to the foot of the mountain. The canoe sat very low in the water, so low that we had to keep our backpacks on our laps when a motor boat went past because water sloshed over the side. When I say '6-seater canoe', I should point out that there weren't actually any seats, just narrow planks which were extremely uncomfortable after the first 10 minutes (the boat ride took over an hour!). However the scenery was spectacular, and the lady who rowed our canoe was very friendly. There were lots of other canoes on the river and all of them appeared to be rowed by local women. I couldn't believe it when she said that they make the trip several times a day, I would get tired after about 20 seconds!

Along the way, our guide explained the local legend surrounding the unusually-shaped hills on both sides of the river. Legend has it that they were once a herd of elephents, who angered a Buddha. The Buddha punished them, causing them to cry and formed the river with their tears. The Buddha then turned them to stone. Our guide pointed out one particular rock formation and, sure enough, it looked exactly like an elephant lying down. You could even see its eyes.

The first thing that we noticed when we got our of the boat was a skinned dog hung up out the front of one of the local restaurants - covered in flies with its front leg cut off. It was pretty horrible and led to us avoiding the so-called 'beef' dish that we were given at lunch, even though it was a different restaurant. I had one piece and it definitely did not taste like beef, although maybe I was just paranoid.

First we visited a beautiful shrine complex, not far from the river front. I would love to tell you what it was for and when it was built, but it was so hot and humid that I wasn't concentrating on the plaques, being more concerned with finding some shade and figuring out where my next bottle of water was going to come from.

Then we escaped to the shade of the restaurant for lunch, where we avoided the beef as already mentioned above. I call it a restaurant, however it was very basic, being just a huge shed with plastic tables and chairs and the kind of toilets where you flush by pouring a bucket of water into the hole in the floor and then wash your hands using the garden hose. However, the food was delicious and the water bottles were cold so it was all good.

Then we continued the tour and took the cable car further up the mountain, till eventually we were nearly 1,000m above the level of the river. The views were amazing, however even more amazing was the enormous cave that we visited once off the cable car. It is a natural cave, with huge stalagmites and stalactites which were a couple of million years old. Inside they have shrines to several Buddhas, one to pray to for children, one for mothers and one for fathers. They also pray to some of the stalagmites and stalactites, believing that gods or spirits live inside them. One is for a good harvest, one for gold and one for silver. I stroked the gold pillar, as instructed by the tour guide, however have not noticed any increase in my bank balance as yet. It was nice and cool in the cave, making it a very welcome respite from the horrible weather back at the top of the stairs.

That was the end of the tour, so we made our way back to the river by cable car. It doesn't sound like we did very much, however the small amount of walking was exhausting due to the heat. We were so tired that I managed to fall asleep in the extremely uncomfortable canoe on the way back! Except for the heat it was a very enjoyable day trip, if only for the amazing views of the country-side.

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