February 25th, 2006 – by: Stormcrow
Dredging sand on the Perfume River for construction purposes.
Getting up early on our travels has become a good habit and today is no exception. Our day starts at six and we have exactly one hour have breakfast and get ready for today's program.
At seven we start walking to the shore of the Perfume River, where our boat will be waiting. The river owes its name to the fact that in the past it used to smell very sweet, because the flowers growing on its banks spread a perfume like aroma. I regret to say that the flowers have all but gone, and the smell with them (even though some say they can still smell some vague sweetness in the air).
The boat takes us to the Thien Mu Pagoda, that is said to be quite special. We've got some bad and some good luck today. Bad luck, because we cannot enter through the main gate due to construction works right behind it.
The entrance to the Thien Mu Pagoda.
Good luck, because a very special ceremony is taking place at this very moment. There are many monks in the temple to pray to the Buddha. Something about a Buddha statue that has been moved to another spot in the temple and the monks asking the Buddha's approval (should it have been my temple I would have done that beforehand, just in case the Buddha disagreed...). It is a very colorful spectacle! The monks are not dressed in drab brown garments like most Christian monks, these jolly fellows are wearing yellow. The apprentices stick out like a sore thumb, they are wearing brown robes and a very peculiar haircut (partially shaven with a single lock of hair falling diagonally from the top of their heads to their foreheads). Even the apprentices are remarkably serene and respectful.
The ceremony for Buddha's approval.
One monk is special because of two reasons to laymen like us, he's wearing a golden robe with embroidery, and whenever we se him he's donning a smile that can't be missed. We think he probably must be the abot.
In a niche stands the car that belonged to Thích Quáng Dú'c, the monk that burnt himself to death on a busy crossroads in Saigon in 1963, as an act of protest against the discriminating rules against Buddhist monks by the Ngo Dinh Diem regime. The picture that was taken became world news, but it took quite some time before the situation for the monks improved.
When we get back on the boat it is still quite early (9 o'clock) and we can take a rest and enjoy the landscape passing us by. It takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to get to the Minh Mang Mausoleum.
One of the apprentices.
This too is definitely worth a visit, and I'm sure Minh Mang himself would have thought so too. He never got to see it, though, because he died at a very young age, long before his tomb was completed. We spend until 11 o'clock here, and then we walk to the spot where our bus is supposed to be waiting, but it is nowhere to be found. Reason: a flat tyre. There's nothing for us to do but wait, but Michel is not intending to let a a deceased piece rubber lay our tour to waste. After a while he gets the driver of a bus, that's waiting for a group who are still in the mausoleum, to drive us to the tomb of Lang Khai Dinh. It is only a short drive and we get there at 11.45. The king that's buried here was a so called "Puppet king". His status and function was merely symbolic, he had to do exactly as the French instructed him, or else.
The smiling abbot.
The huge influence of the French on the king can also be recognized in the architecture of the mausoleum. This mausoleum happens to be the only one in which the exact burial spot of the king is known (9 meters below the throne).
At 12.15 it is already time to leave again, I would have liked to spend some extra time here, but being on a time schedule is one of the disadvantages of traveling with a group...
We drive back to the street where our hotel is. There's a restaurant there that serves the Hue's special dishes and we have lunch there with the entire group. Michel said that all previous parties he's taken here enjoyed it very much and we definitely have to concur.
After lunch there is some time to freshen up in the hotel and at two it's time to go to the train station.
Quiet and neatly in line.
Michel shows his Belgian roots by calling it "de statie". The luggage is brought there by bus, we do it the much more fun way: by cyclo. The men pedaling the cyclo's have a lot of fun teaching me the funny names they have given each other, and who am I to spoil their fun by not playing along? The ride doesn't take too long and we are at the station well before 14.30 (we have to be there an hour before departure, so we're fine). In the room where we wait for our train stands a huge television set, showing (amongst other things) a compilation of only bloopers in car and motor racing. Those are always fun to watch and kill the time perfectly.
Our train is delayed by exactly 38 minutes, but hey, it's an overnight train ride, so what's half an hour?
We are sharing a coupé with Cor and Jannie, eventually.
Minh Mang Mausoleum.
Michel planned us to be bunking with Erik and Jolanda, but once Trudy heard this from him, she immediately requested a transfer. Trudy, Caroline and I totally agree on the fact that they are not our kind of people, to put it nicely. In the current setup we are having a great evening, because especially Cor is full of stories about their past travels and he is a master storyteller.
One way or another all four of us are tired quite early and the first coupé to go dark is ours. It's only 19.30 when we are all in our (of course, too short) bunks.
Sinds cold is a commodity in Vietnam the air conditioning is on maximum and it controlled centrally, so there's no shutting it off either. Fortunately Michel told us about this up front, so we've come prepared with some tape and a piece of plastic to cover the inlet. The tape is just tape, no duct tape, so I have to get out of bed twice to fix things before I finally get lulled to sleep by the slow swaying of the train making its way through the dark landscape.