Monday, 23 November 2015

A big Buddha and a numb bum

On our last day in Hanoi I decided to map out a walking tour of the city visiting all of the sights we'd missed during our time there. I started our tour at Hoan Kiem Lake by visiting the Ngoc Son Temple, which enjoys views back out across the cityscape. After that we walked North towards the centre of the Old Quarter, through all of the shops and stalls. Each street has its own product, so you'll have fruit street, shoe street, scarf street, bag street and so on.

We made regular stops at cafes packed with locals for iced Vietnamese coffees (which I'm now totally hooked on) to keep out of the scorching heat of the day. We finished our tour back near the lake and had a lunch of raspberry granita for starters followed by two scoops of salted caramel for mains (I can do what I want, I'm on my jollies!) at my favourite ice cream shop, 'Fanny'. 

After lunch, and as if four hours of walking wasn't enough, I decided to take us for a full circle of the lake. By this time it was about 4pm and we were into Golden Hour. People had finished work now and were sitting with friends around the lake, eating and drinking, some doing crafts, some chatting and laughing together. It was a lovely relaxing stroll after a day in the hustle and bustle of the city.

The next morning we were collected from our hotel and taken to Bai Dinh, a massive Buddhist complex rising up from the hillside. As we were fighting the traffic out of Hanoi I commented that despite the number of vehicles on the roads, you never see any accidents. I hadn't even finished my sentence before we heard a crack and our minibus had hit a cyclist. Later we saw a truck cut down the middle by the central reservation with its cargo of watermelons spilled across the road. I'll learn to keep my mouth shut.

 Bai Dinh is not an ancient site like some of the pagodas we've seen, but was built between 2003 and 2010. To get to the big Buddha at the hilltop, you have to climb 600 steps passing 592 enlightened Buddhas, every one in a different pose, on the way. And I have to say, I was feeling pretty enlightened myself by the time I reached the top. Or do I mean light headed? 

The view from the top was well worth the effort though!

After Buddha mountain we continued on to Trang An Grottoes where we boarded a small wooden row boat for a 2 hour paddle up the Sao Khe River through a series of limestone caves. The water levels change throughout the seasons so sometimes it's impossible to get a boat through the low caves. We were just able to get through, but we had our heads between our knees most of the time. Outside the caves and back on the river we enjoyed stunning views of the surrounding mountains and a rare quiet with only the sound of the boat's oars slapping rhythmically away at the water.

After two hours on a wooden bench my legs had pretty much forgotten they were attached to my body and I fell out of the boat and stumbled away like I was 89. I was quite relieved to sit on a cushioned seat when our driver picked us up for the 2 hour drive back to the hotel.

Back in Hanoi we had time for a very quick dinner before rushing to the train station for our overnight sleeper train to Hue.

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