Woke early after a largely sleepless night, and grabbed a cup of tea. Ah! Much better! Today we had to go and see the Perfume Pagoda. This required a long drive and then a 1-hour small boat trip. The boats were operated entirely by women. Our boat of 3; another traveller, myself and our guide, was rowed by a 12-year old girl, with more strength in her fingers than I had in my arms. The ride was gentle, and the views from the river of the misty green mountains were incredible. Gliding through such waterways, one is overawed by nature, its beauty, its size, its power, and the insignificance of ourselves within it. Beautiful. We reached our destination, and disembarked. Luckily, we had a choice of walking or taking the cable car to the top of one of the mountains. As we had hiked 2 days earlier around Cat-ba National Park, and seen a black and yellow spider spin a web right in front of us (if bitten by this spider you spend at least 2 weeks in hospital and could even die, apparently), we decided to take the cable car.
At the top we walked with our guide to a huge, deep cave. Buddha sculptures were nestled into the nooks of the cave. It was an impressive place, and is a sight of pilgrimage once a year for many Vietnamese. After walking around the cave, then climbing back up the steep steps cut into the rock, we got back in the cable car and went back down. After our staple Vietnamese lunch (variety is the spice of life) we walked to some impressive pagodas, including, of course, the Perfume Pagoda, and took many pictures. The place is a complex of pagodas and Buddhist shrines built into the limestone cliffs of Huong Tich mountain. We saw a few impressive pagodas, including Thien Chu (Pagoda Leading to Heaven), Huong Tich Chu (Pagoda of the perfumed village), and Giai Oan Chu (Purgatorial Pagoda). Then it was time to head back down the waterways lined impressively with limestone cliffs.
The 12-year old was waiting on the boat, glancing at the clouds with a slightly worried look on her face. She swiftly but gently rowed us back to the start, for a storm was a-brewing.
Back in Hanoi, I ate some Italian food, then headed out for a drink. Again, it was pretty quiet out. Then again, as a tourist you have to be lucky to find the right places. I remember thinking the same thing about Jakarta when I lived there. I know so many great places to go that are never mentioned on websites or in tour books. But if you meet the right people, you can have the time of your life. As did anyone who visited me in Jakarta. And so I wandered in a fruitless search for a place with life. I knew it had to be here somewhere, an expat haven with good music, good food, fresh beer, and friendly faces. I couldn’t find it tonight though. Anyway….it was time to say goodbye to the north of Vietnam, and head to the central area. I’d really enjoyed the north, and had covered the major highlights, hiked surrounded by the beautiful landscape, sailed through majestic Halong Bay, trekked through impressive National Parks. Now it was time for something new.