a little bit of silliness....click on the picture to create a fly for it to eat....

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Perfume Pagoda

When the alarm went off this morning at 6.30am I grabbed at my phone and jabbed what I thought was the off button.  "Hello Co, can I help you" said a very sleepy sounding Ms Thu (kitchen trainer and all round great girl!)...ohmigod...I had dialed and woken the poor woman up at sparrow'sfart!  I was so apologetic and thankfully she let me off and hopefully went back to sleep.
After my homey tasting Frosties I met up with David and Amanda on the corner of their street and we strolled down to the meeting point to catch up with Danny and our tour guide.

Sunflower seller
 We met up with our guide; a bright young man called Zhung, we got into the car and took off on our adventure.  Driving through the Vietnamese countryside is always an experience.  Pretty soon we got out of the city.  We saw the rice fields lying fallow...apparently it's not the time for rice, it's the time for banana trees. The drive took nearly two hours but it really didn't seem like it.  At one point we past a village where noodles were drying in the sun.

These excellent shots were taken by David 

The last stretch of the road was a bit nerve racking; the road surface went to hell.  You couldn't really call them potholes, they were more like craters...and the road  wasn't that level anymore.  In fact it undulated like the ocean.  Thanks to our four wheel drive we got through and pretty soon we came to the river.  After a visit to an Asian loo (scary when it's hard to squat!) we found our boat and it's tiny female 'driver'.  I felt a bit guilty sitting back while this petite woman powered us up the river.  All the boats we encountered that were being rowed were operated by women, the men only drove the one's with the outboards.
Our engine room...what a powerhouse...she moved the five of us without even raising a sweat.

The river was millpond flat thankfully because there wasn't much hull showing above the water line.  We passed all sorts of lovely things, ducks, cows, waterlillies.
These guys were roosting on the steps of a mausoleum

The cows seemed to enjoy a paddle

Gorgeous waterlillies studded the banks

Me, David, Zhung, Amanda and Danny - hand held shot!

All good!
After about 45 minutes we arrived at the base of the mountain.  Ignoring all the food and junk stalls touting their wares we took a look at the signpost to figure out where we had to go.

 The route was pretty much steps all the way.  The first 200 meters were even and smooth, then they turned into rocks cemented together into rough irregular steps.  I had bought some rice, peanut and sugar cakes to give us a bit of energy but eating them while scaling the first steps just about took me all my effort!  Thankfully everyone else was feeling the same way and we had a wee pause till we had finished eating.

And then the climb proper began!  It was actually a lot harder than I expected.  I thought we were going to be climbing the slope but it was steps and they were a real challenge...but we slogged on.  Ignoring the invitations of the many stall holders on the way we were intrigued to see small animals in cages as we climbed.  I was more upset than intrigued.  Especially when Zhung tapped one of the cages and scared the hell out of an already terrified squirrel.  These animals are available to worshipers to buy, then release at the temple in order to accrue karma.  It seemed problematic to me that Buddhists could torture animals when they won't kill or eat them.
This little guy tugged at my heartstrings but I refuse on principal to contribute to animal cruelty...paying to release them will only encourage them being re-caught and resold.

 We also saw a monkey chained by the neck which we ignored as well.  Thankfully there were also some free range creatures including dogs, pigs and some of  the healthiest chickens I have seen since getting to Vietnam.
This little guy actually came up for a scratch before collapsing on the ground.

After the scrawny chooks you see in Hanoi these little gems looked positively bursting with health.

One of the women selling drinks made us all laugh out loud...she asked us to buy, we said no...she said 'Later, you come back to see me...my name is Minh.  What is my name?'... 'Minh!' we chorused cracking up!  What a saleswoman...if we were going to spend any money ever it would be with Minh!
Chuckling quietly we continued up the seemingly endless mountain till we finally arrived at the top.  They are building another pathway to accommodate the huge crowds that flock to worship at the pagoda during peak season.
Danny, Amanda and Zhung

The best of things...
I loved that they built the path round a tree then despaired when I spotted a landslide of rubbish that had been dumped down the side of the mountain.

The worst of things...
In the middle of nowhere but notice the satellite dish.

To get to the top was a real achievement as far as I was concerned.  It was also worth it.  The Perfume Pagoda is inside a huge cave.  It's a well used temple where people come to offer alms and pray for what they need.  As prayers go on continually there is no photography inside but here's a view from the top of the steps.
After all the ups there comes the down...

The cave of the Perfume Pagoda
We found so many images in the stalagmites and stalactites, some natural and some carved in.  When we found yoda halfway up the wall  we got such a case of the giggles that we had to hightail it up and away before one of the monks or their acolytes came and shushed us. 
Coming back down the mountain was not much easier than going up, but of course there was the chance to see Minh again.  As we neared her stall we started calling out...'Minh, Minh.' like a bunch of demented schoolkids.  But our Minh had a great sense of humour as well as good sales skills and she laughed with us.  She sold us icy cold drinks...which I really needed by then and we went on our way content that we had supported the best candidate on the hill.  I got some good shots of pretty stuff on the way and fairly quickly we got back to the base of the mountain where lunch would be served.

 We had a tasty lunch of roast mountain chicken, fish, pork stir fry, yummy spring rolls, a beautiful omelette with rice and garlic greens.  Yummy.  Just as well I didn't see these bottles of snake wine till I'd finished eating.  If you look closely you can see not only snakes but gorgeous giant gekkos and even whole birds.  (Shudder)

Zhung and Danny on a rather nice stairway.
The trip back down the river didn't seem to take nearly as long as the one up and before we knew it we were at 'basecamp' and in the car on the way back to Hanoi. 
We're not sure what Zhung was doing under here, we think sleeping...

The trip had been a fascinating one as far as I'm concerned encompassing all of the very best about this complex country.  The wonderful appreciation of history, spiritual life and human achievement alongside the woeful disregard for wildlife and the environment. Seeing the construction of intricate and thoughtful ways to convey the pilgrims to the Pagoda alongside the lack of forethought with the rubbish confounds me.  But that's the conundrum that is Vietnam ...and for all that I still love it.  Coming here could prove to be addictive.


  1. Hi, do you think it is the same ? I bought Snake wine (snake rice wine?) on this website http://www.buy-snake-wine.com and i am looking for different species, do you know where to find ? Thanks a lot for help and info.

  2. Dear Collector, the only reason I published the photo of the snake wine was because it saddened me. I would not ever, ever help anyone to continue this abysmal custom. Killing reptiles in order to obtain some spurious benefit from eating them is a very ineffective way to improve your health. Take vitamins, leave wildlife alone please.