Welcome to paradise

Alternate titles for this post: “When Monkeys Attack,” “Old Ladies Laughing… At Me,” or “Today is Not a Good Day to Die.”

Really, it’s paradise. And not the ironic-streets-of-Oakland-Green-Day version of paradise. The type of paradise where you can’t quite figure out if it’s real life or if you’ve just been staring at your most recent issue of National Geographic for too long. You know the picture. You’ve seen it. There’s the river slowly winding its way through rice paddies with those craggy outcroppings in the background that look like they just emerged from the earth for that picture. Just off center there’s that flat metal boat, being paddled by a tiny little lady wearing one of those hats and the water is so calm it’s all reflected back perfectly and you’re just left speechless because saying anything would probably ruin it.

But they neglected to tell me a few things about paradise. First of all it’s hot. It’s so hot that I’m sitting there just dripping with sweat. So hot that I’m wishing that the cute little old grandma lady paddling the boat could pick up the speed a little bit so there would be a decent breeze. And that flat metal boat? Let’s just say I’m really happy I’ve had my tetanus shot. Of course it’s rusty! Everything here is so moist all the time from the humidity, I’m pretty sure I would rust if I sat still too long. So I’m sitting there sweating in this little rusty boat, about six inches off the bottom on the bottom on the most uncomfortable wooden seat of my life, with my knees in my face, trying to remember I’m in paradise. We paddle past rice fields, perfect little mountains and not one single water buffalo.

Finally, after what seems like an eternity of paddling through paradise, we arrive at our destination. We climb exactly 100 stairs (plus a couple more to the brand new sky lift) and happily get whisked up the hill for $2 one-way. After walking around countless caves-turned-temples it’s time to stroll down the hill to our waiting lunch. While apparently minding my own business a little too much, a monkey launches itself at me and grabs onto my water bottle. Luckily (?) it’s chained up so my instinctual jerking away has brought me far enough away that I can look at my attacker square in the eyes. This little dude is all fired up and maybe a little thirsty. Regretting not getting that whole rabies shot taken care of, I inch away and in the process totally forget to take a picture!

After a lunch of rice, tofu, spring rolls, fish and some unidentifiable meat that I did not partake in, it’s time to stroll around the nearest pagodas and temples. While absorbed in taking pictures, I realize this group of old Chinese tourist ladies has been following me around and now I realize they’ve been laughing. When I stop and smile and say “hi” one of them marches right up to me and grabs my left hand. The rest of them cackle with laughter as I confirm that no, I am not married. After I convey to them my age, they have another good hearty laugh and head on their way.

As we stroll back to the docks to find our rusty little boats, we pass by some fishermen. I jokingly make some comment about that being where our lunch came from. Surprise, surprise. I look in the bucket, and that is in fact where our lunch came from. The ride back through paradise is much cooler as the sun peaks our from behind those perfect little mountains. The breeze is starting to pick up and my faith in paradise is restored.
On our bus ride back to Hanoi at one point our driver decides the right side of the road is too crowded. For a full twenty minutes, we drive on the left side of the road into oncoming traffic, the whole time everyone in the bus is thinking in a very un-Klingon like fashion “today is not a good day to die!” Amazingly enough we do not have an accident and just end up providing a traffic break for the couple dozen scooters that trail after us.

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