Today was our first tour and we both really enjoyed it! We are now relaxing in our room before making sure we’re all packed for the next adventure tomorrow.
Breakfast was a quick one (of course that doesn’t mean less was eaten, just quicker) and we were ready and waiting at 8am to be picked up. At 8.20 our pretty tour guide turns up, is unnecessarily apologetic, and we get on the minibus and into AC heaven. On the bus we met our little group – a Vietnamese older couple who we could just smile and nod to, a young Belgian couple whose English was incredible and two young Spanish guys who we obviously spoke Spanish with. We sat at the empty seats at the back and off we went, assured it’s much quicker nowadays because they have the highway. Well, after an hour on this highway I nearly was at the point of vomiting and I’m nor a carsicky person. The road was great compared to othera but very bumpy, exaggerated by the speed we were going and also us sitting high in the back of the bus, being thrown around like ragdolls. Thankfully we had a pitstop and I could unscramble both my stomach snd my brain – honestly felt dizzy like I’d just come off a rollercoaster. We all pee’d, looked at the bald chickens and dogs in tiny kennels and 20 minutes later we’re back on the bus – I make sure I sit in the middle of the backseat this time and can see straight forward through the windscreen. I also remembered I bought my fan so I used that too. Luckily the second half of the journey was much better as we got off the highway and drove along windy roads through villages and paddy fields so I had much more to look at and also the speed we were going was much less. After another hour we reached our destination – a completely calm river with long tin boats waiting for us.
We got in one with the Spanish guys (that was a laugh getting into what feels like a very narrow, fragile boat rocking side to side) and the little lady started rowing us along the river. The water was absolutely calm and flat and mirrorlike, and it was actually clear but the bottom was covered in algae and plants so it just looked dark. Of course we couldn’t resist dipping our hands in and this saved us from humidity. It’s not full blown sunshine yet but the humidity is BRUTAL. The water was SO refreshing. So we rowed between big limestone mountains covered in trees for 45 minutes, taking everything in – the deafening noise of the frogs and crickets and mosquitos and birds (but at the same time it was so nice and tranquil, nature’s allowed to be noisy!) and the beautiful scenery, especially the huge lilipad leaves lining the river with giant pink and white lotus flowers sprouting through them. Our rower pushed the boat into them so we could grab a few and while the boys did that I acted like a total weirdo and was patting all the lilpads – they’re fascinating! The big ‘uns were about 50cm across and were so strong I could not push them underwater with a flat hand. Could have played with them for hours.
We were dropped off at a little collection of floating shops on the shore and walked past cages of live crabs, eels, snakes and terrapins, and made our way slowly (and leaving sweat trails I’m pretty sure) up what felt like a lot of steps on slippery rock, through more stalls and drink stands that Phan our guide ushered us past, up to the Perfume Pagoda. The last stall was a table with little wire tubular shapes on it which upon getting closer you realise each have a squirrel in them! This was quite upsetting but quickly made me turn my nose up when I read the sign and women told me “buy them to free them, buy them to free them!” Yeah, free them up that tree there so they go straight to your trap again. Ugh. Moved on pretty quick.
Finally we arrived at our destination. Now the tour is called Perfume Pagoda but this is actually the name of a whole complex of temples and shrines set in the limestone mountains of Huong Tich. This is a very religious site that draws thousands of pilgrims from across Vietnam, particularly during the festival which goes on for three months from January! The main point and destination of the pilgrims is the Perfume Temple which is set in a cave – our destination today too.
But first we visited a closer temple, the second visited of the collection, Thien Tru Pagoda, which was huge. Everything outside was very very slippery wet stone, worn smooth by millions of feet, and inside was luxurious and golden and full of incense and a huge group of people praying. I of course didn’t think this morning when dressing and had to tie my scarf around my knees and wear Javi’s big jumper to cover my shoulders. My god I sweated like I was in a sauna, no, worse. Surrounding the temple were numerous tombs of the monks that used to look after the place – these were all prettily decorated and with sacrificial offerings all over them.
After this came lunch. They served us fish, omelette, this yummy juicy lettuce thing, tofu, chicken and rice, and plenty of it! One of the Spanish guys had about 10 bowls, no joke! Then we had to go up to the cable car which would take us across the mountain valley to the cave. We jumped in, 6 of us in what felt like a small car due to nobody wanting to touch each other coz we were all wet with sweat, and got whisked up high over the tropical forests and little shacks you could spot through the trees. Of course I had to cover myself up again (seriously calorie burning) and we went down 120 slippery stone steps one by one to the Huong Tich Cave. It was pretty impressive. I’m not a cave person but this wasn’t deep at all and you walk around no problem, except the pools of water and patches of total darkness. We wandered about, touch all the smooth rock and taking pictures of the shrines dotted about, and I was particularly interested in the big bats that were screeching above us! The Belgian guy asked Phan if they were bats or birds but she didn’t understand the question so I cleverly chimed in with “Batman?” You may laugh but she got it thank you very much. On the way out of the cave we refreshed ourselves with fresh mountain water dripping from a pipe – so nice! Then the climb up the big wet steps to rip off my extra layers!
Now we were on our way back down the mountain, so we went down the steps to the cable car, waited for them to move for 20 minutes, freaked out coz a GIANT weird wasp actually followed us into the car after we joked about that happening, slipped and slid our way back through the stalls and tutted my way past the squirrels, jumped on the waiting boats and all of a sudden everything was calm and beautiful. May I remind you that it’s over 40degrees here with like 100% humidity so everything is a big effort, so being back on the still water being rowed back to the bus was so relaxing. Nobody spoke for the first 20 minutes, just got our breaths back. Javi and I also took our shoes and socks off and had our feet in the water most of the way – saved me from passing out I’m sure. Halfway back along the river we overtook a shop boat and I noticed the women eating the seeds from the huge lotus pods. These lotus pods look exactly like shower heads, and are the same size holding about 15-20 peanut sized seeds. They saw me looking and threw us a lotus pod. In I went. As we rowed past the woman who’d thrown it was miming how to eat them, so I knew I had to take the seed out of the shower head, I mean pod, then take the outer layer/shell of seed and eat the inside. The three boys were all watching me but to be honest here wasn’t much of a flavour. I ate a few. Hey, it’s a snack.
Then back on the bus and the Spanish guys switched places so I could sit at the front bless em, and I promptly laid down and fell asleep. Javi woke me when we were coming back into Hanoi! We said bye to our funny new friends who are doing a very similar route to us so who knows we may see them down in Central Vietnam, and returned to our hotel (which we have concluded is pretty famous, according to the locals, for being so nice, oo er). We then took a deep breath and went with my debit card to a cash point. Breathe out.
It’s ok. It worked out! we decided to cover our back. Our hotel receptionist told us to go to a certain ATM just down the road so there we went, and just as I touched my card to the slot the neighbouring hotel porter was outside by chance and told me quickly to not use that one, it’ll keep your card. Oh my god we both could have kissed the guy! He pointed to one or two across the street so we went there, even more scared. The second one worked, and the third too, yay!! We were both so relieved! Back we skip to the hotel to sort it all out.
I was on a high after that and as we left to go find dinner the receptionist told us to go to the night market, well the Night Market – it’s a pretty big attraction. A market taking up a huge great long road closed off to traffic, only happens on the weekends. It had a funfair feel to it as there were so many lights and people and kids and tourists everywhere – a reallt nice atmosphere! We treated ourselves to a BEAUTIFUL table runner, sunglasses for Javi and a watch for me, and then realised we should eat or we’d have to go back to the hotel for more dosh. Even though it is ridiculously cheap here it still all adds up.
After food and more wandering we came back exhausted. Javi has sorted out his stuff while I’ve been doing this and my bum is totally numb so I better do my bags! Off to the long-awaited Ha Long Bay tomorrow, the first thing that drew us to come here. Cannot wait!
That’s all folks?