Perfume Pagoda: Eau de... perde de temps
Trip Start Mar 18, 2009
134Trip End Jan 12, 2010
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Numerous hotel pickups, an obligatory stop at a tacky roadside craft shop and we were there. Midday was fast approaching and so was the blistering heat. The actual pagoda complex could only be reached by riverboat, 1 hour in total. This job was bestowed upon the local women, an actual tradition that has a yearly rotar. Our guide book noted that this would guarantee them a daily income of 30,000 VND, which is the average earnings for someone in Vietnam. Already we decided that our tip at the end should be a around that figure.
A cool breeze quelled the heat as we steadily made our way up the river. Picturesque scenery on either side, no hawkers, this was starting to feel like a treat. Maybe we overreacted slightly this morning, and should give this trip the benefit of the doubt.
We shared a cable car with a group of Vietnamese. Sitting in front of me was a very inquisitive man, who spoke good English. He asked us many questions about our journey through Vietnam and was genuinely helpful and friendly. At brief moments of pause, I took the opportunity to glance out the window and take in the view. It was stunning, and the quote "Ha Long Bay but inland" was fully deserved. One strange observation was that the cable car stopped for a brief period half way up in an intermittent terminal. The floor was covered in 500 VND notes, apparently for good luck. Maybe the Vietnamese were thankful they have made it this far.
Upon reaching the top. Our first image was of an elderly women vomiting, nice! Maybe the experience was too much for her. Once the rest of the group caught us up, a short walk was required to the Perfume Pagoda. Images in our mind of an ancient trail to the Pagoda were shattered once we saw the shanty town street, littered with hawkers trying to sell merchandise. I thought this was meant to be the holiest place in Vietnam. Ah well.
Our next surprise was that the Perfume pagoda wasn't actually a pagoda, but a big stalagmite. This was just a prime example of turning something natural into a religious edifice, and having people throw money at it. Both of us were not too impressed. Lots of stalactites followed, apparently having different meanings such as wealth and fertility. At this point I think both of us were thinking that 50 USD would have been better spent elsewhere.
Hunger was starting to creep up on us both. Good job dinner was just about to be served. It was a feast of steamed rice, strips of beef, steamed vegetables, fragrant fish and egg omlette. Consumption of the food was as quick as the serving. As a group we reflected on the past 2 hours, and not many of us were impressed. One more pagoda to see, before we would head back to the boats.
The next complex looked a lot like Japan, and was definitely more photogenic. Although small, it was a welcomed relief. Not a hawker in sight!! Bliss!! A lot of the ancient Vietnamese aspects were incorporated into the surrounding architecture, giving it a real historic feel. It would have been great to really explore this complex further, but we had to head back to the boats.
On the way back we did walk past the restaurant we ate at, and to our horror there were dry cured dogs strung up for the eating. The chef carving parts off like saucisson; to our horror. The look of contemplation and doubt was on all of our faces. Whats done is done. Best not to think about it now.
We made it back to the boat, and another hour journey faced us before we would make it back to the minibus. Our 20,000 VND tip was lying in wait in our pocket, ready to grease the lady's palm once we reached dry land. The hour passed, and Emma received a poke in the back from the old lady. She muttered "tip" and rubbed her thumb and index finger together. Next she muttered "more", once we handed her the money. We refused and climbed off the boat passing an English couple who just received the same treatment, but mistakenly opened up their wallet and handed over more. This has definitely stained our view of organised tours and once back in Hanoi we will choose our next destinations more carefully.
The plan for the rest of the evening was to go out to Bun Bo Nam Bo and have an excellent local meal of Pho Bo and some Bia Ha Noi. A nice Gin and Tonic followed in the cafe near Hoan Kiem Lake. As we sipped our drinks we reflected on our time in Hanoi as tomorrow we would leave for Sapa and the next big city would not be until Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), in roughly 5-6 weeks time.
Where I stayed