Vietnam: Trippin’ Out

Hanoi, Vietnam – As much as I love Hanoi, sometimes I just need to get out of the city and away from the noise and congestion. The nice thing about living with 13 other people is that getting away doesn’t have to mean going it alone. So, on two separate weekends a group of us headed out of Hanoi on a day trip to the Perfume Pagoda and a weekend trip to Ha Long Bay. Both were excellent trips and nice escapes, but they were made better by the fact that you could share the experience with new found friends.

Perfume Pagoda

For those that don’t know, the Perfume Pagoda is a vast complex of Buddhist temples and shrines in the mountains Southwest of Hanoi, with the crown jewel being a temple carved into a cave at the top of a mountain. It’s not the easiest place to get to – it’s a two hour bus ride down small local, bumpy roads followed by a one hour boat ride, but the scenery is magnificent.

  • The night before embarking on this trip, many in our group stayed out until somewhere between four and five in the morning. As a result, two girls in the group claimed they were sick when we woke up at 7 AM and didn’t go on the trip. One girl didn’t drink the night before and went back to the hostel early, the other was out drinking with the party group all night. I’ll leave it up to you whether to believe both, or not.
  • Our one hour boat ride to the pagoda complex was quite the adventure. For starters, there was a hole in the bottom of the boat. Secondly, there was a crazy lady who kept rowing her boat up next to ours and yelling at us (in broken English) to buy cold drinks from her. We would tell her no, and she would say, “Okay, maybe later. But, you remember you buy from me.” Five minutes later the same exchange would take place again (and she continued to pop up throughout the day, too, and we’d have the same exchange every time). Thirdly, there were street signs galore along the river which made it seem like you were on a paved highway instead of the liquid variety. Of course, that’s all I need when tired and hung over: Traveling through a landscape that was different, yet just familiar enough to confuse me, with someone yelling at me in a shrill voice, while everyone in the boat gets paranoid over a little leak.
  • The morning consisted of a quick walk and tour around a pagoda at the bottom of the mountain. While it was nice, let’s face it, we were all just biding time until we could get to the top of the mountain.
  • In the afternoon we went to the top of the mountain to see the highlight of the trip, the pagoda in the cave. It was a quick cable car ride up, but it was quite the strenuous hike down – 30 minutes of profuse sweating (sweat was literally dripping off my hat, and I completely sweated through my shirt and backpack) and tender ankles from the uneven stone path. While definitely worth it, the cable car ride down may have been worth the extra three dollars.
  • The boat ride back to the bus was no less exciting than the ride to the pagoda complex. Although, instead of being hung over, we were all now absolutely exhausted after our little hike down the mountain. So, the name of the game became falling asleep in the boat without falling in the river (made harder by the group of local women on the boat next to us who decided to yell at each the entire way). I tried to hunker down and put my head in both hands, but that only seemed to make my back open game for the driver to hit with the paddle. The one time I did doze off, I woke up in time to see my roommate wake up when he was within inches of falling over the side of the boat. That would have been a rude awakening.

Ha Long Bay

This was a trip I almost didn’t go on, but it turned into one of my favorite weekends since I left the US. Dubbed one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Ha Long Bay definitely lived up to its reputation. However, the combination of the scenery with the sun, water, sand, and people is what made this a truly special place and weekend.

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