Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Perfume Pagoda

We had quite the adventure today! We signed up for a private tour of Perfume Pagoda. All we knew is we would ride in a car for a couple hours, in a boat for an hour, then visit a pagoda. We left out at 8:30am today (Tuesday) and just got back to the hotel at 5pm! It was our longest outing with Dylan and we were definitely not prepared. We almost ran out of formula and forgot to bring any toys! But we made it and we're all happy now.

The car ride there was interesting. We rode out of the city and into the countryside. We saw lots of cattle and everyone had a dog (as a pet). There were cemetaries in the middle of crop fields. They were growing rice, corn, squash, and peanuts. You would see rows of squash, then a grave (above ground, like New Orleans), then more squash. And a cow walking around in it all. It was very odd. They also had some cemetaries with lots of graves, but they were all facing different directions and almost piled on top of each other. Our guide said they bury the dead in wooden coffins for 3 years, then dig it up, collect the bones, place them in a small concrete coffin and worship it. We saw lots of these concrete coffins in shops along the way and they looked like baby coffins.

We ran over and killed a dog on the way, which was very upsetting. The traffic isn't as bad in the country, but they drive the same way. One of the roads was under construction, so it was all torn up and gravel-covered. It was a very bumpy ride. Dylan slept most of the way. He loves movement.

We got to our stop and were pointed to the restrooms. This was not a great experience. Their public restrooms are just holes in the floor that you squat over. Enough said.

We went a few yards and saw our boat. At this point, I was ready to go back to the hotel! It was a small metal boat with a little wooden bench in the middle. Big enough for half a butt cheek. Now, imagine riding this way, with a baby strapped to you, screaming the whole way, your legs falling asleep, for an hour. Yeah, it was not a great time. But Chris was wearing Dylan on the way there (I wore him on the way back). The scenery was beautiful. We were on a small river among some beautiful limestone mountains. I'll try to get pictures posted today or tomorrow (I did get caught up on posting pictures this morning, so there are lots of new ones).

We came to the island where the pagoda was and I was so glad to get out of that boat! I won't go into little details, but we walked and walked and walked and finally got to a temple. This wasn't THE pagoda, but just a small one along the way. It was beautiful. The pictures don't do it justice. Then we walked up a LOT of stairs, some very steep sandy, rocky slopes, and more stairs. And when I say stairs, I'm not talking about like the ones in your house. I'm talking about big slabs of rock that really work your thighs. We will not be able to walk tomorrow. Then we got to the foot of the trail. It was gruesome and we were just now at the foot of the trail?!? It was incredibly steep and I don't see how ANYone climbs it. It honestly would've been a hard workout for the most physically fit person, which I am not! So we hopped on the cable car and rode to the top. We had planned to do this all along, so all the walking and climbing prior to this was a shock.

The cable car ride was incredible. We were hundreds of feet in the air, over mountains and valleys. It was scary, but beautiful. Again, the pictures do not do it justice. We got to the top and found out this pagoda is actually a huge cave! I love caves, so I was excited. It was 120 steps (slabs of rock) down to the entrance. Had I known this adventure would have been so strenuous, I probably wouldn't have gone for it! But we're glad we did it, now that it's over. Anyway, there were worship areas around stalagmites and stalactites in the cave. There was a pure green marble Buddha statue from the 14th century. This pagoda was from that time, and the statue was the original. Our guide was Buddhist (as are 80% of Vietnamese people), so he stopped to pray to the statue. Then we had to climb back up the 120 stairs. I had to stop every 20 steps (yes, I counted them ALL) to breathe. My legs were quivering with exhaustion.

We made it back out and it was all downhill from there. The cable car ride back was full. We had another family in the car with us and I'm sure we were pushing the weight limit on that thing. Dylan was wet by this point and his diaper leaked, so Chris' lap got wet. We got to the bottom and had no where to change him, so I had to use my portable changing pad on the GROUND to change my son's diaper. Hopefully that's the last time I'll have to do that. Poor baby had wet clothes and a wet carrier, and Chris looked like he wet his pants. Then we had to begin the many steps, slopes, and sandy trek back down. It was so slippery and we kept slipping. This is when the 'accident' happened. Luckily, Chris was wearing Dylan, so he was fine. My foot slipped out from under me on one of the steep slopes and I went down hard. My right foot stayed in place, so I came down on my knee, which hyperextended, then fell over on my hip. I thought I had broken my leg. My first thought was, "Oh no! We can't get hurt or we'll have to stay here longer!" Luckily, I was back up and limping down the mountain within 5 minutes. I'm still limping and it's hurting, but I can walk and I'll be fine. I think I gave Chris a heart attack, though!

The boat ride back went much like the ride there. Dylan crying, our legs cramped up (except now my knee was hurting), and the wind whipping harder than we expected. We didn't have enough clothes on our son-just a romper. He's ok, though.

The ride back in the car was uneventful and Dylan slept most of the way. Now we're back safely in our hotel room, hoping for a full night of sleep because we're exhausted!


Sherri Puckett said...

Thanks for the heads up, I don't think the Perfume Pagoda is for me! I am so glad that you are feeling better and things are going good. You guys are in my thoughts and prayers.

Sautee Barb said...

When we were there 2 weeks ago there were crews working on widening the access road from where the boats dock, so we had to teeter on huge chunks of rubble for a good part of the climb up to the cable car. It was a lot further away than this 62 year old overweight American woman expected. After the cable car there was more walking up, so it broke my spirit when I saw those 120 steps down. I knew I couldn't make it to the grotto, so had to rely on my husband's pictures for that part of the experience.

This said, in retrospect I'm glad I went. The boat journey wasn't comfortable but the peaceful beauty of the river and surrounding mountains and rice fields was one of the highlights of our trip. I had complete confidence in the Swiss-made cable cars, and the view from them was incredible. The toilets in the cable car complex are modern and were clean. The improvement of the access was, I believe, scheduled to accommodate the pilgrims who are now visiting, after Tet, so the going should be somewhat easier in future.