Pilgrimage to the pagoda

Day 74
Hanoi, Vietnam

We didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into after signing up for a private trip to the Perfume Pagoda, a complex of Buddhist temples and pagodas about 2 hours south of Hanoi. Last night, the receptionist told me that the trip would leave at 8 a.m. “It’s hot, you leave early” she said. Of course, we slept in this morning and didn’t get rolling until 10 a.m., for which we’d pay the price.

Traffic was horrible getting out of town. An accident — one of 30 daily, according to our guide, Zoom — created a monster gridlock that set us back another hour. Today was also the peak of the bi-annual rice harvest here, so the streets of the countryside were filled with drying plants, creating an obstacle course that delayed us even further.

By the time we arrived in the town of My Doc, it was close to noon and the sun was at its highest peak. The air was thick with humidity. It couldn’t get much worse until we learned that we’d now be treated to an hour’s boat ride, paddled by a poor Vietnamese woman who looked out on the empty river — then looked back at us and cursed our arrival. At least the weather gave us an excuse to buy these really dope conical hats.

Properly sun-screened (for you Grandma!), the four of us squeezed onto a tiny boat and squatted uncomfortably in our seats. Zoom gave us some umbrellas to shield us from the sun. Then, the serious sweat started.

We would later agree that we sweat more in the next several hours than we probably have in our entire lives. If you have also ever tried squatting for 60 minutes (why you would, I’m not sure), you know how terribly uncomfortable it can become — with limbs falling asleep and aching backs. Needless to say, by the time we reached the shore, we were somewhat delirious from the heat and the squat.

Just when it couldn’t get any better, our guide told us that the cable car we had thought would bring us to the top of Huong Tich Mountain might no longer be running — since all the other tourists had come through several hours earlier — and we would have to walk the 4 kilometers to its peak. This was not what we wanted to hear. Luckily, a huge group of Korean tourists had arrived a couple of minutes before us and they warranted the cable car being turned on for one trip. We rejoiced and hopped on board.

At the peak of Huong Tich was the most sacred temple of the Perfume Pagoda. It was built into a cave in the 15th century and is visited each January through March by millions of pilgrims. The cave was a remarkable place, and not just because it was so cool that you could see your breath. Zoom explained all the shrines to us and then invited us to rub a dollar bill on a special rock for prosperity and take one drop of water to our bodies for good health.

The experience was almost transformative — with our body temperatures lowered to normal, we found this a remarkably peaceful and tranquil spot — that made the entire journey worth it. (We think.)

We took the cable car back down and then had lunch before visiting a few of the other surrounding temples. Zoom was able to charter us a motorboat back to the mainland, so we avoided another hour of squatting in the sun. Our driver returned us to the Elegance by around 6 p.m., where we took the most amazing showers, relaxed and then packed for tomorrow morning, when we leave for Halong Bay.


  1. lottieb says:

    Burt looks SO UNHAPPY in that boat pic. You both look so steamy (and not in the cute sense)….

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