Every weekend whenever possible we get lost in Hai Phong. We do this by jumping on our bicycles and heading out to new neighborhoods. We have come across incredible old French style catholic churches, historic pagodas, cemeteries that also host vegetable gardens (yes this is true) beautiful old homes and very poor areas. This weekend was extra long as Vietnam is celebrating two national holidays; Reunification Day and May Day. With extra time on our hands and nothing to do we decided to borrow a motorbike and throw our circle a little wider.
Đồ Sơn is a Vietnamese resort community about 30 minutes by motorbike from Hai Phong. This beach community is more attractive to Vietnamese than foreigners and gets pretty crowded on the weekends. It is also home to the annual Buffalo Fighting competition each August. We have driven to Đồ Sơn a couple of times by car. Each trip I have noticed this mysterious pagoda located on top of one of the hills. Our mission on this day was to find the pagoda.
We did no research ahead of time, just got on the motorbike and headed to the beach. It was the perfect day for ride. Not too hot, but sunny. Even with the holiday the traffic wasn’t bad except for the many bikes and buses full of red jersey’s. Not sure but I think that there was a football (soccer) match going on somewhere nearby.
Have you ever tried to get somewhere when you can see where you want to go but you can’t find the way to get there? It should be easy. We could see it off in the distance, on the other side of the rice paddies and past many huge water buffalo, we just couldn’t figure out how to get there.
This video is a little long, but you can see the tower off in the distance.
We finally found a pagoda that backed up to the hill and hoped to find some stairs or path up the hill but – only found the pagoda with an awesome dragon on the side.
Further down we came upon another pagoda. This one looked more promising. There was a parking area and a group of old ladies selling vegetables and votive paper items to burn at the pagoda. There were also several paths leading somewhere, although we weren’t sure where.
We also noticed a fountain that the sweetest of the old ladies motioned to me that I needed to go and wash my face in the fountain. I am not sure why, but since I was suddenly very, very warm I decided to go ahead. After our little splash bath we started exploring.
Our first trail led to a growling dog, so we turned back. Our next path ended up next to some lovely pools where we believe the water for the fountain was coming from.
We found another path which led straight up the hill. The farther up we went the narrower the path got. We realized that all along the path were grave-sites which were once again interspersed with vegetable gardens. It really makes a great use of extra space. Every time I see this I imagine a little garden spot over my grandparents grave. It sounds sort of weird, but I think my grandparents would appreciate us using the space so wisely.
The higher we got the narrower the trail got. I kept remembering a conversation we had just had about poisonous snakes in Vietnam, and watched the bushes carefully. We talked about turning back but could see the top of the hill just a little further on.
Once we got to the top we found . . . a road. A dirt road but certainly the road we had been looking for. We were not going to back down and get the motorbike and we could see the pagoda so we walked on. The view was incredible. We could the Tonkin Coast in all its glory. Many fish farms and boats and there was a welcome cool breeze.
It took us about 20 minutes to walk to the Pagoda. We think it is called the Louc Dan Pagoda or temple. There was a gory story in Vietnamese with lots of pictures of people being gored, dragged by tongues, etc. We were fairly certain it was explaining a folk tale of the site but couldn’t understand exactly what that was all about. We have searched through all the guide books and asked Mr. Google but can’t find anything that says that name or any description that describes these beautiful buildings.
While we were there we came across some women chanting.
We had carefully observed where our trail met the road so we could find our way back. When we got to what we thought was the trail head we had a moment of doubt but decided to head down. When we started we were about 60% sure we were on the right trail. The further down we went the more sure we were that this was the right trail, all the way until we stumbled over the growling dog again. It was the wrong trail, but we were able to sneak past the dog and make our way back to the motorbike.