LISTEN, should you ever find yourself in Hanoi, Vietnam, make it a priority to visit The Perfume Pagoda. IT. IS. WORTH. IT.
Getting To Chùa Hương, or Perfume Pagoda.
I boarded a bus that transported me 2 hours away from the bustling cacophony of Hanoi's Old Quarter. After disembarking, I boarded a small row boat and was rowed (1 hour) to the complex of temples that many Vietnamese visit during their religious pilgrimages to what many agree is the most spiritual place in Vietnam.
I'll be honest about the rowboat experience, your bum will hurt and go numb several times within the hour of your boat ride. What helped me to not murmur about my stiffened rump was remembering that the woman rowing us--and many others like her--row the river multiple times per day transporting tourists for next to nothing in terms of compensation. What then did I really have to complain about? After enduring the boat ride, shifting as often as was needed to relief bum-stiffness, we arrived at the shores of the Pagoda and off we set to hike toward the most religious site in all of Vietnam.
After 20 or so minutes of walking, we arrived at the pagoda complex. Mysterious, quiet, and alluring. The fragrance of burning incense filled the courtyard where two golden lions faced each other. As I approached the first temple, I passed a group of Buddhist monks, several of whom curiously searched my face, smiled, and then continued on with their day to day. Five robed monks from the second passing group gifted me with beads and necklaces, and bowed. It was later explained that the giftings were their way of blessing me. (The other 6 people in my group only received one blessing, lol) A group of nuns at the Pagoda motioned to my face & then pointed to my heart, and it was through translation that I was told, "Your heart matches your face. Beautiful."
After taking in the sights of the temples in the center complex, we continued on to the Temple Cave. Now, it is possible to take the cable car from the bottom of the mountain to the top but since I was riddled with guilt about being out of the gym for a week, I opted to hike the stone-stepped path.....and regretted it. While my quads were on FIRE, a preference, it seemed to take forever to the reach the top. Unless you love feeling as though you're on the Stairmaster for an hour, pay the equivalent of $5 USD and take the cable car. (I'll certainly be doing that next time!)
What awaited at the top of the mountain was awe-inspiring and my only regret is feeling as though I could never get enough of being in the magical moment of being met by a chorus of monks as they chanted, the acoustics of the cave amplifying and carrying their sounds.
While at the Pagoda my face was often noted, but not before mentions about my heart. Beautiful spirits transcend race, religion, language, cultural practices, ideologies, and gender. I am human and thus subject to the human experience, given to experience the gamut of human emotions--the pleasant, unpleasant, and sometimes the utterly dark. However, I pray & strive for the maintenance of a beautiful spirit/heart for it is that which is sometimes so easily sensed and read.🏯
P.S. And by maintenance, I mean MAINTENANCE--unapologetic boundaries, unapologetically severing ties to people, places, endeavors and things when applicable, surrounding myself with positivity, and immersing myself in what holistically what adds to me. Wishing that you're given to know and enforce the boundaries needed for your continued peace, inner beauty, and light.