Saturday, April 26, 2008

Visiting the Perfume Pagoda

Two hours from Hanoi is the Perfume Pagoda, where I went on a day-trip today. I slept through most of the drive, waking up occasionally to take a glimpse of the verdant countryside. Green fields of rice stretched on both sides of the road and ducks waded in the shallow paddies. Far into the horizon, rising from the mist, were the gigantic karst cliffs, our destination for the day.

When we reached the river, the tour group of roughly 13 people, a mix of both Vietnamese and foreign tourists, boarded a small boat made of steel or some metal.We sat on tiny benches with little leg room. Two women, positioned on both ends, rowed the boat. Thanks to the overcast sky, there was a cool breeze as we enjoyed the one-hour ride along the small and shallow river. The placid waterway was flanked by dramatic, ragged cliffs.

We dropped by a couple of pagodas along the way. These were full of Vietnamese worshipers who were offering food, incense, and money to the gods.
To visit the Perfume Pagoda, we climbed a steep set of steps for roughly 30 minutes. Thanks to my smoking habit, breathing was totally difficult. I thought my heart was going to pop out and I'd simply drop dead in the middle of the winding steps. Finally, we reached an enormous cave that was decked by a number of grottoes. The scent of incense pervaded the cave.

As I was not up for a hike down the bleeding mountain, I opted to ride the cable car. It was actually my first time to ride a cable car, although this one was only 10 minutes (punyeta, walang cable car sa Surigao, ok?). The view was mostly more karst cliffs.

The return trip on the river was very calming. The oars dipping in the water and the passing birds were the only sound we could hear. The cold breeze gently sweeping our weary bodies and the panorama of the blue cliffs rising in the distance were perfect to end the day.

Tonight, I walked around the crowded streets of the Old Quarter. I found a restaurant that served Vietnamese food, and just like the past days I've been here, I find the food extremely bland. I can't believe I'd say this one day, but honestly, I'm missing Thai food already!

Tomorrow, I'd continue my city tour of Hanoi and in the evening I'd take the night train to the mountain town of Sapa.

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