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Hanoi & The Perfume Pagoda

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I’m still enjoying Hanoi very much. I continue to be amazed at the organic mass of honking scooters that flow through the streets, weaving around me as I cross the street. I’m still amazed that there are no disasters, but there is some method to the madness.

I’ve explored many of the sites here, although many more remain. On wednesday I visited the Temple of Literature, a Confucian temple that served as a university to train scholar officials. The architecture was very attractive, and there were a series of large stone tablets resting on the back of enormous turtles celebrating the graduation of either individuals or groups of scholars. This temple was first founded in around 1072, I think.

I also visited the Army Museum, which is largely dedicated to 20th century military history in Vietnam. It was quite sobering, particularly the display of American warplane wreakage in a courtyard. There were shattered pieces of B-52s, F-111s, F4s and so on, often with insignias evident. Also on display was the NVA tank that crashed through the gates of the presidential palace Saigon, marking a key point in the end of what is known as the American War. There are several very famous photographs of this event that I have seen.

The food is fantastic, whether it’s pho eating at a streetside stall as you sit on teeny stools at teeny tables, or a fancier meal in a restaurant. I’ve had delicious spring rolls, fish, juices and even creme caramel here. The prices are fanastic. A full meal with drinks and dessert runs about $4 at most.

Yesterday I signed up for a day trip to the Perfume Pagoda, about 70kms south of Hanoi. The trip was $12 all inclusive, and about 16 people came along. The bus trip was quite interesting. I got to see a lot more of Hanoi as we drove out of the city. The architecture is distinctive – tall, skinny ornate buildings are the norm. Scooter chaos was everywhere. The countryside is gorgeous, with lush patties and fields, and locals working them in their conical hats. The villages that we passed frequently had dogs in cages, and there is no doubt that they were destined for the table.

After 2 hours, we arrived in a village where in fours we got in small rowboats and were paddled by a local one hour down a placid river, past karst hills, shrinesm fields and even the odd lily just growing wild. We docked our boats, then hiked about 45 minutes up a steep stone path worn smooth by years of feet. At the top, we dropped down a set of stone steps into a massive cave which, while not deep, had an astounding mouth all surrounded by lush vegetation. The cave was a Buddhist temple, although I saw a number of Taoist deities as well. I hope that my photos do justice.

Descending was less sweaty. It’s not terribly hot here, but it is sticky. After a lunch at the bottom, we had some time to explore another ‘pagoda’, a gorgeous temple complex with a series of courtyards and towers, all hung with colours banners and flags.

We rode the boats back into down, then boarded our bus for the trip back into town as the sun went down.

Jeremy Tan arrived last night from Kuching and is delighted by the chaos, I’ve enjoyed meeting new folks, and have managed to meet up with Rory and Jenny from Ireland everyday, but it will be good to have a dedicated travelling companion, particularly one with Jeremy’s character. We’ll visit more sights in Hanoi today, with the highlights being a meal of cha ca grilled fish and a trip to the water puppet theatre this evening. Tomorrow we’ll probably head down to Hue. The original plan was to take the train, but I heard from Rory that you can actually fly for around $60, and fortunately they’ve retired all of their Tupelov jets, so that’s not such a scary proposition. A 45 minute flight is preferable to an overnight train ride, I think.

Written by sockeyed

October 29, 2004 at 14:33