Archive for the ‘Neil in Hanoi’ Category

Day trip to Perfume pagoda

December 27, 2010 Leave a comment

My motor bike trip with Mr Ngan and his charming wife, Ms Man, to the Perfume Pagoda, which in fact consists of 3 Pagodas, was a culturally rewarding experience. It took about 2 ½ hours by bike through some very interesting villages. Some of the villages specialised in Cornical Hats Making (Non) and some in the very popular dog meat (Thit cho). The villages are a hive of activity with people lively selling and buying all sorts of food and goods, delivering construction materials into the villages and kids on their way to school on their push bikes dressed in dark blue trousers, white shirts and the traditional red cravat (seen in most schools throughout Vietnam) around their neck.

Perfume pagoda is a series of Pagodas, Den Trinh, Thien Tru, Giai Oan and Huong Tich Cave, built in the 15th century by the most well known King, Le Thanh Tong.

On arriving at the village set on the Day River (Sông Đáy), a tributary of the famous Red River, we parked our bikes at a coffee shop, had a good hot Vietnamese coffee as it was very cold riding our bikes, hopped into a canoe to be paddled by a young man for about 45 minutes up the day river to explore our first temple. It was amazing how fast this little thin guy paddled the canoe.

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The river was clear and clean and there were fisherman going about their task catching fish to sell. There were three types of fishing going on. The first was net fishing, both throw and fixed nets, next traditional bamboo pole and fishing line and the third, a long bamboo pole with a metal ladle on the end with electrical wires attached to the ladle and connected to a battery, electric shock fishing. The fisherman stands on his kayak and puts the ladle into the water among the floating plants and then gives it a jolt of electricity. The fish are stunned and float to the surface where they scoop them into the kayak. The river is quite wide and along the banks there are a few small houses. The river has very few motorised boats so it was a calm peaceful trip.

Arriving at Thien Tru Pagoda (kitchen of God), we decided to have lunch at one of the many traditional Vietnamese restaurants situates at he bottom of the mountain. The lunch was a delicious selection of BBQ chicken, assorted vegetables, pork with rice and a Hanoi beer. We then started climbing numerous steps up the mountain to the Pagoda. The pagoda is quite spectacular and seems unchanged apart from regular maintenance over the centuries. Thousands of Vietnamese pilgrims flock to this Pagoda during the Tet New Year celebrations usually sometime in February every year. The whole area is a vast set up for eating, drinking and praying to cater to these pilgrims. Fortunately we were there in December and it was relatively quiet with only a few hundred tourists and some Vietnamese who had come to worship.

We then waited at about ½ ways up at the cable car station, to take it to the high peak to visit Huong Tich Cave. The mouth of the cave has the appearance of an open dragon’s mouth with Chinese characters carved in the wall at the mouth to the cave. Inside the cave are many statues to Buddha including one which is very large. The cave is a shrine and I saw many Vietnamese and Monks worshipping. The pilgrims light joss sticks and pray in front of one of many altars holding the joss stick in their prayer like hands, bow, usually three times, and then place them in a receptacle at the altar. Some of the people also bring offerings of food and flowers to leave at the altars. Fascinating to see how dedicated Buddhist devotees are in their belief of prayer and worship.

After heading back down the mountain, first on the cable car (you could walk the 1,000 stairs but it was too cold as it is winter in Hanoi from December to March, not because I was too lazy) we arrived back at our little man who was waiting to row us back to our bikes for the journey home.

The Perfume Pagoda is a wonderful trip full of history and culture. You get right into the heart of Vietnamese beliefs and see the culture of the rice farmers, villagers and fishermen in this provence. You can take a day trip from Hanoi which includes English speaking guide, lunch, all entrance and canoe fees and air-conditioned transport. Well worth the visit.

Footnote: The return journey was absolutely freezing. Even though I wore a scarf, shirt, pullover and jacket, I still froze. Better to do it by bus next time if it is in winter. Still I really enjoyed the whole experience.


Categories: Neil in Hanoi

Cat Ba island attracts one million tourists

December 27, 2010 Leave a comment

(collected 1 year a go)

Cat Ba island near the northern port city of Haiphong has received its one millionth tourist, which marks the vigorous growth of the local tourism sector in recent times.

A ceremony to welcome Neil Hunter from Australia was held on Christmas Eve by Cat Hai district authorities in coordination with the Haiphong department for culture, sports and tourism.
The reception for this tourist came one year earlier than expected. The number of tourists to Cat Ba surged in 2009, bringing the island a total turnover of VND400 billion, which exceeds the 2008 figure by VND100 billion.
In 2009, the island introduced many more tours and a new ferry between Cat Ba and Tuan Chau international resort in Ha Long city.
The one millionth and the two other tourists listed next to him were all presented with free accommodation in VIP rooms, buffet, and Xmas party in the Holiday View Hotel.
At the moment many hotels and guesthouses have launched massive promotions with 30 percent discounts for rooms and 10 percent discounts for food and restaurant services.

Source: VOV

Neil’s trip to Duong Lam ancient village

December 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Welcome to my experiences working and travelling in Vietnam.

Travelling extensively through Indochina, especially Vietnam, I haveexperienced some wonderful, hospitable, and at time hilarious memories. Here is one of many.

Neil on motor Bike

My colleagues Mr Ngan, Mr Vinh and I, we all work for a medium sized travel/tour company owned by young Vietnamese men, often on a Sunday  would ride our motor bikes to take a look at some of the historical sites around Hanoi. One such place was Duong Lam Village, one of the oldest in Vietnam. A truly fascinating and beautiful place and it is like stepping back in time seeing and walking around the old original houses. The houses remain exactly the same and the residents are 3rd and 4th generation families. There is a central meeting hall in the middle of the village, open on 3 sides, where there is a large gong to call the villages to a meeting. What always fascinated me is the wonderful terracotta tiles, hand made bricks and small doorways with different carvings on them that make up these buildings. It’s totally unique to Asia and is very peaceful and pleasing to the eye. (Good Feng Shui).

300 YO house in Duong Lam

We were invited into one local house by Mr Hai (number two) and his wife for a traditional Vietnamese lunch, prepared probably the same way for centuries, cooked on a small charcoal BBQ, and it was delicious. We had fried tofu, BBQ pork, water spinach with garlic (called morning glory), BBQ chicken (Vietnamese prefer stringy chicken rather than soft and often they call it fighting cock, obviously not a good fighter who lost and ended up being invited to dinner) and a myriad of unusual vegetables. These are always served with dipping saucers ranging from MSG with lime juice, fish sauce and many other tasty home made sauces. Of course there is also a plate of very hot chillies which I still have trouble managing to eat.  The hospitality shown by Vietnamese people is great. Always you are offered home made rice wine (poured from a plastic 5 litre container, very warm and delicious but, great headache material if you over-indulge), Fresh fruit consisting of some varieties I have never seen in my country (fruit in Vietnam is sweet and fresh from the tree or vine) and to finish off, green tea served from a small teapot into eggcup style cups. Mmm. Good food! Wonderful friendly delicious and informative hospitality. Traditionally they would sit on the floor but being a chubby westerner (Tay) they thought it better to sit me at a regular table.

Owner's preparing our lunch

Here is our Lunch, Yum Yum

The area where they eat is in one main room in the house. This room contains floor sitting area, an altar and a large, very, very hard bed. Sort of like a multi purpose area. The cooking area is usually in a small room off the side of the house (some of the cooking is done in the courtyard on charcoal BBQ’s) and the toilet is usually some distance from the main area (mostly squat style but I have noticed western styles slowly creeping in).

Usually, in the courtyard, there are always many terracotta pots containing different fermenting foods. Some contain rice for wine, other to make sauces   or shrimp paste and this area is set aside for this purpose to make some extra money to support the family. Of course they also have some type of fruit or vegetable growing. No space is wasted.

Terracota Pots

They were very proud to show me their photos of their children, grand children and ancestors. There is usually an altar in every home for ancestral worship. Their altar had photographs of their deceased Mother, Father, Grandparents and great Grandparents. Vietnamese families are very close knit and the children and grandchildren are often looked after by the grandparents while the mother and father go about making a living. This can be going through the village collecting recycling, they may have a small roadside stall selling tea or sticky rice or home made food selling plastic wares (brooms, bowls slippers etc) from the back of an overloaded push bike or labouring in the rice paddies or construction sites.

300 yo house

Next we walked through the village to the oldest house. The owner and his family welcomed us warmly and proceeded to serve tea and show us around the house. Amazing! It has never changed (apart from the western style toilet built outback) since it was built some hundreds of years before. Of course there were some 40 or so large terracotta pots fermenting wine (vodka as they call it) in the courtyard. We sampled this and, WOW, rocket fuel! They proudly showed us some extremely old photographs of their ancestors. Again, like most Vietnamese people, very friendly and welcoming.

harvesting crop

The road to the village is very good by Vietnamese standards. You travel along the newly constructed Thang Long Highway and it takes about ¾ to 1 hour. There are full day tours where you also visit some historic Pagodas and include English speaking guide, lunch, any entrance fees and transport (air-conditioned bus or car). A truly cultural, interesting experience to remember the real Vietnam and its people!


Ngan was on the back of my motor bike (very brave man) and on the return to Hanoi, travelling at about 70 to 80 kms an hour, the back tyre punctured. Up until then Ngan seemed reasonably comfortable but I could feeling him grab on when he thought I was going to panic and hit the front brake hard and send us spinning. I didn’t much to his relief. As it was dusk and we were in the middle of rice paddies and villages, we pushed the bike back in to a small village to find someone to help repair the tyre. It obviously was quite spectacle for people coming and going into the village as almost everyone stopped to see or help the westerner. Eventually two very helpful men, one a real character who laughed a lot and a young guy who had his roadside tea and soft drink stall packed two stories high on the back of his bicycle, went around the village to find a new tube and tools to fix it. When it was repaired, they didn’t want to take any money but after a bit of persistence, they finally accepted 50,000 Vietnamese Dong, about $2.50. Once again the friendly and helpful Vietnamese nature comes to the fore.


Neil In Vietnam