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On Sharon’s Birthday and the Perfume Pagoda

July 4th, 2007 · 2 Comments

 Since it is Sharon’s birthday, I thought I would read her blogs and make a few corrections to reflect the actual reality rather than Sharon’s somewhat skewed version of events. Look for sections that have been crossed out. Where I have added something, I have put it in bold.

Today (at least where we are, sitting in sweaty Hanoi) is Sharon’s birthday. We were to go on a boat cruise but the monsoon rains have cancelled the trip so we are rearranging our travel. More accurately, we are sitting at the hotel’s free but slow Internet computers waiting for them to sort out our travel arrangements. Its good that it happened before we started the cruise as Sharon and boats don’t go well unless you are into personal fish feeding. Another good side effect was that we get to miss the night train from Hanoi to Hua which was subsequently described as an excellent way to share 23h in a cramped crowed cabin with 5 other Vietnamese people.

We went on a trip yesterday to the Perfume Pagoda, a temple about 2h outside of Hanoi. We managed to get on the right bus for a change and off we went. I think that guys that drive tour buses take extra pleasure with leaning on the horn. His basic mode was drive in the left most lane with his hand on the horn to scatter the motorcycles in front of him. If that didn’t work, he just drove up their tails and played chicken. They always got out of the way. To say that its stressful for a North American driver is an understatement. I’ll never comment on Sharon’s driving again.

Pictures from the trip are available here:

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Sharon made an excellent comment that people from Asia should be forced to take driver’s ed when they come to Canada and get a driver’s license. Based on the traffic that I have seen in Bangkok and Hanoi I agree. Nobody follows any type of traffic lights unless a cop is present and that just cuts down running of red lights to a few rather than everybody.

The best by far is roundabouts at major intersections. Imagine 500 motorcycles, a few trucks, a fewq taxis and everybody feeling that they should have the right of way and using their horn to let the world know they are coming. Our bus driver managed to cut off 3 other cars as he went from the outside lane to the inside lane. Sharon was watching and she covered her face and start mumbling and moaning.

We asked the tour guide how many people get killed in traffic accidents, he said 13 people per day. In our day long tour, we saw 2 accidents, one involving 3 motorbikes, the other where a guy ditched his bike on the road. We didn’t see anybody injured in either one.

Vietnam is bird flu capital of the world and its easy to see why. The whole place is flooded rice paddies with waterfall in one corner. This happens in the city and the country and hygiene isn’t high on their list of priorities. Combine that with high heat and it creates a toxic soup of bugs. They also live right next to their livestock and this happens in the city as well. During the really bad communist days, they used to raise pigs and livestock in the bathroom.

Back to the trip… The country side is rice paddies and skinny homes about the width of a townhouse. If you are wealthy, they are 3-4 stories tall and well painted. There were lots of partially completed houses. There were lots of graveyards with rice paddies all around and in the graveyard… It was not uncommon to see a lone headstone in a rice paddy.

We went through a checkpoint and the officious security officer wanted us to pull over and search us.  The driver slowly pulled over to the side of the road and keep creeping forward until he was out of the checkpoint. We were not followed but I did notice that he started taking rural roads shortly after that. About an hour into the trip, we had a pit stop at a tourist trap to use the WC (as they call them here. Its a squat, flushing consists of taking a pitcher of water and putting it in the squat). They sell liquor that has scorpions, cobras and lizards in it. Sharon thinks its only for foolish tourists.

We arrived in the little town and the tour guide paid our admission. Everything has an admission price. We then had an hour long boat ride in a paddle boat rowed by a Viet woman. They row forward rather than backwards. The trip was very pleasant except for the plank of wood we were sitting on. They row forward rather than backward and she was very efficient. 

(Its the evening after spending an exciting day in Hanoi but more about that later). We are being rowed efficiently along a river with mountains in the background and swamp all around. We go around a corner and there is a little red bridge and a shack with “Ticket checking booth” written on it. The lady rows over to the booth and gives the ticket and we proceed on our ways. As I closely look at the shoreline, I notice power and telephone running through the swamp. After about an hour of blistering sun and hard-as-a-rock-and-even-worse-on-your-ass sitting we arrive at the Pagoda area.

We get out ot the boat and are admonished to remember our boat number otherwise we will not make it back. The shoreline is lined with Viet restaurants asking us to sit down and drink. I thought the Jamaicans were pushy, the Viet could give them lots of lessons. We start walking up and up and up and up some more. Sharon is not liking this part very much. In passing, the guide mentions that we can take a cable car to the top or walk for an hour to get the to Pagoda. Sharon, in a very firm tone that brooked no discussions, decides we are talking the cable car both ways. Its highway robbery to put it mildly. The tickets are about $5 each. Considering that dinner at a good restaurant will cost you $10, its an indication of how steep it was. I was going to complain, its really, really hot and really really humid. I’ve discovered there is no such as moderate humidity in SE Asia. Its always 100% and you drip sweat all day long. I highly recommend microfibre shirts. The underwear doesn’t work worth a damn though.

6 out about 12 took the cable car and all I can say is God Bless the Austrians. It was fast, efficient and safe. We arrived at the top, and walked up some more then had to descend 120 steps into a large cabe to see the Pagoda that dates from the 15th century when some bright monk decided it would be an excellent place to build a shrine. How he found it in the 1st place is beyond me.

We were eventually joined by our friends who had decided to walk up. In the cool of the cave (it w2as really nice and was starting to wonder if the monks were not as dumb as I originally thought), I noticed that the people who walked up were steaming. In the cool humid air, their heads were steaming. Its a little disconcerting trying to talk to somebody while wisps of steam are coming from their entire head. I kept concentrating on the wisps of steam. Sharon would say that I’m amused by moving things which I suppose is true.

We did the tour, took the cable car back down and then proceeded to have lunch at one of the restaurants. There were a couple of Brits with us who were making eyes at the food. Apparently tofu and spring rolls was a little too foreign for them. I wondered why people like that come to Vietnam. Its a culture shock all around unless you frequent the few western style restaurants.

After a filling lunch and a wonderful visit to the WC, we set off down the hill to our boat where we endured another hour of ass torture to get back to the dock. Our guide had said that we should tip 10,000 VND per person. When we got ashore, I handed over 20k VND to the lady who rowed us. The official guide said “Too little, must be 20,000 VND per person”. I walked off at that point, I’m getting tired of people trying to extract money from me as fast as possible.

I tried a tamarind juice pop that was interesting (Sharon thought it defined vile) and boarded the bus for more fun driving along tiny roads crowded with motorcycles while our driver, feeling he had to make up for idle time, kept his hand on the horn at every possible opportunity. I dozed off. The one thing I can say for Vietnam is its cured me of not being able to sleep in noise. I think I can sleep through a bomb blast.

Our next stop was “shoe” factory to see “shoes” made in the traditional way. It was about 5 PM at this time and I tried to talk the guide out of it but apparently one person wanted to see it. Along the way we saw a convey of about 18 vehicles with sirens going. Not sure what was going but even our driver, Mr Horn, pulled over. My guess is a local bigwig was moving around.

We arrive at the “shoe” factory and walk in. To my surprise, I see looms making fabric. Its loud, smelly and loud. Did I mention loud? Each loom was run by a Viet women (women apparently do all the hard work including construction work at least by my observation). We watched for a while, went deaf and then walked outside. Apparently the guide hadn’t mastered the “si” sound and we saw a traditional silk factory not a shoe factory. We were then offered a chance to get good deals on silk (I went to look for birds) and finally headed home.

After more moaning from Sharon and some truly harrowing rush hour traffic we made it back to the hotel. I’ve found it much easier to look out the side window rather than the front window. Just saves that excess stress of running over people which really doesn’t put me in a vacation mode.

Tags: Blogroll · Hanoi · Togetherness · Travel · Vietnam

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 wordfart // Jul 5, 2007 at 8:44 am

    I did remember ahead of time, just had trouble logging in earlier to wish you a happy birthday, Sharon!

  • 2 wordfart // Jul 5, 2007 at 8:51 am

    Oh, by the way, HAEP PWEURGT/TKAEU.

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