Map of the Perfume Pagoda region (Chùa Hương)
We booked a day trip to Perfume Pagoda through our hotel. The price was approximately USD$35 per pax if I didn't remember wrongly. It included the drive there and back, the boat ride to and fro (excluding tips for the boat lady), lunch and a one-way cable car ride up to the Huong Tich Cave (we chose to walk down - it took about half an hour). The drive to the wharf took about 2 hours, and from where we stopped, we had to take almost close to an hour's boat ride to reach the place.
Boat ride to visit the Perfume Pagoda
Along the On Yen river
As the Vietnamese Lunar New Year was approaching, the area was expected to be crowded during that season. Thus, there were many construction (to build food stalls and so on) going on when we arrived as the Vietnamese were gearing up to prepare for the crowds.
Like I said earlier in my first post, I wasn't dressed appropriately for the cold weather, and was decked in one of my shorts again. Don't make the same mistake as I did. I didn't consider that we were visiting a religous site, and that some countries tend to be more conservative with how people should be dressed to visit these sites, and thus made an error judgement by wearing my shorts. Luckily I had a scarf around my neck, so I used that to wrap my legs up before entering the few pagodas that we visited.
Huong Tich Cave
The view was gorgeous
Thien Tru Pagoda
While beautiful, I thought that the Perfume Pagoda wasn't a neccessary place to visit, probably because the very next day, we went on to another religious site that my girlfriend wanted to go - Yen Tu.
We arrived back in Hanoi around evening time and returned to the hotel for a short rest. We had booked tickets for the water puppets show at 9pm so we walked to grab a quick dinner around the theater area.
There were several roadside stalls and we decided to choose one that wasn't selling seafood (it seems safer). We plopped ourselves onto cramped stools and made our order (more like hand gestures actually).
We were served piping hot bowls of noodles soup. With unknown origins. We swear that we didn't recognise what the signboard said, and what we were served, but it tasted akin to chicken soup noodles. I've tried googling the three names that the above signboard has but none of them describes what I ate that night, so I'll stick with my chicken soup theory.
The soup broth was clear and simple, and it slid down the throat smoothly. Amazing. I wonder how the Vietnamese prepare such a clear and tasty broth that doesn't seem clogged up with oil or extra MSG flavouring.
I followed the locals sitting next to us, and dumped several condiments into my soup. I swear it's "monkey see monkey do" all the way throughout my Vietnam trip. There were fresh limes and a spicy sour chilli sauce. It made the soup even more delicious. Or it could be my bias-ness that the weather was cold and the soup was hot...
Fried dough fritters
I saw that a table of men beside us had some fried dough fritters on their table. I couldn't stop staring at them. I've never had them with noodle soup before so my hand shot up and I indicated to the waiter that I wanted (point to said table) those. It appeared promptly on our table. Heh.
Night view of the Hoan Kiem Lake
I didn't really enjoy the water puppets show much. Well, the music was really good for the first half of the performance, but it could be because of our full day out, or that the seats were really cramped, or that the guy in front of me was a really tall Caucasian so he blocked my view most of the time anyway, but I more or less almost fell asleep during the show. Oh well.
We woke up early the next morning as we had booked a driver to bring us to Chùa Yên Tử. Yen Tu was 115km away from Hanoi and the car journey there took about 2.5 to 3 hours. For more about Yen Tu, click > here.The girlfriend read that if you climb up to the top of the peak (1060m above sea level), you can make a wish (that will hopefully come true). So we were all prepped up to climb up from the bottom...
Along the track up, there are several stops where there are different pagodas that you can visit. We were pleasantly surprised when upon alighting from the car, the driver accompanied us up. Although he couldn't converse in English, but his presence was definitely welcomed as he helped us a few times on our journey.
There is the option of going up to the peak by cable car. In fact, two seperate cable cars, one to the mid point, then you have to walk to the other cable car station to catch the other cable up to the peak. But of course, we were trekking, and so up the stairs we go...
AND MORE STAIRS AGAIN!
By the time we reached the half way point, we were (okay, I won't speak for the other two, but myself) breathless. It certainly wasn't an easy task trying to climb up stairs upon stairs upon stairs. You get the gist. And our driver dude was sick that day, he kept coughing and girlfriend and I felt bad that he had to accompany us up, so we decided to grab the other cable car up to the peak.
And you know what? The cable up up the top of the peak...is not actually the top of the peak! We had to trek some more. Omg. That last stretch up there was the killer part of the journey.
Somewhere along the above pictures, there were fewer stairs, and more rocks instead. And climbing rocks is no easy matter. And it was oh so steep. I was literally on all fours climbing up using my hands and legs. Literally, apply the term "rock-climbing" in this situation. No joke. I scraped off a chunk of skin on my palm (the soft area right below your fingers) on a rock while climbing and it hurt like hell for the next few days.
Lemme tell you, do not try to be silly like me and bring a camera bag. It gets in the way. Take it from me. I had to narrow the bag strap, sling it across my chest, and shove it to the back to make sure that it doesn't get in my face when I'm on all fours. Tsk tsk.
Charms from the Dong Pagoda at the peak of Yen Tu
The final stop - Dong Pagoda at the top of Yen Tu
It started drizzling right as we reached the top and oh dear, I was all panicky at the thought of climbing my way down those slippery rocks that came up from. Thank gosh there was an alternate route to the cable car down where there were stairs instead. Now why didn't we go by that way instead when going up?
Anyway, even though we climbed half of the peak and not the full journey, my thighs and calves were super sore for the later part of my vacation. But though the journey up was really tiring, I didn't regret going up there though. It really was an interesting experience, and I really liked it much better than visiting the Perfume Pagoda.
The return journey back to Hanoi took longer - about 3 to 3.5 hours and since it was our last night in Hanoi officially (our next stop was Halong Bay the next day), we went out to try a recommended place for dinner near our hotel.
The dish we had for dinner that night was Chả cá Lã Vọng (grilled fish). It had popular reviews online so we decided to go for it.
The server brought over the condiments first - vermicelli, vegetables, peanuts, fish sauce and sliced red chillis. Then she brought over the heated wok of sizzling fish onto the table. She dumped the plate of vegetables inside the wok and walked over. I'd spied on the ladies next to us for the eating procedures. So the next step was to scoop a bit of fish sauce into your bowl, add the peanuts and chillis, mix. Add some vermicelli, and then the grilled fish and vegetables on top, and mix to eat.
The fish was alright I guess, albeit too oily. But the dish was quite expensive compared to what we had been eating for the past few days. We paid about 180 000VND per pax, and I thought the dish wasn't worth that much cos it was nothing special, and the quantity was also quite little (we were not hungry at that time, so it didn't really matter to us). Definitely not a place I'd recommend, but try if you must since it's one of the recommended dish to try in Hanoi.