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A Vietnamese boat ride into another world..

A Vietnamese boat ride into another world.

As you’ve been following my blog from Hà Nội you’ve met a lot of new people and places.  But there is another side of Vietnam. Its landscape is one of the most sensual and magical places on earth. Once encountered its inspiration never leaves you.

If you are like me, you keep coming back for more.

The Dragon Descending: Halong Bay.

The Dragon Descending: Hạ Long Bay.

I am hoping to inspire a lot of you to make the decision to one day journey to Việt Nam to discover for yourself its magical personality.  If there is a Grand Canyon for Việt Nam, Hạ Long Bay is it. This World Heritage area is vast, hidden, and mysterious. Its poetic name evokes a dragon’s back being visible as it endlessly dives into the ocean.

Not to be outdone, there is a Hạ Long Bay On Land in Tam Cốc. In some ways this experience is even more intense.  Being a river and not an ocean, you are two people in a small boat with only your oarsman for two cherished hours.  No microphones, no tourist chattering, no group sales.  Just oars lapping in the water as you glide through the landscape of the Tao Te Ching.

If Hạ Long Bay is the Grand Canyon, then Tam Cốc is Canyon de Chelly.

Halong Bay on land in Tam Coc.

Hạ Long Bay on land in Tam Cốc.

Your first stop will be at the ancient pagodas of the first kings of Việt Nam.  I’m not going to slow the narrative by describing everything, but I can say that the beauty of these pagodas was brought home to us by a haunting prayer of a group of worshippers, being lead by an old man in an incredible voice.

Spontaneous prayer with deep incense perfume.

Spontaneous prayer with deep incense perfuming the temple.

Once you arrive in Tam Cốc, the serene beauty of the temples in your memory, you present yourself at the wharf. You’ll be helped into your boat with its oarsman or oarswoman. Some are young, more are old.  They do multiple two hour trips everyday and must be the most fit seniors on Planet Earth.  Using their feet to row…

So here you go.  I got excited immediately but trust me the opening picture is just a slight preview of the next two hours.

Leaving the wharf.

Leaving the wharf.

In my last blog I mentioned the importance of lunar astrology.  Jan, if you’ll recall, was born in the Year of the Horse.  I am born in the Year of the Goat (at the hour of the Dragon during the month of the Monkey, but I digress).  A marriage of Horse and Goat is considered auspicious as each sign balances the other.  We are a summer romance that’s been going on for 34 years so there’s something to this.

Anyway, the area of Tam Cốc is my kind of place as goats flourish here. Enough of the Horse energy, it’s time for me to graze and wander….

My oarsman would say to me “Monsieur, chevre dans le montagne!” when my astrological relatives would come into view.  Here they are on the banks of the river.

Goats grazing on the riverbank.

Goats grazing on the riverbank.

Did I mention there are three caves? Truly think Magic Johnson would have a dangerous time of it here!

Caves in Tam Coc. Hope you aren't afraid of the dark...

Caves in Tam Cốc. Hope you aren’t afraid of the dark…

I let my mind wander, cooled by autumn winds from the northern mountains, which means the border of China. Reciting a few memorized poems of the Tao Te Ching. Listening to the oars dip in the water, marveling at the landscape. In awe I’ve seen a rare Li Po screen painting in Taipei but never quite lived in the landscape of his poetry.  Mahler’s Song of the Earth floated in and out with the autumn winds in my imagination (it is also a French moment, as Mahler’s source material was a German translation of a book translated in Paris in the mid 19th century, so his masterpiece goes from Chinese to French to a translation of French into German). Ca trù sounds as well, Tốn Thất Tiết’s music about rivers, all merged for two hours into a precious memory.  Wistful, peaceful thoughts.

Throughout Asia, being on water in a boat is a symbol of the reconciliation of man with nature.  The Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu in a physical reality. The elements of Earth, Water, Air, Metal and Wood all in balance.  Perfection.

Jan on the water in Tam Coc. Wish you were here...

Jan on the water in Tam Cốc. Wish you were here…

As you emerge from the last cave to head back to the wharf, a gaggle of Vietnamese women in boats come forward with bananas, beer, tea. Our oarsman was fantastic, refused a beer to remain a good driver, but insisted Jan take a picture. There’s a charming sound of the French language with a Vietnamese accent.

A smile needs no translation.

A smile needs no translation.

I’ll leave you with one last photo of Tam Cốc.  Can you find my astrological relatives on the steep limestone mountain?  “Monsieur, chevre dans la montagne!”

The goats of Tam Coc.  Can you find them?

The goats of Tam Cốc. Can you find them?

The autumn winds continued, cooling my imagination and making Việt Nam a little more personal.  Checking email at a coffee shop waiting to return to Hà Nội, I had a message from my best friends in Vienna, Martin and Barbara Haselböck. What a new world we’re in now.

I felt Loi Trinh Le smiling at me.

She had loved the fact I was born under the sign of the Goat at the hour of the Dragon in the month of the Monkey.

“Wonderful! Very auspicious signs,” she’d say to me…

Best, best, best,

Jeff