Sunday, April 27, 2014

Cuc Phuong: Kathmandu Explorers

Not too far from Hanoi (about three hours by bus) is the oldest national park in Vietnam - it was established in 1962 and it is adorable. As a New Zealander, it isn't what I think of when I think 'national park' (I think: wild, untamed, a place where I need skills and supplies), but it is truly a lovely spot and it's hyper-accessibility doesn't usually impede on the natural beauty loafing about for all to see. Refer to the swan boat on stilts above, for example. 

There are paved roads, which you can motorbike or cycle or walk on (Elizabeth and I opted for the latter two options, but I imagine moto-ing around would be bliss too), there is copious accommodation at various places and there is a restaurant serving vegetarian dishes (not many, but still - imagine asking for tofu and garlic fried spinach in a national park restaurant in New Zealand? Just kidding, there isn't a restaurant and all restaurants that do exist within a 100km radius of a park entrance would give you a pineapple and cheese sandwich and send you on your merry way). There are a million times a million mosquitos, and I didn't bring 1. a pair of long trousers, or 2. repellant. I actually have photographs of my legs where it looks like I have some medieval version of the pox, but I have chosen not to put them on my blog; my self-respect and pride have, for once, impeded me. 

Picnic - gouda, cherry tomatoes, gherkins and tea

Tea in the Jungle
Warning: I'm going to keep talking about New Zealand. I'm not homesick or anything, but National Parks just bring that in me. 

So, in New Zealand, there is a famous outdoor supplies brand called Kathmandu. When I was a teenager, I thought it was the best shop ever and would drag my mother there come birthdays and Christmases. She's German, so she had no problem forking out for goose down sleeping bags, sensible socks and other such highly practical, survivalist items. I liked the idea of being the kind of lady who would use such things (now I am such a lady, but I take perverse pride in fashioning my own survival kits from cheap hunting gear shops instead). 

In any case, after we cycled a full seven kilometres and looked at one famous 'Cave of the Prehistoric Man' (actually, Cave of the Man of 700 Years Ago, so: not very prehistoric guys) we sat down for our luxe picnic and tea and made a list of all the things we would not achieve on this trip. Here is a sample:

* Go into the interior of the park 
* Cycle further than 14 kilometres 
* Go see the langurs at the wildlife rescue centre
* Kayak on the lake 
* Go to the other cave
* Go to this extremely old tree 

In any case, those are all options for you should you wish to visit Cuc Phuong National Parks and, by all accounts, you'd have a lovely time. Us, we mostly like drinking tea and reading 1920s British satire aloud. We are not very effective, as we have come to call it, Kathmandu Explorers

I take not being a Kathmandu Explorer to ridiculous heights and even lived in Israel for four months without going to the Dead Sea. That was actually stupid, and I regret it. (I was hideously broke at the time, but really: I should have walked). 

To cheer you up after that utterly hopeless thought, here is Elizabeth modeling the wonderful grounds at Headquarters, Cuc Phuong: 

And here are some parting shots from the bus trip home, including one of a dream cottage; a place I imagine I could wile time away drinking tea and pottering about on small projects, where I could take several hours to do the laundry and consider that to be my day, spent.*

* NB: Pretty sure the people who actually live there work harder than I care to imagine, judging by the meticulous garden out front and the verdant grounds.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

One human-sized Red Fox in Hanoi

I wasn't going to include this particular post, since I did other, more exciting things with old firecracker Liz than wander around the sprawling streets of Hanoi. However, I realised I haven't ever - in my life - posted any photographs set in actual Hanoi. So here it is, the dust, the electrical wiring, the traffic and the dreamy architecture (hidden behind the concrete boxes). 

Here is my disclaimer: I really love Hanoi. 

Here is my rant: many of my pals and I agree that as creatures, as little*, soft mammals, with lungs and other organs and pores, Hanoi doesn't feel good. As an animal, you instinctively know you should be getting out as fast as your paws can carry you. The trees do exist, but they are old survivors, trees who have learned to grow around things and through things. The grass is covered with a light film of dust, and you're not allowed on it anyway. The lake is beautiful, but the fish in it are floating, dead and stuffed to the gills with mercury. The air sometimes brings me to sudden and involuntary tears.

* Quite large mammals really, on a size chart of mammals, or perhaps average sized (somewhere between a marmoset and a humpback whale).

So, as much as my intellectual self, disconnected from my body, loves this city and the weird, organic urban sprawl; the people who work in and through the cracks in the system, new neighbours who greet me every time they see me, the rat who shrieks when my bicycle comes around the corner and proceeds to promptly scamper down my alleyway at top-speed (there but for the grace of God go I). I love the way humans have found ways to exist around and on top of each other, and how carefully they manage that space. How conscious they are and how little they intrude on each other. It is seriously an art and it is one which is distinctly foreign for a girl from small-town New Zealand. 

As much as I love all of those things, and know I will always be drawn back to old Hanoi, I'm also sure I would never stay here forever. Carcinogens notwithstanding, the way I felt in the ocean on the coast near Hoi An reminded me that I am not a brain on a stick. I am a mammal, not even always that sentient, and I'd like to frolic. 

Liz dreams of gluten-free trees and crashing waves