Pleasant Perfume Pagoda

Trip Start Aug 04, 2011
Trip End Jan 04, 2012

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Perfume Pagoda Tour

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Friday, September 9, 2011

Wake up call at 6.30am. So early. Heading downstairs  and the hostel lady welcomes us into the breakfast room "did you sleep well?", "Yes", "did you have a good day yesterday?", "Yes - it was lovely thank you", "Would you like some breakfast", "Oh yes please (thats kind of why we followed you into the breakfast room you nit)". "Tea or Coffee?" etc etc etc. She is exceptionally smiley and helpful. We ate the vietnamese staple of flat noodle with beef which went down very nicely. The breakfast crew brought us fruit, glasses of water, a fan and then they ushered us around into the foyer. They sat and stared at us smiling while we waited. Very uncomfortable. It is very disconcerting when you are used to 20 years of hotel staff not really giving a crap how your stay is - these people did seem to care.

Picked up we join the tour and exchange a few hellos. We actually get picked up by a minibus which then picks up a few other people at another hotel one street over and then drives us back only 30m from our hostel/hotel to where the coach was waiting. We had actually driven past this coach! Bewildering. The bus takes a while to get out of Hanoi Old Quarter due to the narrow streets. The guide 'Thanh' of AST (very good tour company)jokes that we are getting a 45 minute free city tour thrown in. Thanh is very likelable if not a little irritating as he repeats jokes later in the day.

Through the journey I overhear a Singaporean couple recognise an English gentleman and say they know him from TV on the football. I can't place him. I start a conversation later in the day to learn that he is an Economics teacher in Singapore with a past playing 2nd tier football in the UK. He now part time is a pundit on Star Sports in the asia region. Singapore's answer to Alan Hansen it seems (Note - we have since found out this guy was called Jamie Reeves if anyone cares to know). Either way, we'd met some kind of celebrity. Jamie was very friendly and talked with most of the tour, always seeking connections- I was envious of his confidence in doing this.

At our destination (2hr drive) we hopped into 6 person canoes and were paddled for an hour down river along what must be one of the most peaceful moments of our trip so far. Thanh showed us around two pagodas and explained the intracacies which cleared up a few things we'd been wandering about since China. As a good guide, he had carefully planned little factoids that made the tour much more than the sum of it's parts.
To get to the second pagoda we had to take a cable car. This is the most poorly staffed cable car probably in the south east asia region. The cable car motor wasn't even started up until enough people were on site and so we were sat waiting until other tour groups turned up. Being out of season had given us the benefit of a quiet spot but with no transport. Eventually the cable car took us up to the upper pagoda (one inside a cave) where we were greeted by 3 dogs apparently manning (or dogging) the upper station. No human staff to be seen.

Although enjoying the company of most of the group (we mingled well with some americans and the english group), Kate and I didn't take to a couple of Israeli girls who couldn't help but moan the entire day. First they had a good whine about the fact the boat seats were wet (no kidding, we're in Vietnam and it rains all the time), and another time when they didn't want to get the boats back from the pagoda because the journey was boring. How do you please these people?! It was a beautiful peaceful trip which needed to be taken for what it was, and not for a thrill ride.

Thanh took us to one side before going back on the boats to reccommend that we tip the local boat ladies but only to a maximum of $1 per person in the boat. At the terminus arguments then started between Thanh and the boat woman. These ladies wanted more, which was caused by one person buckling under pressure and giving more. After one tourist had gone over the $1 dollar threshold, the boat lady saw an opening. This is the problem Thanh explained. If you give them $1, they want $2, give them $2, they want $4. There is no final line. Tipping is a horrible complex matter I will never understand and don't think I'll ever be comfortable with but the angry woman just left us with a feeling that we were cheating them while probably being cheated out of money ourselves. The tour companies clearly do not pass anything but the bare minimum onto these local services and it is a terrible shame.

Over dinne, me and Kate had a few drinks. We found a nice cafe/bar in the old quarter called Gecko cafe which gave us a two course meal and 3 drinks each for about $16. We talked of where we are yet to go and the places we would have to miss out on.The alcohol having got the best of a tired Kate, when I mentioned;

"I expect we'll come back to some places again, I'd quite like to go to Seattle and then places in Canada like Vancouver"

She replied innocently

"Oh, is that where that famous dam is?"

I sniggered, as I'm sure you will when you realise which Dam she meant. She found it funny too so don't feel guilty laughing. 
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