Despite having been recommended to do a motorbike tour of the town, we decided to opt for a private 'perfume pagoda' tour instead, having had first hand experience of the interesting driving skills demonstrated by the locals! Having been promised an English speaking guide, lunch on board and a tour around all of the tombs and monuments up the river, we were a little apprehensive when we were picked up bright and early by a Vietnamese lady with a welcoming smile despite the distinct lack of teeth and a very restricted use of English. So restricted in fact, it was purely limited to hand signals and enthusiastic gestures. We arrived at our vessel and stumbled aboard to discover that not only was this her business but also home to her and her 12 year old daughter. Feeling very humbled, we set off chugging down the river. After around 20 minutes of her selling us whatever she had on offer, which included postcards of Thailand?! and drawings on bamboo paper done by children, we were encoraged to pick lunch from the menu. After paying once more for lunch, which we had been told was included in the price, the boat came to an unscheduled and somewhat abrupt stop at the riverside, amidst what seemed to be a gypsy camp. With nothing around us but other ramshackle boats and some cattle on the bank, our tour guide alighted and set off at a sprint over the hill. Surrounded by nothing more than the echo of our own voices and the casual mooing of a very bemused bull, we began to think we were starring in our very old horror film...
That was until lo and behold, 15 eerie minutes later back she came at full speed, flying over the hill complete with 2 shopping bags, which presumably contained our lunch! Then it was back onto the water for a short drift upstream, until we reached the first destination.
having all alighted safely, we followed her lead and clambered up the steep riverbank to be met by deserted dwellings. It was here she decided to leave us, with no instructions or directions and disappeared! Determined to see the tombs, we headed off down the path, past locals who exclaimed to us that what we wanted was very far away and we would need to take a ride on the back of their motorbikes to get there. Undeterred, we decided to head out on our own in the hope that it would all become clear on the way. After a few worrying minutes in the middle of the countryside, we happened across some local children who were thankfully more than happy to point us in the right direction! 5 minutes walk later, we arrived most relieved that we had opted for the short walk over the motorbike!
On entering the tomb, which had taken on a very eerie atmosphere due to the fog and the fact that it was deserted, which we shocked at how ornate and huge they were. The tombs themselves, although many parts had fallen into dispepair, would not look out of place on the set of Memoirs of a Geisha and were complete with areas that were previously used as the lounging retreats of the concubines. We spent our afternoon wandering around the pathways, gazing at the small yet scenic lakes and waterfalls and huge structures.
It was then back to the boat as she pitched for home. Somewhat relieved that hse was even still there, we sat down on the floor to a typical lunch of rice, noodles and vegetables. It was quite surprisingly really tasty and it was only when we saw how they had cleaned the plates (in the muddy, polluted river water) that our tummies began to turn!haha
Back on dry land again we waved our tour guide off and headed for a hot drink in the sanctum of yet another swanky hotel, before all too soon we were back on board yet another sleeper bus to complete the rest of our journey north to the capital Hanoi.