In the afternoon, I walked back to the homestay, asked if they could do some laundry for me and then borrowed a pedal bike to cycle down the road in the other direction to nearby Hang Múa.
My faithful steed for the day👇🏼 No back brakes but hey who needs brakes?!
I know this hat looks silly, but the locals really do know best. While you’re cycling, the updraft creates a really refreshing breeze, and pulls the hat off your head, while the ribbon holds it on securely, and the breeze cools your head. Also, what little contact it does have with your head is not sweat inducing because of the light natural stuff (bamboo? Or some kind of reeds?) it’s made of.
I parked the bike for the princely sum of 10000VND (about 34p), and went off to explore on foot. This whole area is really well laid out, with lots of places for you to sit and appreciate the stunning views across the rice paddies and lotus lake even before you climb the steps up the Dancing Mountain.
I enjoyed a contemplative walk around the lotus lake while hardly anyone else was around, then made my way up the steps.
Remembering the lesson from the Winchester Mystery House and the extra shallow steps Sarah Winchester had put in to help her get around, I was grateful when occasionally on the way up they’d done something similar:
View from the top of Dancing Mountain:
This👇🏼 is the lotus lake with the curving then heart shaped walkway that I’d walked on. If you look closely you might be able to see some people walking it:
There’s nothing quite like travel to help you grasp that it takes all sorts to make a world. Watching this guy (and several others) reminded me of that fact 😲:
With all the stone steps in the wall, sometimes this place is known locally as the “Vietnamese Great Wall”, like the Great Wall of China, I guess. (But much much shorter!)
The story about how this came to be called Dancing Mountain is about one of the ancient Kings, the Tran King, who visited Hoa Lu (the ancient capital city) to build Thai Vi Temple. In the story, he often visited a cave under a bell shaped mountain where he enjoyed the royal concubines dancing and singing. So he named the cave “Dancing Cave” (Hang Múa), but now locals use the name to talk about not only the cave but the whole area.
I asked several people for help today. That’s a lesson I’m gradually learning. The French guy to hold the row boat still so I could get in and out more easily, the homestay lady if she could do some laundry for me, and when I was at the very top of Hang Múa, I asked a guy if he could get my phone out of my bag pocket for me as I couldn’t reach it reliably with my bag on my back and I was balanced pretty precariously. Then I asked a lady if she could put it back for me once I’d taken this photo of the dragon at the very top, whose claw I touched:
At lunchtime I asked the French couple who came and sat with me what other places they’d been to and where they were going next. They recommended Hang Múa, which decided my plans for this afternoon, and I was able to recommend Trang An boat trip, which they were going on to after lunch.
Oh and I also asked a Vietnamese photographer/tour guide about the immaculate Asian woman who I saw at the top of all those steps, dressed like a bride in a long flowing white dress, with lots of beautiful lace on it and high heels. He said your wedding is important it is something you hope to only do once. I asked him whether this lady had actually just got married (the guy dressed like a groom seemed to have very little to do with her), or whether perhaps she was modelling the dress for a fashion magazine or clothing company. I said I thought it looked very difficult for her to climb all 500 steps dressed like this (in fact I saw oodles of Asian women dressed beautifully at sights like this, somehow managing to reach the top still looking immaculate, posing for endless photos taken by their boyfriends or friends or maybe other photographers). He tutted and said the people I should feel sorry for are not the brides or models but the photographers, having to climb all 500 steps all the time to take the photos! That’s when I found out he was a photographer (now retired from taking wedding pictures though, which I think he was thankful for!). He showed me a beautiful picture of the rice paddy we were sitting in front of, which he took just as the evening sun threw a shard of warm golden glow across it. He definitely has a gift!
Tonight, Canadian Zach has arrived at the homestay. We all had dinner together, in the course of which both he and I said we were kind of missing cooking, with all our travels. Our hostess instantly said, “You can cook here if you like – tomorrow?” We established the elements of a dish we reckon we could make between us… so, tomorrow night we’re on duty!
I also had a lesson in how to use chopsticks. I need more practice. But it looks like I’ll get plenty. Maybe by the time I leave Asia, I’ll be a pro? I thought I was doing well, but my technique, while ok with noodles, does not really work with rice.